Learning the Scripts is just like learning to read. The teacher and the student each holds a booklet. First the teacher sings a prose, then the student sings a prose. It has to be sung! Sunny's uncle starts to sing, and at the same time taps out some beats on the table. Each beat loud and clear, just like Peking opera. It is just like opera, exactly the same! They even share the same jargons. Uncle says so about reading the Scripts: first you should stay on the beat, and second you should stay in the harmony. He says: to become a good monk, you need a good voice; says: on the 10th year of the Republic there was a flood. The flood overflowed the river banks and came down to the Pond of the Clear Water. Many died in the flood, so there was a large funeral, with 13 Master Monks – 13 of them, as well as the head monks of all major monasteries, plus the lesser monks, all together making up to hundreds. Who should be the Grand Master? Pushing back and forth, it had to be the Monk on the Stony Bridge – the one from the Temple of Kindness. As soon as he sits down, he looks like the Buddha of the Earth; that's needless to say; Once he announces “Incense!” the crowd of thousands suddenly falls silent. Uncle says: you need to train your voice – in summer you train through the rain, in winter you train through the storm; focus, and pull your voice up through your belly! He says: only when one has been through the roughest, one may become the toughest. He says: even in monks there are the best, the second and the third! Pay attention, don't be distracted! All these talks from Uncle earned complete respect from the young monk, so he sings prose by prose after Uncle:
“the incense bowl heats-”
“the incense bowl heats-”
“the sacred realm hazy-”
“the sacred realm hazy-”
“the buddhas emerge in golden glory-”
“the buddhas emerge in golden glory-”
goldfish in Bei Hai, Beijing
Once Sunny finishes the morning study (before bed time he has another class, called the evening study) the monks of the pudding An wake up one by one.
The nunnery homes just six. Counting Sunny, five of them are monks.
One old monk in his 60s is Uncle's teacher, called Shinning Light. But few know that name, because few would call him by his monk name – most people call him the Old Monk or the Old Teacher, and Sunny calls him Grandpa Teacher. He's lonely and dry, always in his room – inside that “one flower conceals an entire world”. But you never see him pray, he just sits there silently. He eats with others, except when the New Year comes.
Below him are the three monk brothers – the Monk of the Mountain, the Monk of the Sea, and the Monk of Death. In and out the temple, some call them big monk, second monk; some call them mountain monk, sea monk; only for the Monk of Death, no one calls him “dead monk” – that would be ridiculous. People just call him the Monk of Death. He only deserves that because of his young age – he's only in his 20s.
The Monk of the Mountain – Sunny's uncle – is the manager here. Not “the Head Monk”, not “the Master”, but the manager. It makes sense, because he really does a manager's job. In his room there's a desk, on top of which lie some notebooks and an abacus. Three notebooks: one for temple income, one for rent, one for debts. Monks hold ceremonies and charge for them. Otherwise who would become a monk? The usual ceremonies are funerals. A formal funeral takes ten people: the Head, the drummer, and four others on each side. Fewer than that you can have eight – three on each side will do. The pudding An only has four monks, so they have to work with other temples for a full funeral. That happens now and then, but usually they just do half. One Head, one on the drums, then one on each side. Because first it's a pain to work with other temples; second, few around here can afford a full funeral. More often, if someone dies the family would just get two monks, or even just one to mumble some Scripts and knock on some instruments. Most don't pay immediately, but only after Autumn. That needs to go on the notebook. Besides, the salary for each monk in the funeral differs. Just like in the theatre, it depends. The Head earns the most. Because he has to sing first and sing solo. There's a prose called “The Skeleton”, where other monks would put down their instruments to rest with only the Head singing slowly and softly. After the Head, the dummer earns the most. Don't you think he's got an easy job! Even for the “Thunder” prose in the beginning, you can't drum out the cadence without ages of practice. For the others at the funeral, the salary is the same. This needs to go on the income book: “xx month xx day of xx year, the funeral was here and here, xx was the Head, xx drummed... ...” so to save the swearing and cursing when the payday comes. ... ... The nunnery owns some acres of farm to rent out to people around. They also give out loans. Few would miss paying rent and debt, because the farmers fear the Buddha would get upset with them. Only these three books would keep the mountain monk busy. Besides that, buying incense and candles, oil, salt, and spices also need to go into the books. Above the notebooks, the mountain monk hangs a sign in his room that reads in red letters: “write more, think less”.
with goldfish in Bei Hai, Beijing
From the three criteria as a good monk according to the mountain monk himself, he has none. His appearance is best described by two words: “yellow, and fat”. His voice doesn't sound like a bell either, but rather like a pig. Is he smart? Hard to tell. He's always the loser at card games. He never wears his monk cloak in the temple, not even his jacket. Usually he just puts on a shirt, showing off a shiny belly. He drags around a pair of shoes barefoot – even new shoes. For days he wanders around in ragged clothes here and there, making pig-like noises: “Mmmm—-Mmmm”
The second monk is the sea monk. He's got a wife. His wife would come and stay for a few months every year between summer and fall, because it's cooler here in the nunnery. Among the six regular residents in the nunnery is this wife of the monk. The mountain monk and the Monk of Death both call her sister, and Sunny calls her auntie. The couple like to keep it clean – washing and sweeping all day long. In the evening, they would sit in the garden to get some cool air. During the day they shut themselves in the room.
The third monk is smart and capable. Sometimes there will be numbers that the manager can't figure out even with the abacus, but the third monk would give you the answer with a blink of his eyes. He wins the most at card games. After a dozen rounds, he'd know who's got what in their hands. When he plays, people always like to stand behind him and watch. Whoever calls him for a game, they would say: “we want to send you some money”. Not only does he know both the Scripts and the Confessions (few know the Confessions in smaller temples), he can do acrobatics. He can “fly the cymbal”. In July one of the towns would hold a Meeting, with a large ceremony. They invite a few dozen monks, cloaked, to fly the cymbal. Flying the cymbal is playing a twenty-pound cymbal until it flies. At some point, all the other instruments halt, leaving a few dozens of cymbals ringing with a tight beat. All of a sudden, the cymbals fly up into the air. As a cymbal flies up, it also rotates. Then it falls back down, caught by the monk. He doesn't just catch it, but with all sorts of stances: some like “a buffalo watching the moon”, some like “a warrior carrying a sword” ... How is this a buddhist ceremony, it's a circus! Perhaps the Buddha of the Earth likes to watch these. But those who enjoy the most are the girls and the kids. This is when the good looking monks can show off. After a large ceremony, just like after a good opera, there'd always be one or two girls missing – ran away with the monks. The third monk can also do light funerals. During times less serious – like for anniversaries of passing, someone less serious would get a light funeral. The so-called light funeral is a regular funeral, but with the monk singing some pop songs at the end. You can even send requests. The Monk of Death himself can sing overnight without repeating. He had been away for a few years until last year. Some say he's got mistresses – a few of them. But at the nunnery he always keeps himself in check. He never even jokes or sings in front of girls. One time, when resting on the field, people surrounded him, forcing him to sing. He couldn't get out, says: “OK, I'll give you this one, but never again. You all know the local ballads, so I'll sing you one from An Hui:”
the girl and the boy work the corns
talked and talked and talked till bored
bored they are so talk no more
done with the corns and they worked the boy
He finished, but the crowd wanted more, so he sang one more:
'sis looks pretty
she's got good titties
brother got all touchy
then he feels all itchy
to be continued