It was a little dim inside the hut and it took a while for Qiang’s eyes to focus.
But after a short while he could make out a large room with a fireplace and a table with two bench seats. The floor was comprised of rough stone pavers. In the corner to his left was another old man sitting cross-legged on some bedding. He was attired in white robes and his contentment radiated from his face. For some reason Qiang felt immediately attracted to him.
Bai said quietly, “This is my friend, Jian.”
Jian smiled at this remark but Qiang was surprised that the old man seemed distracted and didn’t look directly at him.
“And what does this young master look like, Bai?” Jian enquired.
Then it came to Qiang – the old man squatting on the floor was blind.
“He is a strapping young, fellow, a little above average height, with dark hair, square shoulders and looks as though he could manage a hard day’s work without much difficulty.”
Qiang was intrigued by the fact that the two men seemed to know of him and was somewhat embarrassed that they insisted on calling him a “master”.
“Put your bedding close to the fireplace, Qiang,” advised Bai. “It seems as though this might be a rather chilly night.”
“No, sir, the cold does not bother me much and you both have older bones than I that I am sure could use a little warmth.”
Qiang placed his bedding on the floor leaving plenty of room for the two old men to take up positions reasonably close to the fireplace.
Then he turned to Bai and said, “I am curious to find out how you know me. And I would be more than pleased if you would refrain from calling me a master. I am but a farmer’s son. It is true that I have been fortunate to have been tutored by excellent mentors and any wisdom I might have acquired is due to their efforts and not some innate capacity of my own.”
Jian said quietly, “Well, he certainly displays the humility of a master, Bai.”
Of course this response frustrated Qiang and he bit his tongue not wanting to offend these old men.
Bai looked intently at Qiang. “Whether you believe it or not, you were destined to be a master. When our ancestors came to this country and sought to spread the teachings of Buddhism they knew that other masters would arise from the native population to help them in their cause. You of course know of the legend of the Buddha and how he became enlightened under the Bodhi tree. These priests were led by a great master who purported to be able to foretell some aspects of the future. He passed through the area where you were born more than a century ago. Just outside your home village, where you went to school he noticed another Bodhi tree. He announced to his followers, “This tree will nurture another great master. He will come to it as a child and another master must be ready to begin the tuition of this chosen one.”
“As a result for many years we ensured a Buddhist master sat beneath the tree waiting for that child to arrive. When you were young that task was given to Chogken Rinpoche. When you approached the tree and found him, he knew you were the designated master he had been chosen to nurture.”
“That is incredible! How did he know I was just not another curious child? It seemed that way to me. I passed the tree every day and saw the man sitting there and so I was curious about it.”
“Well we have ways of gauging the inherent depth of a person – even a child. Chogken Rinpoche was soon able to confirm that you had the required potential to undergo further instruction.”
“And when you say ‘we’,” enquired Qiang just who do you mean?”
Bai considered this question a while before answering, Finally he responded, “Seeing as you are more than likely to soon be one of us, I think it is appropriate that I answer your question. We are a group of devoted Buddhists. We would like to see Buddhism more widely accepted in these communities. We do not wish to foist it onto anybody but just hope through the demonstration about how we go about our everyday lives that our beliefs can help people improve their sense of well-being.”
“And tell me how does Ruan Xiu fit into the picture?”
“Well, the Governor was chosen in his youth to be a master in our tradition. But, might I say, whilst he was a disciple he never quite had the qualities to be a master. In time he was given the opportunity, because of his lineage and the support of the Emperor, to become Governor. He decided he could make more difference being in a position of authority and supporting our movement than attempting to become a master. And indeed I must confess his patronage has greatly advanced our cause. He has, in turn, nurtured many of our masters and adepts.”
This gave Qiang a good deal to think about and although he might have asked a few more questions he felt it appropriate to take on board these significant revelations before enquiring further.
But then Jian interrupted. “You are forgetting your manners, Bai. Invite the young master to make himself comfortable for the night.”
Qiang is the son of Chao, a peasant farmer whose wife is Nuan. When Qiang was very young Nuan gave birth to a little girl, Lan. Qiang and Lan become inseparable. But Nuan notices that when Qiang goes off to school, after a time he comes home late. Finally Nuan goes off to find what is detaining her son and she finds that he has been receiving tuition from a Buddhist master on meditation.
Nuan soon notices that Qiang has some extraordinary talents.
But after many seasons of plenty, a long drought sets in and Chao is no longer able to provide for his family. Unable to pay the Emperor’s taxes, Chao realises he must relocate.
Chao faced with the shame of not being able to care for his family commits suicide.
The family is taken in by the provincial governor, Xian Riu. The governor is an austere man, who although generous to Qiang’s sister and mother, is determined to test Qiang in the most arduous of ways. In his final test the governor sends Qiang off to deliver a gift to another provincial governor. Unfortunately to meet his obligations Qiang has to traverse areas where bandits now prevail.
The story relates how Qiang endures his hardships in meeting his obligations to Xian Riu. Along the way he is captured by bandits and escapes. He encounters new masters who help him learn the basic tenets of Buddhism which enable him to maintain a sense of equanimity despite his trials.
There is a final confrontation with the bandits which Qiang must endure before returning to Xian Riu’s palace meeting all his obligations where he is finally confirmed as a Buddhist master and endowed with the title Takygulpa Rinpoche.