"I took the path that headed towards the southwest. On the summit of the mountain was a red cactus. That's right, cactus should be green, so how could it be red? Then I saw you approach me from the southeast peak. Pointing at the cactus, you said, 'Third Elder Brother, eat it, for it is the Vitality-Restoring Herb.'"
'"Vitality-Restoring Herb? This one I must eat. Emperor Shi of the Qin Dynasty sent five hundred male youths and five hundred female youths on a quest to Japan, and they did not find this Vitality-Restoring Herb. Now I've come across it!'
"I plucked it bit by bit, and ate it all from stem to root. This plant had a taste that was sweet and fragrant. There is nothing in this entire world that tastes better than the Vitality-Restoring Herb! Bite by bite, I ate that entire, red Vitality-Restoring Herb.
"I'd never eaten without sharing before, but that time I ate selfishly. I did not even invite you to eat some, no! I ate it all myself. After I woke up, my entire body felt relaxed and invigorated, and I stopped vomiting blood. Ever since then, my body has become stronger every day."
The Venerable Master said, "The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are protecting you from behind the scenes!"
The Venerable Master continued, "Jinxue, Shuyun, your father never took advantage of others in his life; he would have preferred to be taken advantage of. During the year of famine, he would have preferred to starve to death than steal. Your father would not keep anything he found which was lost by someone else; he would sit on the ground to wait for the owner to return and retrieve the lost property."
I told the Venerable Master, "During the year of famine, other people got together to steal corn from the production team, thinking, 'The law will not punish the populace.' My father said, 'We will not do such a thing.' Going hungry from the start, our family drank diluted porridge, with each of us drinking seven or eight big bowls per meal. As our stomachs quickly digested them, we drank more and more. Upon seeing this, Father said, 'This will not do; we cannot drink this watery thing any longer, we must eat dry rice.' From then on, for every meal, each of us took a ration from a bowl of plain rice. That was how we endured the years of 3.3 Liang*. I was ten years old then.
The Venerable Master said, "Jinxue, spend more time with your father. He is getting old and having someone to keep him company and to talk to will make his mind open and bright."
I said, "Father never attended a day of school, and even makes mistakes in writing his own name, but he can read and discuss books like
Heroes of the Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Epic of Divine Appointments, and
The Seven Heroes and Five Righteous Men. He can read and discuss all of these classics. However, now he does not talk about these ancient stories anymore. Nowadays, Father studies the Sutras, chants the name of the Buddha, and sometimes even tells Buddhist stories."
The Venerable Master said, "Your father was the Abbot of a temple in his past incarnation. Having a false thought was his only undoing. What was this false thought? He wanted to have lots of children in his forthcoming incarnation. As such, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas had to fulfill his wish, so they directed his disciples to be reborn as his sons and daughters."
The Venerable Master said, "Third Sister-in-Law, how come we haven't heard you speak?"
My mother replied, "I don't have anything to say; we have all been pretty well. Now that we are old, we have no more contribution to make.
"When a tree gets old, the leaves at the branch tips are sparse, and the moonlight shining on the tree dwindles.
When a person gets old, his waist pulls his head down low.
When the cucumber gets old, it becomes a bag of seeds.
When the eggplant gets old, it turns into two layers of wrinkles."
The Venerable Master laughed, "When did my Third Sister-in-Law learn to compose poetry? Everyone eventually grows old, and when one grows old, one ought to chant the name of the Buddha!"
The Master continued:
One's retinue in the human world are demons in the land of Buddha.
The path of the sages has always been full of challenges.
Upon finally reaching the shore, turn around and look.
Turn away from confusion to return to enlightenment and thank Devadatta.
Ghosts and gods are intimidated by the vows and practices of those of great virtue.
Metal and stone will break open for a concentrated thought that is true,
While the enlightened nature can pacify and level countless waves
As well as cleanse the meadow of the heart so that it is forever immaculate.
*3.3 Hang equals 3-3/16 liang, or approximately 3-1/2 ounces. That was the amount of food each Chinese received during those years when the government rationed food severely.