A String of Chinese Peach Stones

An Idol Apprentice.

There was once a man who went off to the E-Mei mountain, a celebrated place in Szchwan for temples. He went in order to learn how to lead a lazy life, with plenty to eat and to spend, and so apprenticed himself to one of the great idols of the place, who told him to carry water for the temple for a year.

“The year over, the idol told him he must work yet another year. Now, what the man ought to have done was to have got a fellow-apprentice. The proverb says, ‘ One monk carries two buckets of water; two monks carry a pail of water between them; three monks have no water at all because each leaves it to the other.’ He carried for a second year and a third, then refused to do so any more.

‘What! after only three years? Such folk as you must go on for thirty, before their store of merit is complete.’ At which he realised that the idol was making game of him. He then pleaded that he was short of cash.

” ‘ Well, take the two handles of the temple doors and go! ‘

” ‘ What use are they? ‘

” ‘ Oh, the first is called, After-this-never-pay-your-debts, and the second, Never-pay-at-all. Thus you will be able to get on without work.’ He declined the rings.

” ‘ Well, then, I will give you my bookshelves.’ ”

” ‘ What good are they? I cannot read, and do not mean to learn.’

“Oh, they are called the Library of Lies; the books will teach you how to deceive.’

” The man turned away in disgust, but the idol called out after him, ‘ Go to the god of riches, and ask him for help.’

” He accordingly went, and was encouraged by seeing an ingot of silver in the idol’s hand. But the reply was disappointing. ‘ Yes, I have an ingot here, but it is like you. It is worthless and empty, and will only be firm [or stiff] when you are firm [or stiffened] in death.’

” Baffled here, he was recommended to go and appeal to the door god pictures. ‘ They are gaily clothed enough, a sure sign of wealth. Ask them for money.’ But the two pictures replied that their clothing was only paint, and suggested that he should go and supplicate the god of literary honours. ‘ He is standing on one leg, as if leaping for joy. No doubt he is well off.’

” The man went, but was met with the reply, ‘ I happy? I well off? The rascally idol-makers have forgotten to give me my other leg. You may consider yourself lucky to possess two. Get along with you.’

” He then went to beseech the deified tortoise and snake, but had not time to get out even the word ‘ lend ‘ when the tortoise popped in its head, and the snake glided off.

” Baffled all round, he returned to his master, who said, ‘ Lazy fellows like you will be always in want to the very end.’

” That’s just the thing, to the ‘ very bottom.’ Good, isn’t it? ” And both laughed heartily.

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