The Story of Du Zichun
(Minghui.org) According to Buddhism, everything in the human world is an illusion and cannot stay unchanged forever. If a cultivator clings to worldly thoughts, even just a bit of human sentimentality, it may lead to failure at the last minute.
The following is such a story recorded in Taiping Guangji, the largest collection of supernatural stories and events in Chinese history, compiled during the Song Dynasty (960–1279).
How a Master Sought His Disciple
Du Zichun lived in the era of Northern Zhou (557-581 AD) and the Sui Dynasty (581-619 AD). As a young man, he was bold and forthright. He didn’t take anything seriously, and lived an unruly and extravagant life style, indulging in pleasures and drinking.
He paid no attention to accumulating family wealth, and it didn’t take long before he lost all his family fortune and was reduced to poverty and ruin. So he went to seek refuge with his relatives and friends. But they all shut him out, thinking that he was a good-for-nothing.
Winter came, and he was dressed in rags and had little to eat. He was wandering on Chang'an Avenue one evening, feeling cold, hungry, and very lonely. He couldn't help but sigh miserably. An old man with a walking stick came up to him and asked why he was sighing.
Du poured out all his grievances about his painful situation and complained about how his relatives were all heartless. He became more angry and emotional as he grumbled.
The old man asked Du how much money he needed.
“Thirty or fifty thousand coins will do for me,” Du replied.
The old man said it wouldn’t be enough. Du then increased the sum to one hundred thousand coins. But the old man still said it would not be enough, and asked Du to give him another figure.
“How about one million?” Du asked. The old man still told him it would not be enough. So Du asked for three million coins.
“Okay, that will do,” the old man said. He then took out a string of 1,000 coins and gave them to Du. “That’s all I have today. Wait for me at the Persian Mansion on West Street at noon tomorrow, and I will give you the rest of the money. Don’t be late.”
Du went to the meeting point the next day. True to his word, the old man gave him three million coins, and left without leaving his name.
With so much money in hand, Du could not help feeling over the moon. “I’ll never be poor again,” he thought to himself.
Almost immediately, he started riding top-class horses and wearing luxurious furs. He drank with friends all day long and hired bands to play for them. He fooled around in brothels and never cared about his livelihood in the future.
In just a couple of years, he squandered all three million coins and had to wear cheap clothes again and ride donkeys. Soon, he could not even afford to ride donkeys, and had to walk around instead, and became just as poor and helpless as he was not too long before. He looked up to the sky and sighed deeply.
Just then, the old man appeared again in front of him. He held Du’s hand and asked, “How did you get to this point again? Never mind, I can help you out. How much do you want this time?”
Du felt really ashamed, and was too embarrassed to ask. The old man asked him repeatedly, but Du could only apologize in shame. In the end, the old man told Du to go to the same spot at the same time the next day, saying that he would give Du ten million coins this time.
The next day, Du went to the same place, and the old man gave him ten million coins, just as he promised. Before he went, Du made up his mind that this time he would amend his past mistakes and buy a family business, and he would make a lot of money. He told himself that this time, he would become richer than the richest people he knew.
However, as soon as he got the money, he completely forgot his aspirations and started to indulge in extravagance and debauchery again. In less than three or four years, he became penniless and was in an even more dreadful situation than before.
One day, he bumped into the old man again at the same spot and tried to avoid him by covering up his face. But the old man grabbed Du’s clothes and told him it was silly to try to shy away. He then gave Du 30 million coins and said to him, “If you don’t make something good out of yourself this time, you will be beyond help and be destitute forever.”
Du thought to himself, “I have been living a reckless and dissolute lifestyle beyond my means, and I’ve squandered every coin I had. None of my wealthy relatives, friends, or anyone else have offered me any help, except for this old man, who offered me huge sums of money three times. How should I repay his kindness?”
With this thought in mind Du said to the old man, “I have learned three lessons from your kindness, and I will make something of myself now. I shall also help orphans and widows, and help them get an ethical education. I’m extremely grateful for your kindness, and I will come back to serve you once I have accomplished my aspirations.”
The old man said, “This is exactly what I have been hoping for. Once you have achieved what you set out to do, come and wait for me on the Hungry Ghost Festival next year under the two cypress trees in front of the Laojun Temple.”
