- A Swarm of Bees Fluttering
I am writing this thing in June of 1992 in the place where this story happened. I am in the guest room of the monastery. All around me is quiet. If I look out my window, I can see the copper deer standing on the pitched roof of the main hall. Ever vigilant, they guard the Wheel of Law. Between these glittering creatures and me is a grassy meadow filled with small yellow flowers. A famous Chinese river has its source in this region, and the fragrance of its pure waters suffuses the clear air. I can’t help but smile as I write a swarm of bees fluttering. They make me keenly aware of flickering rays of light, and I hear graceful music coming from an unknown source.
In this state, I begin my story.
Rainbow or Buddha Light
This room was once Mr. Sang Muden’s. After Sang Muden went to America, the monastery’s management committee and the Living Buddha jointly decided to use it as a guest room for visiting scholars. Everyone said that Sang Muden was an intriguing figure. While still in middle school, he had become renowned for his intelligence and indolence. My story begins when he was still young, on a day when he and a group of classmates—both boys and girls—went on a picnic. The vast grasslands had finally begun to welcome the brief summer, and because Sang Muden at that time was interested in mathematics, he compared the grasslands’ vastness to the brevity of the season. “These things are essentially out of fucking proportion!” the young student announced.
Without anyone realizing it, the class picnic had been scheduled to take place on a very important day: when the incarnation of the Living Buddha—dead for seventeen years—had been predicted to reappear to the world. Consequently, when the students set out for the grasslands early that morning, the Buddhist monks from the monastery where I am staying were at that moment doing the same. The monks hurried as quickly as they could and at noon reached the shores of Sacred Lake. Pure-white gulls whirled above the water, and in the distance a column of blue smoke ascended to the azure sky. Naturally, the monks regarded these signs as auspicious. Below the column of smoke—rising like a ladder straight toward [End Page 23] heaven—were the picnicking young people. Nearby a herd of horses roamed, and two of the middle-school boys each caught a white one. As their admiring schoolmates watched them, the two boys galloped toward the horizon. At the shore of Sacred Lake, one of the boys was recognized by the monks as the incarnation of the Living Buddha.
Sang Muden rode back alone, a sad look on his face because, as he said, the monks had chosen his best friend and not him. He said to the handsome herdsman whose horse he’d ridden, “The new Living Buddha rode off on your white horse. Later, I’ll tell him to compensate you for it.” Alarmed, the herdsman covered Sang Muden’s mouth with his hand, then prostrated himself and began bowing in the direction of Sacred Lake. Sang Muden had not become a Living Buddha, but he was young, happy, and free.
After graduating from college, Sang Muden became a mathematics teacher at a middle school. He began to grow a beautiful, flyaway beard, though he himself was not flighty; nor was he the sort of person who chased after happiness in all directions.
The school principal was happy with this mathematics teacher, but Sang Muden became preoccupied with other interests. Finally he said to the principal, “I want to resign. I want to go and learn a little something about the sutras.”
So it was that Sang Muden came to this very monastery. He set up the bookcases that stand behind me now and worked at the table where I sit writing. The Living Buddha had been his classmate and good friend in the past, but during Sang Muden’s tonsure ceremony, the Living Buddha pretended not...