The road south ascended a culmen where the view presented the traveler four options: due south, southwest, east, or west. At the same time, it offered an unheralded view of the city from on high. As Sherme surveyed the roads ahead, Jen tapped him on the shoulder and nodded to the heavenly city.
Smoke billowed from restaurants and homes, fimbriated pagodas numbering in the hundreds pointed to Heaven, Su Song’s astronomical clock tower sounded the hours away, and the crowd of confluent colors, distinct when in their midst, bled into one adelomorphous eluate.
“Wish I had more time to spend,” lamented Sherme. “My is it beautiful. The whole thing looks like a chest full of treasure. Emeralds, rubies, garnets, opals, carnelian.”
“I love this view of the city. Because the wall bends there we call the city the Crouching Cow.” Jen shrugged and wiped a distant eye before a tear could fall. Fearing what would happen to the city in his absence, he shook his head and remembered what Shao Yung said.
If he was right—and Jen believed he was—the empire would only continue its decline as long as the number of what Shao called “good for nothings” continued to increase. As beautiful and serene as the city looked from afar, Jen could not help but see its luxury. He could not help but remember what Chang Tsai said about how the city and all it offered only contributed to people seeking excessive gratification. Because most succumbed to their vices, they failed to conduct themselves properly. As a result, they conformed to, but no longer embodied, principle. In their conformity, in their vacuous formalism, said Chang Tsai, a man, devoid of true human feeling, ceased being a man. More and more did the “thieves of virtue,” as Old Master Kong Qui called those who merely followed convention without self-investment, mistake bad behavior for good deeds.
Furthermore, how many more would fall victim to those cenositic bald-headed monks in their indulgent temples and pagodas? Of course Jen listened to Ch’eng-I’s insistence on simply putting aside their teachings without discussing them. How many others heeded his advice? Not nearly enough. Their teachings, just like any other fad or fashion, took their hold, poisoned the minds of both young and old alike. Despite their valiant attempts, Chang Tsai, Ch’eng-I, Ch’eng Hou, Ssu-ma Kuang, and Ou-yang Hsiu could not rid the empire of its pernicious disease—the very disease plaguing peoples’ heart-minds and the source of their moral degradation.
Again, Jen could not blame the people themselves. How could he when the sources of absolute authority themselves patronized the temples? What could one expect from the people when emperors T’ai-tsu, T’ai-tsuhg, Jen-tsung, and Chen-tsung used state money to erect buildings for the monks to translate their texts?
Then again, maybe those bald-headed monks were not degenerate after all. He had read many Threads such as those of the Diamond and Hui-neng. He had read some of the various Records and Annals and seen more than enough stone inscriptions on his travels and Jen never comprehended exactly why the Ch’eng Brothers and other expressed such hatred for the monks.
Whatever their reasoning, the fact of the matter was acute: a disease plagued the city, a dehiscent ulcerating putrescence symptomatic of Nu-Kua’s epidemic ochlesis.
Maybe the monks saw themselves as an emollient. The Ch’eng Brothers did not see them as such. Provided Uncle Su liked them and Master himself insisted he introduce Jen to many such monks throughout Tsao-Chun, how bad could they be?
Pros and cons aside, Jen heard enough monkish nonsense to last a lifetime. Exasperated, he sighed and shook his head when he deliberated over the dypahagic nonsense festering the people of Nu-Kua.
First there was the conversation between a monk and Wuzu Fayan he’d heard acetified in his mind. The monk asked about the Linji school’s affairs. Wuzu replied, “Five insurgents listen to thunder.” The monk inquired next as to the affairs of the Yunmen, Cadong, and Guiyang schools; each time, Wuzu responded with equally deviant ripostes: “Brilliant is the red flag,” “The books upon which you ride won’t return you home,” and (perhaps Jen’s favorite) “Upon the ancient road lies a broken monument.”
Second, there were the stories about how these monks achieved the so-called Great Extinguishment. Furong Daokia experienced it when Touzi proclaimed, “When you insist on intention you will garner yourself thirty lashes with the stick.” Huitan Zuxin experienced it when he read a conversation between Master Doufu and a monk regarding the Master’s bamboo grove. After a simple question, Doufu replied “Three shoots, four shoots crooked.” Then there was Wuzu’s own Great Extinguishment—the result of Baiyun shouting at him. Jen shrugged. Great Extinguishment the result of a raised voice? But what should he expect from people who adhered to the notion that all faults and hindrances are always already the Great Extinguishment? As much as he loved Master and Uncle Su, he would have to side with the Ch’eng Brothers on this one.
Jen called a halt to his fomic remembrances and returned to Sherme’s observation. Indeed, the city did look like a treasure chest. Funny to compare the city to a treasure chest when the government basically bankrupted itself. Sherme’s comment gave clear definition to the word “irony.” One more reason he could not blame the people for being small. What choices did they have when the men who ran the government under Chen-tsung tended toward pettiness? As Old Master Kong Qiu said, the government shouldered the responsibility of modeling proper conduct. When a government divided itself into factions—each faction ridiculing the other as petty men—it cannot inspire the common man. Maybe the masses with their blatant disregard for principle and harmony did emulate the officials. Since the government did not do its job, the people of the city would remain unable to articulate themselves. They would remain innominate, and would never be able to manifest their potential as human beings.
And when they could not do that, they would never serve as a source of the Way.
The equation was simple:
A bankrupt government equaled a bankrupt society.