In the twelfth year of the T’ai-yüan reign [376-397], there came an “Enlightened One” from outside of China who could swallow knives, belch fire and spit out pearls, jade, gold, and silver. He claimed that he had learned the skills from laymen, not from Buddhist priests. Once on a journey he encountered a man who was carrying a load over his shoulders on a carrying pole. On the top of the load at one end was a small basket of about one liter capacity.
“I’m really tired from walking,” said the magician to the bearer. “I’d love to ride on top of the load you’re carrying.”
The bearer found this very strange. Thinking that this was surely a lunatic, he replied, “I’d very much like to oblige you, but where exactly were you thinking of sitting?”
“By your leave,” answered the magician, “I would like to sit right in that little basket of yours.”
The bearer was struck even more by the strangeness of the answer. “If you can get into that basket, you’re certainly not of this world.”
He thereupon put down the load and the magician stepped into the basket. The basket was no bigger, nor was the magician any smaller. Upon lifting the load the bearer also noticed that it was no heavier than before.
After walking several miles the bearer stopped to rest beneath a tree. He called out to the magician to eat with him, but the magician said that he had his own food and did not wish to come out. In the basket there was enough room for dishes and utensils, for both food and drink to be laid out, as well as room for plenty of good cooked foods. In fact, he returned the invitation to the bearer himself.
Before they had half finished, the magician said to the bearer, “I think I’d like to have a female companion for the meal.” Again he coughed something up, this time a young girl of about twenty who in both dress and countenance was extremely attractive. The two of them then began to eat together.
When the meal was about over, the magician fell asleep. The girl turned to the bearer, “I have a boyfriend whom I’d like to bring out to eat with me. When my magician husband wakes, don’t tell him about this!”
She then produced from her mouth a young man who ate with her in the basket. Now, even though there was activity involving three people, the basket was no wider than before.
Not much later, the magician began to stir as if he were about to awaken so the girl put her boyfriend in her mouth. The magician awoke and said to the bearer, “Let’s go!” whereupon he put the girl into his mouth. Then he did the same with the eating utensils.
When they arrived in the captial, they found a family there that was very wealthy and of high rank. Their wealth could be measured in the tens of thousands but they were very stingy as well, and not in the least kind to others.
“I will try to loosen the miser’s purse,” said the magician to the bearer, and up he went to the house.
There he found a fine horse, much prized by the rich family, tied to a post. He then made the horse disappear.
The next day the horse could be seen inside a five-peck earthenware vessel. There was no way anyone could break it and get the horse out. No one could figure out what to do. At this point the magician walked over to the family members and said, “If you will make a meal for one hundred people in order to save the destitute of the region, then the horse can be removed.” In desperation the head of the clan then arranged this meal, and when it was over, the horse returned to the post.
The next day, the parents of the rich man were in the hall as usual, when they suddenly disappeared. The whole family became anxious--where were they? When someone opened a cupboard he was surprised to find the parents in a vase! No one knew how to remove them. The head of the family again went to the magician to seek his help.
“Now you should make food and drink for a thousand people,” the magician replied. “If you feed the impoverished among the common people, your parents will then be released.” When that had been done, the parents were found back in the hall again.
(Lu, pp. 202-203; TPYL, 737.3270a)
Tr. Michael Broschat
Translator’s Note: Certain difficulties with this story, as well as its lack of unity, seem to arise from its origin as an incomplete transmission of an Indian Buddhist tale.
Chi Chung-san1 was of a very high character indeed. He liked to wander about and stop as his mind dictated. Once when he was traveling to the southwest, he arrived at a pavilion several tens of li outside of Loyang called Hua-yang where he put up for the night. There was absolutely no one around that night, so he was alone in the pavilion. Since in the past people had been killed there, travelers stopping there often regarded the pavilion as very inauspicious. But Chi was of a quiet and relaxed temperament and had no fears at all.
During the first watch of the night he picked up his zither and played a few tunes in an elegant tone and easy manner. Then, from out of thin air a voice praised his performance.
Strumming his zither he called out to the voice, “Who are you, sir?”
“I am a dead person,” it answered. “I have been hidden away here for some thousands of years. I’ve come out to listen because when I heard you playing just now, the sounds were so pure and harmonious, just as I used to enjoy so much. My death was unfortunately not what my fate had in store for me, so my corpse is in mutilated shreds. It would not be right for me to meet you. It’s just that I love your playing and would like to approach you, hoping you won’t be revolted. Please continue to play a few more tunes.”
Chi began once again, and beating the rhythm on his instrument, said, “It’s already getting late. Why don’t you reveal yourself. Of what importance is the corporeality of mortality!”2
A person’s head appeared, supported by a pair of hands.
“Hearing you play, I’m overcome with happiness. It’s as if I were momentarily reborn!”
They then spoke together of the fine points of music. The corpse spoke clearly and eloquently.
“Please let me have the zither for a moment,” the head asked of Chung-san.
Chung-san handed over the zither and the corpse played several tunes, but none were extraordinary. Only the tune “Kuang-ling-san” was beyond comparison in its exquisiteness. Chung-san learned it from him and after only half of the night he had gotten it down completely. None of what he had learned and played before could be compared with it.
The corpse made Chung-san swear that he would never teach the tune to another person. Nor was he to reveal his name. At dawn, he said to Chung-san, “Although I’ve known you only this one night, it is worth one thousand years. Now we have to part and never meet again--how sad it is!”
(Lu, pp. 198-99; TPKC, 317.11)
Tr. Michael Broschat
Note: This is a piece that apparently grew out of, and subsequently enhanced, Chi Kang’s legendary reputation for his rendition of the “Kuang-ling-san” (Strains of Kuang-ling). The story provides an explanation of the supposedly “otherworldly” quality of the tune (and its rendition), at the same time it shows the power of music to move even the spirit of the dead. Chi was executed by Ssu-ma Chao and was said to have asked for a zither to play this particular tune before his death. He also wrote a “Fu on the Zither” (Ch’in fu).
1 Chi (or Hsi) K’ang (223-262), who held the position of Chung-san ta-fu (Palace Attendant Grandee) in the Wei court; for his biographies, see San-kuo chih 21, pp. 605ff. and Chin shu 49, pp. 1369ff.
2 This is an allusion to a phrase from the Taoist text, Chuang-tzu.