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FAR up a rocky precipice of the Horse-saddle Mountain in Chihli, within a hundred feet or so of its inaccessible peak, is perched a tiny temple called the Grotto of Ecstacy. There, under a sky of burning blue, lives an old Buddhist hermit named Shih Shan; a man of wide celebrity among the priesthood, and credited with many marvellous accomplishments. He is now over seventy years of age. He has a full white beard; his long hair hangs in a tangled mass, like a shred of ragged felt, below his waist; his robe is of tattered patchwork. For ten years he preserved absolute and unbroken silence; but he was by no means idle during this period, for he went about collecting funds for the repair of temples, and many are the shrines he has been the instrument of restoring. He lives on gourds, eating the commonest and poorest kind of rice only twice a month; his days he spends in sitting crosslegged on the ground with closed eyes, thinking, as he told the writer, of nothing. In spite of his close retirement he is of a most amiable disposition, and takes a very intelligent part in conversation. He is said to have knowledge of things passing at a distance; and such is his sanctity that a daily miracle is performed of which he is the subject. As it is impossible, however, to write this in plain English, we relegate the explanation of it to the Chinese note which will be found at the bottom of the page,* for the benefit of such as may be curious about the subject.
Towards the close of an interesting conversation with the strange being we have described, our eyes fell upon his modest library; a small heap of soiled and tattered books, which lay on a shrine in the centre of the temple court. Opening one of them at random, we found it to be a manuscript copy of the ###, a little treatise in thorough keeping with all the features of the place—the foreign visitors excluded. The interest of our adventure was thus very much increased. Here we had the doctrines of vacuity, inaction, and quiescence as inculcated by the Taoist philosophers, set forth in a book; while in the same place there existed a living example of their efficacy—an old man who acted them out in every particular and whose presence was a striking proof that the p. 71 principles of Ancient Taoism are far from being dead. On taking our leave of the old hermit, we cautiously approached the subject of a bargain. "Sir," was the reply, "if you have taken a fancy to the book, pray allow me to present you with it." A small silver coin was, however, gracefully accepted to buy incense with, and we departed the possessor of an occult little treatise of which the following is a translation.
The Words of Lao Chün. Although the Great Principle of Nature—TAO—has no form, it brought forth and nourishes Heaven and Earth; though it has no passions, it causes the Sun and Moon to revolve; though it has no name, it produces the growth and nurture of all things. As I do not know its name, I am compelled to call it simply TAO. Now this Principle includes the pure and the turbid, the active and the motionless. For instance, Heaven is pure and Earth turbid; Heaven moves and the Earth is still. The Masculine is pure, the feminine turbid; the Masculine is active and the Feminine at rest. Emerging from its source and flowing on to all its developments, it produced the visible creation. The pure is the origin of the turbid, and the active of the motionless. If a man is able to remain permanently pure and motionless, Heaven and Earth will both at once come and dwell in him. Now the spirit of man loves purity, but his passions cause disturbance. The heart of man loves rest; but his desires draw him into motion. If he can without intermission abjure his desires, his heart will become naturally quiescent; if he can cleanse his heart, his spirit will become naturally pure. He may then be sure that the Six Desires will arise no more, and that the Three Curses—lust, folly, and wrath—will be annihilated. Therefore those who are incapable of arriving at this state have never cleansed their hearts, or abjured their bodily desires. If a man who is thus able to abjure his desires looks within himself at his own heart, he will see that it is passionless; if he looks outward, at his own body, he will regard it as though it were not his; if he looks abroad at things around him, they will be to him as though they did not exist. If he truly understands the nature of these three things, he will see that they are mere emptiness; vacuity itself he sees to be empty also. But there can be no emptiness in vacuity; for vacuity being non-existent, the very absence of nothing thus non-existing [to him], his serenity will be permanent and undisturbed; and this immoveable tranquillity being so deep as not to admit of any further tranquillity, how can any desires arise within him? Although the true essence of man be constantly in relation with p. 72 outside matters, it must ever remain in possession of his original nature; constantly responding to externals, he must still be constant in quiescence; then his state of purity and rest will be permanent. If one is able in this way to preserve his state of purity and quiescence, he will gradually enter the ideal phase of the Principle of Nature; and having entered this ideal phase, he may then be called one who has obtained possession of it. Yet although he may be said to possess the Principle of Nature, he has actually not obtained anything at all; it is only that he is able to unravel all the mysteries connected with living things. Those who thus fully understand may spread this Holy Doctrine all abroad.
The Words of Lao Chün, Prince of the Sublime. Scholars of eminence never wrangle; those of low attamments love wrangling. Men of high Virtue make nothing whatever of their virtue; those of Inferior virtue cling to it [as of great value]. Those who plume themselves upon their attainments cannot be called in possession of the two principles of TAO and Virtue; and the reason why all mankind are unable to attain the ideal phase of TAO is to be found in their misguided hearts. Their hearts being thus misguided, their spirits become unsettled or perturbed; being in this state of perturbation, they follow after worldly objects; pursuing worldly objects, they become a prey to desires and lusts, and desires and lusts arising within them, disappointments and trouble ensue. Now disappointments in the attainment of what they long for lead to unruly and disordered thoughts, and the result is bitterness and misery to both mind and body. Then they will inevitably incur disgrace and shame; the successive births and deaths they will have to pass through will flow on and on like ocean waves, and they will sink for ever in a Sea of Bitterness—the ideal goal they might have reached being lost to them eternally. Those who fully understand all this, will obtain the True and Constant Principle of Nature of themselves; and those who are able to understand the Principle of Nature will be for ever in a state of purity and rest.
The Words of Ko Hsuän, the Immortal. I have obtained this Principle. Formerly I conned this book ten thousand times. It is only men of Heaven who can learn it, and it should not be imparted to those of inferior calibre. I received it in the first instance from the Divine Prince of Eastern Glory; he received it from the Divine Prince of the Golden Gate, and he from the Royal Mother of the West. The Royal Mother imparted it to him entirely by word of mouth, not committing it to paper; I now give it to the world, having written it down and then transcribing it with care. Scholars of eminence who thoroughly comprehend it will ascend on high and receive authority in Heaven; those of medium grade who strive to put it into practice will have their name inscribed on the p. 73 roll of Immortals in the Southern Palace; while those of the lowest order who obtain it will live long years on earth, roam through the Three Spheres of Being, and, mounting on high, pass through the Golden Gate.
The Words of Tso Hsuän, the Divine Man. Among students of the Principle of Nature,—TAO—he who resolutely cons this book will secure the guardianship of multitudes of good spirits from the Tenth Heaven; after which his soul will be placed under the protection of the Jewelled Seal, and his body permeated with the Elixir of Gold. Then both body and soul will become robed in supernatural beauty, and be in perfect harmony with the subtle Principle of Nature.
The Words of Cheng I, the Divine Man. If this book be in anyone's family, those who fully understand its meaning will not be exposed to any adversities or obstacles; their door will be guarded by all the Holy Ones, and their souls ascend to the Higher World, where they will be admitted to the presence of those lofty beings who have attained to perfect purity, and bow before them,—their merit all-sufficient, their virtue all-complete; and where reciprocal influences will exist between them and the Deva-princes. All who are unwearied in the study of this book will ascend bodily to the Purple Clouds—where the Immortals live.