CHAPTER NINE: The Tiger-Dragon Society


As the morning dawned on his last day at the monastery, Fan took off the robe he had worn for the previous two years, folded it carefully and put it into his suitcase. He then searched through the Western clothes he had stored away, chose something and dressed himself for his final meeting with the abbot. The previous day, he had said his farewells to the other brothers, especially to Brother Yang who had helped him so much during his first days at the temple.

With a heavy heart, he picked up his suitcases and went to the abbot's office. Professor Lee was waiting there to take him back to the airport. The two greeted each other warmly and Fan began to tell him about his experiences at the monastery. In the middle of their conversation, an elderly monk came out into the corridor and asked Fan to accompany him inside. He led Fan to the abbot's chapel and then left, indicating that the abbot was waiting inside. After entering the room, Fan closed the door behind him.

It was dark inside the chapel. The curtains were drawn and as Fan's eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see that it was being lit by the glow of a single candle. The abbot was sitting on a carpet, facing Fan. There was a small table in front of him, and a small green pillow partially covered by a red cloth on top of the table. The temple's astrologer sat on his left side, his gaze focused on the flame of the candle that was sitting on another low table in front of him.

The abbot's strong voice rang out, “Brother Fan, please walk slowly toward us, trying not to make any sudden movements, and sit down in front of me.”

Following his directions, Fan moved slowly forward. As he moved, the oracle kept his eyes fixed on the flame of the candle and the abbot kept his eyes fixed on Fan. It took exactly twelve steps for Fan to reach the edge of the carpet, and during that time, the flame did not flicker. Fan then sat down on the two cushions that had been placed on the carpet in front of the table.

Seconds later, the astrologer rang a small bell. Two monks then entered the room, opened the windows and door to let in the sunshine and took away the candle. He then said a few words to the abbot that Fan could not hear.

“Very good, Brother Fan,” said the abbot. “If the candlelight had flickered even once as you moved across the room, you'd already be on your way to the airport, never to return to the monastery.”

After tea was served by an assistant, the three men were again left alone in the chapel. “I see that your Western clothes still fit you well,” said the abbot. “Before the professor takes you back to the city, we must discuss some important matters.” After a pause, he continued, “When you first came here, we cast your horoscope and now we'd like to tell you the results of that horoscope. We've waited this long to tell you because with so much at stake, we couldn't afford to make a mistake and wanted to confirm its findings by observing your behavior, conduct and preferences. We also wanted to see if you could remember anything about your past lives. You've been patient and we've tried to put you on the right path. You must now decide if you'll continue along this path or abandon it for another one.”

With his right hand, the abbot lifted the piece of cloth covering the pillow on the table, revealing a jade medallion about two inches in diameter that was white and blue in color. Fan was attracted by the medallion's simplicity of design, and was elated by the strange combination of its colors.

Pushing the pillow toward Fan, the abbot said softly, “You can pick it up and look at it if you wish, Brother Fan. It isn't a sacred object.”

Fan lifted the medallion from the pillow and looking at it closely, saw that it was a beautiful carving done from a single piece of jade. It had an outer circle and two inner figures. The upper figure was that of a dragon. It was soft blue in color, and every part of the animal-its eyes, horns, claws, and scales were perfectly proportioned and exquisitely detailed. Its eyes were looking down, toward the tail of the figure in the lower half of the circle.

The figure in the lower half of the circle was that of a tiger. It was white in color, the same color as the circle that surrounded the two figures. It seemed to be roaring and one of its legs was raised, as if ready to strike. Its eyes were looking up at the dragon's tail, and this created a perfect sense of balance between the two figures.

After looking at the medallion for several minutes, Fan reluctantly started to return it to the pillow but was stopped by the abbot who said, “You can keep it. It has been with us for a long time and we're pleased to be able to return it to its rightful owner. It was previously yours and is yours again.”

The abbot's words startled Fan and he couldn't fully understand their meaning. “Your Excellency, what have I done to deserve such a wonderful piece of art? I'm not a jade expert, but I imagine that this must be an extremely valuable object.”

The abbot sighed, “The answer to your question brings us back to the results of your horoscope reading. It's a long story and I'll tell it to you now.

“The results of your reading stunned us,” the abbot began. “They told of us events that took place in this temple centuries ago. To help you better understand these events, let me start by telling you the history of this monastery.

“Our temple was founded in the year 1639, at the end of the Ming Dynasty. During the early years, our founders asked famous monk-teachers to come to the monastery to establish its intellectual precepts and to train its first generation of Taoist monks. In time, the fame of our temple spread throughout the country and we received donations from many sources, most importantly from officials at the Imperial Court in Beijing who often chose to join the ranks of our monks after retirement. Many of these officials were renowned scholars and they taught our young monks, imparting their wisdom before leaving this world. Under their guidance, our monastery began to produce some of the best religious and philosophical minds of the time.

“Military officers and strategists also chose to retire to our monastery and they taught their art to our students, not to help them wage war, but to help strengthen their bodies. Since then, whenever our young monks perform at festivals, their physical strength and prowess is evident.

