Explore a tale of a scholar's redemption as spirits intervene, teaching a lesson on humility and change in this story of 'Pupil's Conversation.'
In Chang’an, there was a scholar named Fang Dong who possessed some talent and fame, but he had a frivolous and disrespectful demeanor. Whenever he encountered women traveling on the road for leisure, he would brazenly follow them. One day, just before the Qingming Festival, he strolled to the outskirts of the city and saw a small carriage adorned with red curtains and embroidered curtains. Several maids in green attire were riding horses slowly behind the carriage. Among them was a maid riding a small horse, with an exceptionally beautiful appearance. Fang Dong discreetly moved closer to steal a glance, only to find that the curtains of the carriage were wide open. Inside sat a sixteen or seventeen-year-old girl, beautifully dressed and exceptionally charming, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. Fang Dong felt his head spinning, unable to control his emotions, and he couldn’t bear to stop following the girl. Sometimes he would catch up to the front of the carriage, and other times he would fall behind, running alongside for several miles. Suddenly, he heard the girl inside the carriage call one of the maids over and say, “Lower the curtains for me. Who is this reckless young man who keeps sneaking glances?” The maid lowered the curtains and angrily told Fang Dong, “This is the new bride of the Seventh Young Master of Fuyong City. She’s going back to her parents’ home for a visit. She’s not an ordinary villager’s wife. How dare you, a scholar, gaze at her so recklessly!” After saying this, she grabbed a handful of dirt from the roadside and flung it at Fang Dong.
Fang Dong’s eyes were suddenly squinted, and he couldn’t open them. When he rubbed his eyes and looked again, the carriage and horses had disappeared without a trace. He returned home, astonished and suspicious, feeling uncomfortable in his eyes. He asked someone to lift his eyelids and found that a small membrane had grown on his eyeballs. After a night, his eyes became even more uncomfortable, and tears flowed continuously. The small membrane in his eyes gradually grew thicker, becoming as thick as a copper coin within a few days. A spiral-shaped membrane also grew on his right eyeball, and no medicine could cure it. Fang Dong was filled with regret and frustration about his actions. He heard that reciting the “Sutra of Light” could ward off disasters and difficulties, so he obtained a scroll of the scripture and asked someone to teach him to recite it. At first, although he recited the scripture, he still felt restless. However, as time passed, he gradually became calm. From then on, whenever he had free time, he would sit cross-legged, fingering the prayer beads, and recite the scripture. After persevering for a year, Fang Dong felt that all the distractions in his mind had been eliminated. One day, he suddenly heard a voice in his left eye, sounding like a mosquito, saying, “It’s so dark in here; I can’t stand it!” Another voice in his right eye replied, “Why don’t we go out together and relieve our pent-up feelings?” At this point, Fang Dong began to feel an itching sensation in both his nostrils, as if something was crawling out from inside. After a while, that something seemed to exit his nostrils and disappeared. After a long time, it returned and crawled back into his eye sockets. Fang Dong heard them saying, “We haven’t visited the garden in these days. How did all the pearl orchids wither away?” Fang Dong had a fondness for fragrant orchids, so he had planted many of them in his garden. However, since he lost his sight, he hadn’t paid any attention to them. Upon hearing this, he urgently asked his wife, “Why have the orchids withered away?” His wife inquired how he knew about the orchids, so Fang Dong explained the situation. His wife went to the garden to verify, and indeed, the orchids had withered. Finding it very strange, she waited quietly in the house for that something to appear. After a while, she saw two small beings crawling out of Fang Dong’s nostrils. They were no bigger than soybeans and made a buzzing sound as they exited the door, disappearing into the distance. After some time, the two small beings returned, holding hands, and flew to Fang Dong’s face, like bees or ants returning to their nest. This continued for two or three days. Fang Dong heard the voice in his left eye say, “The tunnel we take to go out is winding and inconvenient. How about we open a door ourselves?” The voice in his right eye replied, “The wall blocking me is thick, and it’s not easy to break through.” The voice in his left eye said, “I’ll try to open a door first. If I can create a path, we can use it together.” At that moment, Fang Dong felt a faint pain in his left eye, as if it had been torn open. After a while, he opened his eyes and saw the furniture and decorations in the room clearly. Fang Dong joyfully told his wife. His wife carefully examined his eyes and saw that a small hole had appeared in the membrane, revealing a pupil about the size of a peppercorn. After a night, the thick membrane in his left eye completely disappeared. Upon close inspection, there were two pupils inside, but the spiral membrane in his right eye remained the same. Fang Dong realized that the two beings were now living together in one eye socket. Although Fang Dong had lost one eye, he could see even more clearly than those with two eyes. From that day on, he became more cautious and disciplined in his behavior, earning the praise of his fellow villagers for his noble character.
The chronicler of strange tales said: In a village, there was a scholar who, one day, was walking on the road with two friends. From afar, they saw a young woman riding a donkey ahead of them. He playfully remarked, “Look at that beauty!” Then, he turned to his two friends and said, “Let’s catch up to her!” So, the three of them playfully ran ahead. It didn’t take long for them to catch up, only to discover that she was his own daughter-in-law. He felt ashamed, hung his head in embarrassment, and fell silent. His friends, pretending not to know, continued to make lewd comments about the young woman. The scholar stammered, “She’s my eldest son’s wife.” His friends then chuckled quietly and let the matter rest. Frivolous people often invite humiliation upon themselves; it’s truly a ridiculous affair! As for Fang Dong losing his eyesight, it was a severe retribution given to him by the spirits. The lord of Fuyong City, I wonder which deity they were, perhaps a manifestation of a bodhisattva? However, the small beings in his pupils removing the thick membrane from Fang Dong’s eyes suggests that even though spirits may be stern, they still allow for repentance and redemption.