Knowing that most of the orphans and widows lived in Huainan, Du came to Yangzhou. He bought 100 hectares of fertile land, built a residence in the city, and over 100 houses at intersections and other key locations. He then called for orphans and widows to come and live in those houses. He helped nephews and nieces in those family clans with their marriages and made sure that couples were buried together after they both passed away. Those who had died elsewhere were reburied on their homeland. Thanks to his efforts, old grudges among people were resolved, and those who had done virtuous things were generously rewarded for their grace.
After fulfilling his wish, Du came to Laojun Temple as promised and saw the old man.
Tests in Cultivation
The old man stopped playing his flute when he saw Du, and took him to the Yuntai Peak of Mount Hua (a mountain with a long history of religious significance in today’s Shaanxi Province).
After 40 miles up the mountain, they came to a magnificent mansion, with cranes flying about and clouds drifting around it. There was a nine-foot-tall alchemy furnace in the middle of the main hall, and the purple light glittering in the furnace brightened the entire hall. There were nine jade girls standing around the furnace, which was guarded by the Azure Dragon and White Tiger.
When evening came, the old man was no longer wearing ordinary clothes, but a red Taoist robe and a golden Taoist crown. He gave Du three white stone pills and a glass of wine, and told him to take them straight away.
He then laid a piece of tiger fur in the western corner of the hall, sat down facing east, and said to Du, “Keep quiet. All you will see are illusions, such as giant gods, demons, malevolent spirits, hell, and ferocious animals, as well as your family members being tied and tortured. These are all illusory. Just keep still and don't say a word. As long as you hold no fear, they won’t do any harm to you. Just remember what I said to you today!”
As soon as the Taoist priest left, Du heard men shouting and horses neighing loudly outside, and there were countless soldiers all over the mountains and valleys, with flags fluttering and spears gleaming.
Among them was a tall man, who claimed to be a great general. He was wearing dazzling golden armor, and so was his horse. He was guarded by several hundred soldiers, all holding swords and bows.
They came to the mansion and shouted to Du, “Who do you think you are? The great general is here. How dare you not pay your respects!”
Some guards pointed their swords toward Du and asked his name and what he was doing there. Du kept silent.
The guards got angry and shouted, “Kill him! Shoot him dead with an arrow!”
Du remained very calm, as if he had not heard anything. In the end, the general left in a rage with his soldiers.
A little while later, packs of fierce tigers, ferocious dragons, lions, vipers, and venomous scorpions came rushing towards Du, as if they would tear him apart and eat him up. Some were jumping back and forth over the top of his head, baring their sharp teeth and claws, but Du still remained calm and silent. After a while, the snakes and beasts disappeared without a trace.
Torrential rains suddenly poured down, with deafening thunder and lightning, and it turned pitch dark. Just then, a large burning wheel of fire rolled around him, and Du could hardly keep his eyes open due to the dazzling radiance. A moment later, the yard was filled with water, over three meters deep. The thunder and lightning intensified and shook the earth violently, as if the mountain would collapse and the river would flow backwards.
In the blink of an eye, the billowing waves surged to where Du was sitting. With the words of the Taoist priest clear in his mind, Du sat upright, without even blinking his eyelids.
A little while later, the gold-clad general came back again, with a group of fierce-looking ghosts from hell. They placed a cauldron in front of Du, which was filled with boiling water. The ghosts, with spears and iron pitchforks in their hands, threatened Du, “Tell us your name and we’ll let you go, if not, we’ll throw you into the pot!”
Du still kept quiet.
The ghosts then brought in Du’s wife and tied her to bottom of the stairs. “Tell us your name, and we’ll let her go,” the ghosts yelled at Du. But he still remained silent.
The ghosts started to whip his wife, and then hacked her body with knives, and shot her with arrows. They burned and boiled her, and tortured her in every way possible. His wife was in unbearable pain and cried out to Du, “Although I’m ugly and clumsy and not worthy of you, I have been your wife for ten-odd years. Now the demons have brought me here and are torturing me. I cannot bear it anymore! I only hope you can say something so that I can be spared. How can you be so ruthless? How can you stand to see me tortured this way?”
His wife cried miserably. Still, Du remained calm and quiet, as if he had not seen or heard anything.
“All right,” the general said, “I have more ways to deal with her!” He ordered the demons to bring an iron file to shred her flesh inch by inch from her feet up. Du’s wife cried out loudly in pain. Still, Du didn’t even take a look at her.