“In the year 1646, two years after the foreign Ching (Manchu) dynasty had taken power in China, a general of the Imperial Army arrived at the doors of the monastery. Our records don't list his family name, as the names and ranks of army officers were seldom divulged to outsiders in order to prevent spies from discovering their identities. What our records do show, however, is that he asked to be admitted to the temple, not as a monk, but as an ex-army officer and that he be allowed to change his name after he'd entered. He told the abbot that he'd attained the rank of general even though he was of Han-Chinese descent. From this fact, we know that he must have been a great warrior because Ching officials allowed few such individuals to command soldiers, fearing that they might use their power to overthrow the government. In the case of this general, their suspicions were correct.

“The general had gone on to explain that while stationed in Beijing and fulfilling his duties at court, he had been approached by members of a society of Chinese patriots who were plotting to overthrow the empire. The rebels had pressured him to join them, understanding that he would be of great value to their group, and the general, being of Chinese descent, could not refuse their request.

“After joining the rebel society, the military information provided by the general allowed the rebels to sabotage and harass the Imperial Troops and this created a great deal of difficulty for the Manchu leaders. Eventually, a spy denounced his activities to two Manchu generals who had surmised that someone from inside their ranks was providing the rebels with information and had begun to suspect that the general might be the person responsible. Enraged, they had him arrested, stripped of his rank and thrown into prison to await execution for treason. They also ordered that his possessions be confiscated, his house burnt, and everyone in his family, including the servants, be arrested and executed as well-hoping that this would dissuade other Chinese officials from hatching treasonous plots in the future.

“Two days after his arrest, the general was taken to Beijing's central square, tied to a pole and forced to witness the decapitation of his parents, wife, children, relatives and loyal servants. As he watched his loved ones die, he wanted to scream in desperation but with his eyes set on the infinite sky, he focused instead on his determination to fight the Manchus, knowing that without his family, his only loyalty lay to the millions of Chinese who were being oppressed by this foreign power.

“Frustrated by the general's lack of emotion, the Manchu generals ordered that he be taken back to his cell in the military stockade. There his head was covered by a dark sack so that he wouldn't know the time of day, and his hands were kept tied behind his back, except when meals were served and they were tied in front of his body to allow him to eat.

“With the general trapped in prison, the remaining members of the rebel society worked frantically to devise a plan to help him escape. With little time, the plan they devised was a simple one, but they knew that the general's military abilities would be of great help when the time came.

“Inside the prison, the general was taking stock of his situation. He knew that his cell was guarded by two soldiers, each armed with a spear, and that the door of his cell had been removed so they could easily enter the room to check on him. By listening to them speak to two other guards on top of the parapets, he had been able to calculate the distance between his cell and the outer wall of the stockade. He knew that any escape plan would be difficult to execute because the guards on the parapets would be trained archers who wouldn't be easily surprised by escaping prisoners or outside attackers but he never doubted that the rebels would soon arrive to help him.

“One morning, an old man arrived at the prison. He claimed to be a friend of the family and said that he had food for the general. In those days, visitors bringing food were allowed to enter the prison, but each was carefully searched before being allowed to do so. In actuality, the old man was a trained rebel fighter who had hidden a thin knife blade in the ponytail that was covered by his cap, but this wasn't discovered by the guards who searched him.

“After the search, the old man was allowed to enter the general's cell where he greeted the general warmly. Upon hearing his visitor's voice, the general realized that help had arrived and he focused intently on the old man's actions, trying to detect any instructions he might be given. One of the guards then tied the general's hands loosely in front of his body so he could hold the bowl of food and use his chopsticks. He then left the cell, keeping a close eye on the men inside to ensure that the sack remained on the general's head. Using the pretense of helping his friend find his food, the old man slipped the knife blade under the bowl and handed it to the general. Feeling the blade under the bowl, the general remained silent while his guest tried to distract the guard by talking loudly about the burial arrangements being made for the general's family. When the guard turned his head for a moment, the old man softly tapped the general's left foot with his own, and the general, understanding the movement, quickly slipped the knife into his left shoe. Just before the guard reentered the cell, the old man quietly said, 'It will soon be dark.' The guard then tied the general's hands behind his back and asked the visitor to leave the prison. The old man did so, apologizing to the guards for having inconvenienced them with his presence.

“After the old man's departure, the general was left alone with his thoughts. He understood that he had to escape that night and that the blade was the only help that the society could give him. His visitor's words also told him that he had to act quickly because darkness was about to fall and since the number of guards doubled at night, he knew that escape would be impossible if he did not act immediately.

“After several minutes had elapsed, the general bent down, took the knife from his shoe and used it to cut the rope around his wrists. Since his hands were tied behind his back, his movements were hidden from the guards who noticed nothing when they looked into the cell to check on him. Once the rope was cut, the general held the blade in his right hand and waited until he heard the guards take their positions on either side of the door outside his cell. He then removed the sack from his head and after allowing his eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness of the room, stood up slowly and waited until one of the guards again looked into the room. When this happened, the guard lept into the cell like a cat, intending to strike the general with his spear, but the prisoner swept the spear aside and plunged the knife into the guard's abdomen, giving him no time to cry out in warning before he died.

“Pushing the dead guard to one side, the general pulled the spear from his hand and turned to face the second guard who had rushed into the cell. ...........................

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