Taoist tales

When the eyes of the
stone lions turn red

One night as Taoist Master Chiu Chang-chun 丘長春 was meditating, he felt he was being commanded to go to a village to warn a person of impending disaster. Following his intuition, he arrived at a village near the banks of a river. In this village was a wealthy man, Wang Yun, who owned most of the surrounding land and collected rents from the peasants who leased it for farming.

Wang was miserly and cruel. If his tenants did not pay their rent on time he would force them to sell their livestock and grain. He loaned money at high interest rates, and many villagers were forced to sell their children when they could not repay on time. Knowing that their master controlled the livelihood of the village, Wang’s servants bullied the farmers and merchants. They looted stores and barns. They raped young girls. They robbed defenceless old men and women.

Wang’s mansion was built close to the river bank. The river and the willows on its bank provided a scenic setting for the gazebos and miniature mountains that formed the front garden of the Wang mansion. Away from the river on the edge of the Wang estate was a hill. One of Wang Yun’s ancestors had built a shrine for Bodhisattva Kuanyin. In previous generations the shrine had been visited frequently by members of the family, but in Wang Yun’s time the shrine was abandoned, for Wang Yun despised the ways of Buddhism and Taoism.

When Chiu Chang-chun arrived in the village, he settled in the abandoned shrine. Each day he went to the Wang mansion to beg for meals. Each day he was turned away by Wang’s servants. On the twelfth day, when Chiu Chang-chun knocked at the door, a young servant girl Chun-Hua appeared. She glanced around to make sure no one was looking before she gave Chiu Chang-chun some steamed buns. Softly she said, “Taoist master, accept this food and please go away before my master finds out that you are here.” Then she slipped quietly back into the mansion.

For the next two days Chun-Hua brought rice and noodles and steamed rolls to the Taoist master. On the third day, as Chiu Chang-chun was about to knock on the door, Wang Yun appeared with his servants. When Chiu saw Wang he said, “Craving fame and fortune will ruin your life. If you are able to detach yourself from material goods then your mind will be free of anxiety. You cannot take gold and silver with you when you die. You leave with only the trace of tears from your eyes.”

Chiu had intended to warn Wang that if he continued his evil ways disaster would be imminent. But instead of realising his wrongs, Wang looked at Chiu and said angrily, “You scoundrel of a monk, what are you talking about? I want no dealings with Buddhists and Taoists. You had better go before I set the dogs on you.”

Chiu Chang-chun replied calmly, “Sir, I was passing by your village and all I am asking for is a meal.” Wang laughed and joked with his servants, “Hey, this monk wants a meal. Let’s give him one.” Wang then whispered to a servant, and the latter took a shovel, walked to the stables, and returned with a pile of horse dung. Wang took the shovel, thrust it at Chiu, and said, “Here, have your dinner.”

Chiu Chang-chun said, “Do not jest with a poor old monk.” Wang Yun and his servants laughed and went inside the mansion.

All this time Chun-Hua had been standing behind a pillar. She could not bear the cruel behaviour of her master and her fellow servants. After her master was gone she approached Chiu Chang-chun and said, “Taoist master, here are some rice cakes. Take them or you’ll be hungry tonight.”

Chiu said, “Today I did not come to beg for food. I came to warn your master that if he did not repent his evil deeds, disaster would come to his household. Since he did not listen, karma will see to it that he does not escape what will befall him. Because you do not participate in the cruel deeds of the members of this household, my word of warning is now given to you instead.”

Chiu Chang-chun then took Chun-Hua behind a group of trees and whispered to her, “If you see the eyes of the stone lions in front of the mansion turn red, then you must hurry to the shrine of Kuanyin and stay there on the hill for about two hours. Whatever happens, do not return to your master’s mansion during that time.” Chiu then disappeared.

Chun-Hua returned to the mansion. Outwardly she acted as if nothing had happened, but in her mind she remembered the words of the Taoist master. Every morning she slipped out of the front door to examined the eyes of the two stone lions that guarded the entrance. This went on for two months. One day, as she was coming out to check the lions’ eyes a cowherd stopped her and said, “Lady, every morning when I take the cows out to the field I see you looking intently at these stone lions. You have been doing this for the past two months. Can you tell me what is so interesting about these lions?”

Chun-Hua said, “Little brother, a while ago a Taoist monk came to beg for food at my master’s mansion and told me that if the lions’ eyes turned red I should run to the shrine of Kuanyin and stay there for two hours. That is why I am checking the lions’ eyes every morning.”

When the cowherd heard her words he thought to himself, “Let me play a trick on her.”

Late that night he took some red dye and smeared it on the lions’ eyes. He then hid behind a tree to wait for Chun-Hua to appear in the morning. But that night while Chun-Hua was about to fall asleep, her heart started beating wildly. She sat up, and sweat poured down her brow. Suddenly the thought came to her mind, “Go check the eyes of the lions!” She leapt out of bed and ran out the front door. When she saw that the eyes of the lions were indeed red, she hurried towards the shrine of Kuanyin on the hill. The cowherd, wanting to know what happened, ran after her. As the two reached the shrine, a loud clap of thunder resounded. Rain poured down, and the earth shook. Chun-Hua and the cowherd crawled under the altar table and held on to each other. In the distance they could hear buildings collapse and trees crashing to the ground. They did not dare to come out of the shrine until sunlight appeared the next morning.

Stunned, they walked back to the village. As they approached, they saw that the mansion of Wang Yun had disappeared from the face of the earth. Here and there were uprooted trees, but no sign of life was seen. A crowd of villagers gathered at the site where the mansion had stood. One old man said, “The Lords of Heaven must have commanded the river gods to sweep the accursed mansion away. Karma has finally caught up with Master Wang and his arrogant servants.”

The difficult road
to enlightenment

The story is taken from Seven
Taoist Masters, translated by
Eva Wong (1990). This classic traces
the spiritual development of the
seven masters on their route to
enlightenment, often accompanied
by great physical and mental
suffering.

— from Seven Taoist Masters,
translated by Eva Wong (1990)

Master Chiu Chang Chun
(1148-1227) lived in northern China
during the time of the Mongol
conquest under Genghis Khan.
On orders from the great Khan, Chiu
travelled across Central Asia to give
him spiritual advice but the ruler was
too besotted with sex, hunting and
warmongering to take Chiu's teaching
seriously.

Contents Page

As he went to the mansion to beg for food, Taoist Master Chiu Chang-chun was given horse dung instead, by the wicked rich man.