THE DISCIPLE OF L'ALCHEMIST
and adapted from Contes de la dynastie des Tangs,
Tou Dze Chuan lived at the end of the Chou (557-581) and the beginning of the Suei (581-617) Dynasties. In his youth, he was a prodigy who totally neglected his occupation and responsibility. Extremely extravagant, a drinker and libertine, he dissipated his wealth before very long. His requests for help were always refused by his parents and relatives because of his former negligence.
One winter day he, clad in ragged clothes and with an empty belly, wandered into the capital to try and find something to eat. The sun had set and he didn't know where to go. Stopping at the east gate of the central market, shaking and trembling from cold and hunger, he looked up at the sky and burst out with lamentable cries.
Suddenly there appeared an old man with a cane in his hand who asked him gently: "Why are you suffering so?"
Tou in tears told him all about the indifference of his parents and friends. His face was full of anger.
"How much do you need to be comfortable?" asked the old man.
"I could manage with 30 or 50 in cash," said Tou.
"That's not enough," said the old man. "Give me another number."
"One hundred thousand."
"Still not enough!"
"That's a little bit better," approved the old man. Then from his large sleeves he took out some money and told Tou: "This is for tonight...Tomorrow, at noon, I will wait for you at the Dragon Hotel. Be on time."
The next morning, Tou was exactly on time at the rendezvous. From afar the old man came and gave him a bag, and then walked away without giving his name. Tou didn't care about the old man's name, because with the sudden wealth in his hand, his old love of spending money rekindled in his heart. He had forgotten the poverty of yesterday—his cold and hunger, as he bought the best horses in the market and fancy clothes. He passed him time drinking in the company of his concubines, and organized expensive concerts every day from morning 'till late at night. Never a thought of managing his money came to him, but wine and desires darkened his mind and would not let him see the impoverished days that were coining. In two years, his money was exhausted. His chariots, horses, clothes, and all the luxurious things diminished day by day. Having sold his horse, Tou rode a mule; then walked on foot. Not very long after, Tou found himself passing his nights in the streets again.
Once more, not knowing what to do, he moaned at the gate of the central market. Suddenly, the old man appeared, held his hands and said: "What! You've come to this point again: But I will help you. Tell me, how much will do?"
Tou felt too ashamed and dared not answer the old man. But he kept pursuing Tou until Tou accepted the help. Who the old man was, Tou still didn't know. At that time, the old man said: "Tomorrow, at noon, at the same place."
Tou shamefully went to the Dragon Hotel and this time he received a bag with 10 million cash in it. The night before, he had firmly resolved that he would use the money properly, invest in business, support and feed all the beggars, and make offerings to the temples, etc., but once the money was in hand, his heart began to change. He fell back in the realm of pleasures, comforts, and desires.
About three or four years later, he became penniless, poorer than ever. Once again, he met the old man at the same place, and really wanted to change his life. Overwhelmed with shame, he covered his face. The old man sighed: "Alas! How awkward you are in this business!" After giving Tou 30 million he said: "If this doesn't cure you, you're really incurable, my friend."
Tou reflected to himself, "I had the life of a libertine, wasted all the money and wealth. Among my relatives no one gave me a hand. Only his old man gave money to me, not once but three times. How can I show my gratitude towards him?"
Then Tou told the old man: "With this huge amount of money, I will fulfill as many good deeds in the world as I can. I will take care of widows and orphans so that they will always have enough food and clothing. Only then can I repay your kindness. Recognizing your kind heart, I hope this taste will soon be brought to completion, then I will beat your command."
"That's just what I expect from you," said the old man. "After your business and affairs have been set, come to see me next year, on the 15th of the 7th month at Horse Mountain, in front of the temple."
Tou built his masterpiece in Ho Ai, a nearby city. He bought 100 acres of farmland, built a huge house in the city, founded more than 100 workhouses on the main roads. All these were solely for widows and orphans. He arranged marriages for his nephews and nieces set up a cemetery and brought back the ancestral ashes of those who had died far away from home. Also, to his friends he showed great kindness and to his enemies he showed forgiveness.
When these affairs were finished, Tou went to the rendezvous on Horse Mountain. There he found the old man sleeping underneath a tree; without making a noise he sat down patiently by the old man. After a while, Tou felt really tired from his long journey, leaned against the tree and dozed off.
The next day the old man woke him and asked: "When did you come? Did anyone from that temple talk to you?" pointing at the Buddhist temple on the other side of the road.
"I came yesterday about sunset, but I dared not wake you up. Due to the travelling, I fell asleep but I did neither see anyone in that temple nor did anyone come out to talk to me."
"That’s very strange," said the old man. "Originally I wanted to introduce you to a high master living in this temple in whose virtues and powers I have much respect."
"But I originally had the intention to come here to study the way with you to whom I owe so much. Now it seems to me that I don’t have much affinity with you to whom I owe so much. Now it seems to me that I don’t have much affinity with the monk you speak of; I beg you to accept me as a disciple. I vow that I will endure all the hardships."
The old man suddenly stood up and walked away.
-To be continued in the next issue