Lan-k’o – A Chinese Folk Tale

May 22, 2011 at 1:19 pm Leave a comment

Source: DeviantArt

In the province of Che-chiang, south of Chu-chou on the Divine Continent of Aparagodovaniya, stood a mountain 10,032 feet tall, and on it was a tip exactly 365 hands long and twenty-four cubits in circumference, so as to mimic the divine perfection of the 365 solar days and the 24 seasonal terms that the world was divided into. It was known as Lan-k’o Shan, the Rotted Axe Handle Mountain. And in the village at the foot of the great mountains dwelled a boy who was curious, and in his curiosity he would go to every adult he could find and ask them every question he could find.

And if the grass grows during the Jingzhe, when insects wake, why does it
Sleep in winter, when man still walks? Does it tire as a man or a lion tires?
Does it eat as a man eats? If man harvests the rice and the grain to feed
Himself, does the grass harvest man to feed himself and his children both?
For when man returns to the soil, does it not feed the grass as the man once-

And as the young curious boy spoke, the adults would flee at the very sound of his presence. They had wood to chop and rice to harvest, and their work was always beguiled by his idle speech and incessant questions. When the boy watched them would sometimes even follow them to their woods where they harvested lumber and to their rice paddies.

Finally, the boy did find an older man, a man who had the years of wizened service to himself and his village. The boy entered the man’ser hut and sat down.

He had mottled and leathery skin that looked as a rug from the West
And yet it had seen years of use;
a cobra who had forgotten to shed his skin
and be reborn.
His skin was old, but kept in good health;
an ancient bauble from the Celestial Court passed
down, but kept in a reliquary so as to preserve it.

The young boy asked the man many questions until the man smiled and answered them all, one by one. And then the young boy asked the old man about what the name of the mountain meant; why it was Lan-k’o Mountain (Axe-handle mountain). The man stared at the young boy for a long time before he told him.

According to the man, it was named for Wang Chih, a man from many many years ago during the ancient Tsin period. An unpious soul in the body of a brash and headstrong man made for a determined yet insatiable mindset, and it was most inappropriate for the simple life of a woodcutter that Wang Chih was born to.

One day, he exited his home in a bout of anger that forced him to yield to his family and he left for the mountain to clear his head. His mind was obfuscated with furor and he ran up the mountain, where he sought wood to chop and clear his troubled mind.

He rushed and feared neither wolves and lizards nor tigers and leopards, and he went straight to the top to look around. It was indeed a magnificent mountain.

A thousand peaks stand like rows of spears,
Like ten thousand cubits of screen widespread.
The sun’s beams lightly enclose the azure mist;
In darkening rain, the mount’s color turns cool and green.
Dry creepers entwine old trees;
Ancient fords edge secluded paths.
Rare flowers and luxuriant grass.
Tall bamboos and lofty pines.
Tall bamboos and lofty pines
For ten thousand years grow green in this blessed land.
Rare flowers and luxuriant grass
In all seasons bloom asi n the isles of the Blest.
The caslls of birds hidden are near.
The sounds of streams rushing are clear.
Deep inside deep canyons the orchids interweave.
On every ridge and crag spout lichens and mosses.
Rising and falling, the ranges show a fine dragon’s pulse.
Here in reclusion must an eminent man reside.
-“The Journey to the West, Chapter 1”

There he saw two young boys who sat on wooden stumps ten or twenty inches apart, and on a small stone they played a game of Go. Wang Chih sat and spoke with them briefly about his life; and Wang Chih spoke of his nature. He argued about the Three that were untouched; the Immortals, the Buddhas, and the Holy Sages, and their immortality. Wang Chih professed envy, great envy of the Buddhas, the Holy Sages, and the Immortals, for they stayed forever young while mortal men grew old and bowed down to Yama, the Sovereign of Death.

The two boys told Wang Chih that immortality without enlightenment was death. They offered him fruit, a small fruit that was like a plum but was shaped like the pit of a peach. He ate it and he was neither hungry nor thirsty.

Wang Chih sat and watched the game of go for some time. One of the boys turned his head, and spyed Wang Chih’s wavering form. “Wang Chih, your axe handle is rotten!” With this, Wang Chih saw that indeed the wood of his axe had rotted and was covered in dark verdant lichens.

When he returned to town, all was different. There was no trace of his family, and his home was now gone, replaced with an entirely different home. He asked around, lost and confused, and nobody even remembered his name.

Wang Chih thought he had been tricked, and he rushed to the top of the mountain with his rotten axe in tow, with the intention of slaying the two young boys. But when he reached the most divine peak, and could not find them, their words rang through his ears once more – “immortality without enlightenment is death.” He returned to the village, leaving his rotten axe handle at the peak.

It was here that the wizened, leathery man finished telling his story to the young and inquisitorial youth. “And so the mountain, curious child, was named after the handle at its apex.” The old man gave sigh, with a wistful and teary look in his eyes. “The two boys were never seen again, for they were immortals, and the Fair Folk would rarely reveal themselves twice to the same mortal.”

“And as for Wang Chih,” said the wizened man. “I am but an old man now, what harm could I possibly do?”

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Entry filed under: Sad, Weird.

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