The Case of the First Time the Magistrate Pan Gu Settled

The “Book of the Northern Dynasties(北史)” says that the king of Piqian(毗騫國) had a three-foot-long head and still hasn’t died to this day. I used to doubt the authenticity of this record.

During the Kangxi(康熙) period, a man named Fang Wenmu(方文木) from Zhejiang(浙人) was navigating at sea when his ship was blown by the wind to a place where a grand and magnificent palace stood, inscribed with the three characters “Piqian Palace(毗騫殿)”. Fang Wenmu was greatly astonished and knelt outside the palace. Two people wearing multicolored cloaks led him inside.

In the center of the palace sat a king with an elongated head, wearing a crown resembling a large bucket, with pearls hanging from the edges of the crown. When his beard brushed against the pearls, it made a sound. The king asked, “Are you from Zhejiang?” Wenmu replied, “Yes.” The king said, “Zhejiang is five hundred thousand li away from here.”

The king invited Fang Wenmu to dine, and each grain of rice was as big as a jujube. Sensing the king’s extraordinary powers, Wenmu knelt and begged to return home. The king ordered his attendants, “Bring the records of the first time Emperor Pan Gu and investigate for him!” Wenmu was terrified upon hearing this, repeatedly bowing and asking the king, “Why are there several Pan Gu emperors?” The king replied, “Since the beginning of heaven and earth has no starting point or ending, every hundred twenty thousand years, there appears an Emperor Pan Gu. Presently, over a hundred million have come to pay homage to the Heavenly Emperor. How could I possibly remember the exact number? The secrets of the cyclical nature of the world have already been disclosed by Shao Yaofu of the Song Dynasty. As for why all those who have opened up heaven and earth must follow the regulations established during the first opening, alas, no one has yet fully explained the reasoning behind it. The strong wind that blew you here is to make you understand the reasoning and enlighten the people when you return.”

Fang Wenmu couldn’t comprehend the king’s words. The king continued, “I want to ask you: why do some experience retribution for their deeds while others don’t? Why do some prayers and offerings to gods and spirits work while others don’t? Why do some succeed in cultivating immortality or learning Buddhism while others fail? Although it’s said that beautiful women often have tragic fates, why do some have fortunate lives? Although talented individuals may have a hard life, why do many among them prosper? Why are some creatures destined to drink while others are destined to peck for their food, predetermined from birth? Eclipses, landslides, disasters—why do they only occur at particular times? Why can fortune-tellers predict others’ fates but not their own? Why does heaven not punish those who resent or blame it?” Wenmu couldn’t answer any of these questions.

The king continued, “Indeed! The laws prevailing in the world today were established long ago. During the hundred twenty thousand years of the first opening of heaven and earth, everything was not intentionally arranged by the creator but rather happened due to the chance movements of the energies in heaven and earth, partly clear and partly obscure, resembling and yet not resembling. It’s like water flowing on the ground, occasionally forming various shapes of squares or circles. It’s also like a child playing chess, casually placing a piece, but once it’s placed, it seems to become an unchangeable and irrevocable account, turning into an unalterable situation. When heaven and earth are about to perish, the Heavenly Emperor hands over the records of the first opening of heaven and earth to the next Pan Gu tasked with the next opening, commanding them to execute it exactly as planned without any changes. This discrepancy between human intentions and divine will often creates discordance. People in the world are busy all day, yet they are like puppets manipulated by fate behind the scenes. Success and failure, intelligence and foolishness, were predetermined long ago, but people are unaware of it.”

Upon hearing this, Fang Wenmu began to grasp some understanding and asked the king, “So, the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors mentioned by people today were from the previous cycle? And everything recorded in the current twenty-one histories is from the previous cycle’s twenty-one histories?”

The king replied, “Correct.”

As the king finished speaking, an attendant approached carrying a book with inscriptions stating, “In the third year of Kangxi, Fang Wenmu of Zhejiang sailed the seas and was blown by the wind to Piqian Country. He must relay the predestined heavenly secrets to the world. Send Fang Wenmu back to Zhejiang.”

Fang Wenmu thanked the king and left reluctantly, shedding tears. The king waved his hand and said, “Why cry? In a hundred twenty thousand years, we’ll meet again here. No need to weep so much.” Then he chuckled, “I misspoke. Your tears now are part of the tears shed in the previous cycle of a hundred twenty thousand years. This is just a demonstration; I shouldn’t have stopped you.”

Fang Wenmu asked the king’s age, and the attendants around said, “Our king was born with the first Pan Gu who opened heaven and earth, but he doesn’t die like the millions of Pan Gus after him.” Fang Wenmu then asked, “If the king lives eternally, where will he go when heaven and earth perish?” The king replied, “I am made of mud and sand, and even after countless catastrophes, I won’t be destroyed. When all things in the world are destroyed, they ultimately become mud and sand. I’ve already reached this worst state, so I won’t burn in a fire or drown in a flood. It’s just that during violent storms, I sometimes ascend to the Ninth Heaven or descend to the Ninth Abyss, which is quite exhausting. Usually, I sit alone for tens of thousands of years, waiting for the birth of a new Pan Gu, feeling that life is too long and particularly dull.”

After the king finished speaking, he exhaled a breath towards Fang Wenmu, who flew into the air and landed back on the same ship. Over a month later, he returned to Zhejiang and recounted the incident to Master Mao Xihe(毛西河). Master Mao said, “People in the world know that everything is predetermined from past lives but do not understand the reasoning behind it. Now, with this explanation, I feel enlightened.”

Translated from 《奉行初次盤古成案》in 《子不語》:



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