Chinese Folktales

19. A Punishment for Disbelief

ONCE there was a man by name of Wei Bei-yang. He went into the forest with three disciples and there he brewed the elixir of life. Knowing that not all his disciples wholeheartedly believed his teachings, he decided to put them to the test.

He said to them: ‘The elixir of life is now ready, but I am not sure of its powers. I will give some to the dog first, to see how it works.’

He gave some to the dog, which died.

Wei Bei-yang thereupon said: ‘How difficult it is to get the elixir of life right! I have made it at last, and the dog died of it. It is a sign that I am not destined to attain immortality. Yet I left my wife and child to go into the mountains to learn the secrets of philosophy. I am too ashamed to return home. I would rather die.’

With these words he took some of the elixir of life. No sooner had it touched his lips than he too was dead.

His disciples exchanged frightened glances and said: ‘He made the elixir of life, in order to live for ever; instead, he dies of it. What does it mean?’

But one of the disciples said: ‘Our master is no ordinary man. Perhaps he only wanted to test our faith.’

So he, too, took some of the elixir of life, but he also died.

Then the Other two disciples said to each other: ‘This business is uncanny; let’s go.’

So they went home to buy coffins for the two dead. The moment they were gone Wei Bei-yang rose up again and also restored his disciple and the little white dog to life.

All three entered immortalities together. On the way they appeared to the other two disciples. When they saw them they bewailed their foolishness, but it was too late.

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