“This guy is accomplished in black magic,” the general said, “He cannot be allowed to stay in the human world for long!” He then ordered his guards to behead Du. After Du was killed, his soul was taken to the king of hell.
“Isn’t this the bad guy at Yuntai Peak?” the king of hell said as soon as he saw Du, “Send him to hell!”
Du suffered all kinds of torture in hell – he was boiled in an oil pot, abused in an iron tent, poked with iron piercers, rubbed against sharp armor, thrown into a fire pit, and forced to walk on knives and swords. But still, Du remembered what the Taoist priest told him and endured it all without a sound.
The demon soldiers later reported to the king of hell that all the torture means had been used on Du, but he would not cave in.
“This guy is sinister and vicious. He should not be allowed to be a man. Let him be a woman in the next life!” the king of hell declared.
Du was soon reborn as a girl in Wang Qin’s family. Wang was the magistrate of Shanfu County in Song prefecture. Du was a sickly child from the day he was born, and was treated with acupuncture and bitter herbal medicine non-stop. He also fell into fire and dropped from bed on occasions, and experienced endless sufferings. However, he never uttered a word.
As years went by, Du turned into a very beautiful young lady, but he never spoke. Wang’s family thought that their daughter was dumb, and their relatives also insulted and bullied her. But Du never said anything.
Failed at the Last Moment
There was a scholar named Lu Gui in the same county, who was a successful candidate of the imperial examination. He heard that the magistrate’s daughter was very beautiful, so he asked the matchmaker to talk to the magistrate, hoping to marry his daughter.
The magistrate rejected his proposal, saying that his daughter was dumb.
Lu Gui didn’t give up, saying, “As long as the wife is virtuous, what does it matter if she can't talk? She can even set an example for those women who gossip all the time.”
So the magistrate agreed to the marriage. Lu Gui followed traditional rituals and married Du. The two enjoyed a very harmonious relationship for years and had a son.
When the boy was two years old, he was very adorable and smart. Lu Gui once held the child while talking to Du, but he didn't say anything, no matter how hard Lu tried to tease his wife.
Lu Gui got angry and said, “In ancient times, official Jia’s wife looked down upon him, thinking that he was incompetent, and never smiled. But later when Jia shot a pheasant with an arrow, she let go of her resentment against him.”
He continued, “Although my status is not as high as Jia, isn’t my talent a hundred times better than shooting a pheasant? Yet, you still don’t bother to talk to me!”
“When the husband is looked down upon by his wife, what’s the point of keeping her son!”
He grabbed the boy’s legs and threw him out of the house. The child fell on his head and dashed out his brains on a piece of rock; his blood splashed several steps away.
Out of love for the boy, Du forgot what the Taoist priest told him, and screamed, “Oh no!” – the first sound he had made since the priest left.
As soon as Du screamed out, he found himself sitting in the Taoist temple on Yuntai Peak again; the old Taoist priest was there too. It was dawn, and suddenly, purple flames hit the beams of the mansion and the house was burned down almost instantly.
“You’re such a poor and pitiful person. You have indeed messed up a very important matter!” With these words, the old Taoist priest grabbed Du’s hair and threw his head into the water urn. The fire was immediately extinguished.
“You have let go of happiness, anger, sorrow, fear, evilness, and various desires, except for the sentimental love of your child,” the Taoist priest said to Du, “If you hadn’t yelled out when Lu Gui threw out your child, you would have made an elixir for immortality and gained a place amongst the immortals. What a pity! A promising disciple is truly hard to come by! I can continue to make elixirs of immortality, but you now have to return to the secular world. Keep cultivating with due diligence in the future!”
With these words, he showed Du the way in the distance and told him to go back. Before he left, Du stepped onto the burned-out foundation of the mansion, and saw that the alchemy furnace was ruined, with an iron pillar in the middle. It was as thick as an arm and several feet tall. The Taoist priest took off his robe and started chipping at the iron pillar with a knife.
After Du returned home, he deeply regretted that he had forgotten what the Taoist priest told him, and wanted to go back to serve the Taoist priest to make up for his mistake.
But when he came to Yuntai Peak, he could not find anything, and only returned with extreme sorrow and regret.
(Story from Taiping Guangji)