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Elder Bai Tells a Story: Capturing the Soul

白景學 文 By Jingxue Bai, January 30, 1999
李宗祐 英譯 English translation by Michael Lee











In September of one year, the hay was growing tall and lush in the big grass pasture at the northeastern corner of the Cui Family Fortress, about four li from my house. Everyday, I would take my sickle to gather hay. At that time, there was a heat wave and it was unbearably hot. The hay I gathered each day would be dried by the following day under the rays of the fierce sun. In this manner, I gathered hay every day. Once I had a big heap, I would take it home by carrying it with a pole on my shoulder. Each day I would make eight trips, carrying over ten bales of hay on each trip. At that time, I ate meals of sorghum rice and millet, with a few cucumbers picked from the garden dipped in bean paste. I did not eat well, and I don't know where my strength came from.

Every day I made eight trips carrying the hay, which first had to be cut. I rose early and worked until late, but did not feel fatigued at all.

One day as the sun descended behind the mountains, I carried my final load of hay and walked southwards from the north side of a creek. Over the creek was a single plank bridge made of a long beam. As I crossed the bridge with my bales of hay, I heard sounds of foot­steps and chattering from a group of people behind me.

They bickered and fussed as they approached me from behind. With the heavy load of hay on my shoulders, I could neither put down the hay nor turn my head to look while crossing the bridge. If I had turned my head, I would have fallen, hay bales and all, into the creek, which was about four feet deep and teeming with fish and shrimp.

After crossing the bridge, I was finally able to set down the hay and turn my head to look. There was nothing there at all. Huh? How strange! Just a moment ago, there had been a group of people talking behind me. The noise of their commotion was still ringing vividly in my ear. How could it be that not a single soul was behind me? When I saw that there was no one, I picked up my load of hay to continue my return trip. That load of hay grew heavier and heavier, and sweat began to pour out of my body like rain, drenching my shirt.

After that time, I continued to go to the northern pasture every day. Hauling my carrying pole there, I would cut some hay and start heading for home at noontime. In the evening, I would make another trip. After a few days, once when I was about to head home, I tied one bale of hay with a rope and tried to pick it up with my carrying pole, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not lift it. My whole body went weak, and I had not an ounce of strength within me. From then on, every day I would haul my carrying pole to the northern pasture to cut hay, and when the north side of the creek was done, I would go cut hay on the south side. I was still able to cut hay each day, but the only problem was that I felt weak all over. Every day I would go with the carrying pole on my shoulders, only to return with the pole and nothing else. After a few more days, I couldn't even cut hay anymore. My father-in-law owned a horse carriage at the South­eastern Fortress, so he helped me to haul a large carriage-load of hay back home.

On the 16th of the eighth lunar month, I had a dream after lunch. I dreamed that I was fighting every day on that single plank bridge that I walked across on my return trip from the northern pasture. That group of people was on the other end, while I was on this end. I picked up my carrying pole and starting fighting with them. None of them could defeat me. As each one approached me, I would whack him into the water; after I knocked them all into the creek, I set the pole upon my shoulder and went home.

One day (in my dream) I was fighting with these people again on the single plank bridge, and I knocked them into the muddy creek. The creek did not have too much water, and these people fell into the muddy creek head first, with their feet pointing skyward, like planted scallions. None of them were able to get out of the water. After the fight, I grabbed the carrying pole and got off the bridge. Just as I was about to turn and go, I saw my mother walking up from the south. She held in her hand what appeared to be some inflated pig bladders. No, they were not inflated bladders, but square blocks pasted over with strips of red cloth and green cloth.

"Mother, what are you doing here?"

"I came to capture your soul for you."

Suddenly, I awoke and my body was healthy again. I felt like I had the strength of nine bulls and two tigers. Since then, my ailment from being scared out of my wits was cured.

In the wild pasture, a single plank held the dragon of gold.
The Bodhisattva performs a miracle to capture the soul.
Devoid of others, devoid of self, free from afflictions—
The mind like a bright mirror is empty, yet non-empty.


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