Before Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, accompanied Xuanzang in the Journey to the West, he had quite a few adventures himself. One of his most famous ventures was the time he set out to learn the ways of the immortals. To learn from one, however, he had to find one, as they were quite secretive.
While he was searching, he came across a poor woodsman who was singing in a forest. His song went:
I watch chess games, my ax handle’s rotted.
I chop wood, zheng zheng the sound.
I walk slowly by the cloud’s fringe at the valley’s entrance.
Selling my firewood to buy some wine,
I am happy and laugh without restraint.
When the path is frosted in autumn’s height,
I face the moon, my pillow the pine root.
Sleeping till dawn
I find my familiar woods.
I climb the plateaus and scale the peaks
to cut dry creepers with my ax.
When I gather enough to make a load,
I stroll singing through the marketplace
And trade it for three pints of rice,
With nary the slightest bickering
Over a price so modest.
Plots and schemes I do not know;
Without vainglory or attaint
My life’s prolonged in simplicity.
Those I meet,
If not immortals, would be Daoists,
Seated quietly to expound the Yellow Court.
Upon hearing what the woodcutter was singing, Sun Wukong was convinced that the man was an immortal. He then approached the woodcutter. “Reverend immortal! Your disciple raises his hands.”
The woodcutter, who was quite surprised, denied that the label of immortal. The Monkey King then asked that, if he was not an immortal, then why did he speak their language?
Laughing, the woodcutter explained that the song was called A Court Full of Blossoms and that it was taught to him by his neighbor, who was an immortal. He continued that the immortal taught it to the woodcutter because he noticed that the woodcutter was worried about many things. The song was a way for the woodcutter to calm himself when he was under stress.
This is how the Dharma often works. As Dharmavidya writes in the Eight Verses on Practice, “The purpose of our practice is to be a pure container” (From the Nienfo Book). As one basks in the light of Buddha, they are filled with the Dharma. At times, in ordinary moments, such as when one is chopping wood, writing a document, or cooking, it spills out. One is, without intent, speaking the language of the immortals.
As the Dharma radiates from them someone else might notice and may become inspired. The inspired person may think that the Dharma-drenched person is the source but, in reality, they are just a messenger. Even the Buddhas, in all of their wisdom and splendor, are messengers of that which is deathless. Through them, the Dharma shines, and illuminates the world.
Namo Amida Bu
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