(Chinese Classic Revised by BoSt)
Once upon a time there was a young scholar named Wang Ch’i who was fervent about Taoism and so read every available book and practiced daily to be an ardent Taoist. Somewhere along the way he’d learned that there were many immortals living on Mount Laoshan, so he undertook the long arduous journey there. When he reached the summit of the mountain, true enough he spotted a secluded monastery nestled in the woods. He raced towards it as fast as his feet could carry him and pounded on the large door. As no one responded, he tried the latch and found the door was not locked. He hesitantly let himself in and when his eyes adjusted to the dim light he saw some ways in a distinguished Taoist priest with white hair hanging down to his shoulders who appeared to be in a deep contemplation sitting on a rush mat. Approaching tentatively, Wang kowtowed to show his respect and knelt before the priest in silence in order to compose his thoughts and allow the priest to respond to his presence. As the latter seemed impervious to Wang’s presence and no response was forthcoming, Wang cleared his throat then again kowtowing begged forgiveness for his intrusion then voiced his innermost desire to learn more of Taoism and asked the priest to be his teacher.
The priest’s eyelids slowly lifted and his pupils gazed straight at Wang for a seemingly endless time. His astute observation revealed that Wang, however sincere, was still too pampered to endure all the required hardships to be a proper Taoist. This simply put, failed to deter Wang. He was adamant and emphatically argued that he could adapt and learn new ways, being most willing to endure any hardship to do so. Therefore he was provided with meager living accommodations and was allowed to remain in the monastery for a time, depending on his progress.
Early the next morning, the priest sent for Wang. He was given an ax and told to go with the other disciples to cut firewood in the forest. Wang happily obeyed. After more than a month of cutting wood however, Wang’s hands and feet were covered with thick calluses. The sparse living conditions and the rigid schedule, the enforced quiet, to say nothing of the simple rations eventually took its toll on Wang. Unable to stand the suffering any longer, he began entertaining the idea of returning home.
One evening, when he returned from his assigned task, he discovered two guests drinking wine with his master. It was already dark, so the priest cut a piece of white paper in the shape of a round mirror and stuck it on the wall. Instantly, it turned into a brilliant white moon which lit up the room.
The few other disciples streamed in order to wait upon their master and the guests; however one of the guests, not standing on ceremony went forth, took a jug of wine and offered it to the disciples to drink. The jug was passed around accordingly, but the disciples were astonished to see that the wine in the jar did not diminish even after several rounds of consumption.
The other guest said:”It is rather dull drinking by ourselves. Why not ask the moon goddess to join us?” The priest nodded, then he threw a chopstick at the moon on the wall and a beautiful girl appeared. Less than a foot tall at first, she stepped down from the wall and grew to human size. She then proceeded to sing and dance gracefully.
When she finished singing, she jumped onto the table and turned back into a chopstick. The three quests laughed heartily. They talked, joked around and drunk some more, enjoying a truly pleasurable time. Afterwards one of the guests said:”It has been a very pleasant evening. Will you all drink another glass with me in the Moon Palace?”The three guests ascended and in a flash they disappeared, seeming having moved their table up into the moon.
Wang rubbed his eyes in disbelief at these phantasmal events. He looked up and strangely enough actually spotted the three figures drinking on the moon, their images completely vivid as though reflected in a mirror.
After a while, the moon slowly dimmed. One of the disciples brought a lit candle and they saw the priest, once more manifest in the room sitting alone and the two guests gone. The remains of the meal were still on the table and the mirror like paper was still on the wall.
“Have you all had enough to drink?”The priest asked his disciples.”Yes.” they answered. The priest told them to go to bed early, so they wouldn’t be late for their wood-cutting the next day. Full of wonder, Wang thought no more of leaving.
Another month passed. Once again Wang found it hard to endure the daily grind and all that hardship, but he stubbornly refused to relent, for the priest still hadn’t taught him any magic. One day Wang again approached the priest with his request:”I have been here for several months already. All I do is get up at daybreak to cut firewood and return at sunset. I never bore such hardship when I was at home.”
“I predicted you wouldn’t be able to stand it,” interjected the priest smiling, “You may as well go home tomorrow morning.”
Wang had a stubborn streak and would not give up so easily however, so he pleaded with the priest to teach him some small trick, any trick, to make it all worthwhile.
“Which one then?” asked the priest; nodding.
Wang had noticed that the priest could walk through walls and said that he would be content to know how to do that. The priest smiled and agreed. He taught Wang the spell and bade him to repeat it so he could walk through the wall. At first, Wang was hesitant; he dared not to make the bold move. “What if he got stuck inside the wall?” He envisioned horrifying images, with his head stuck outside or a foot while the torso was trapped within. The priest anticipating his fear smiled reassuringly and voiced his encouragement anew for him to try anyhow. Refusing to be a coward, Wang did as he was told and lo and, behold, passed through the wall unhindered. “Ye!!!!” Elated he turned around but he found himself outside the wall.
Overjoyed, Wang raced around and went back in to thank the priest. The priest told him to be serious and not misuse the spell when he got home; otherwise, it wouldn’t work. Wang promised to remain vigilant and thanked the priest for his instructions. Shortly after he took his leave and descended the mountain.
When he got home, Wang boasted that he had met an immortal and learnt the art of passing through walls. His wife refused to believe him, so Wang repeated the spell the priest had taught him, backed away a few feet from the wall and ran straight at it.
Thugg!!! He hit his head hard at the wall!
To Wang’s surprise, the spell had lost its magic. He banged his head against the wall again and again, failing each time, and collapsed disoriented and almost unconscious, flat on the ground. When he got up a big bump, the size of an egg, started to swell up on his forehead.
His wife could not help herself and was doubled over with laughter. Wang’s face fell then grew dark, as he was consumed by shame and rage. Gnashing his teeth he inwardly cursed the old priest for his ingratitude and for the perceived betrayal.
Days and month’s passed with Wang incensed at the priest. Eventually reason took hold and he understood what had happened. With humility and longing he anew undertook the journey to visit the monastery. He followed the same paths and searched every corner of the mountain summit, all however without avail; for there was no trace of either the monastery, or the priest or the many novices.
Eventually he gave up and went back home but he was never the same. Often he would be seen as sitting outside in the garden, silent and staring at the moon. On occasion he would raise a cup to the moon and utter a silent prayer or a wish.