An old monk opens his leather bag in vain,
As a young layman prefers the carnal prayer mat.
Though the Sea of Desire seems not so deep,
Like Weakness Water, it cannot be crossed.
You may skim as light as a dragonfly’s flight,
But touch a wave and you’re surely lost.
Our story tells how in the Peaceful Government era of the Yuan Dynasty there lived on Mount Guacang a monk whose religious name was Correct And Single and whose monastic name was Lone Peak. Before becoming a monk, he had distinguished himself as a licentiate in the Chuzhou prefectural school. However, he had also shown early signs of a propensity for religious life. While only one month old and still in swaddling clothes, he would babble on and on like a schoolboy reciting his lessons, to the bewilderment of his parents. An itinerant priest came begging to the door, caught sight of the infant half-crying and half-laughing in a maidservant’s arms, and after listening intently, declared, “It’s the Surangama Sutra the child is reciting! He must be the reincarnation of some famous priest.” He pleaded with the parents to let him have the baby as his disciple, but the parents dismissed his talk as nonsense.
As the child grew, his parents made him study for the examinations, but although he could absorb several lines at a glance, his heart was not set on worldly success, and on several occasions he forsook Confucian for Buddhist studies and had to be severely disciplined by his parents befoe returning. Forced to take the examinations, he graduated as a licentiate while still a boy, and afterward used his stipend to help others. When his parents died, he completed the three years of mourning and then distributed the whole of the valuable family property among his relatives. For himself he made only a large bag to hold his wooden fish, a copy of the Sutrapitaka, and a few other things, then took the tonsure and lived the life of a recluse while practicing the Buddhist virtues. Enlightened people called him Abbot Lone Peak; others called him Priest Leather Bag.
He differed from other priests in abstaining not only from wine, meat. lust, and depravity but also from three staple activities of the priestly life. Which activities were they, do you suppose?
Asking for alms,
Explicating the scriptures，
Residing on a famous mountain
When people inquired as to why he didn’t ask for alms, he would reply, “In general one must approach Buddhism through self-denial, striving to wear oneself out physically and stinting on one’s food in order to make starvation and cold an ever-increasing threat. Once that is achieved, lustful thoughts will not arise, and if they do not arise, impurity will gradually give way to purity, and in the fullness of time one will naturally become a buddha. It is not necessary to recite scriptures or chant mantras. If, on the other hand, you choose neither to plow your own fields nor to weave your own cloth but rely instead on benefactors for your food and clothing, once you’re well fed and warmly clad, you’ll want to stroll about at your ease and sleep in a soft bed. As you stroll about, your eyes will light on objects of desire, all kinds of damning temptation will come unbidden to your door. That is why I live off the fruits of my own labor and abstain from asking for alms.”
When asked why he did not explicate the scriptures, he replied, “The language of the scriptures comes from the mouth of Buddha himself, and he is the only one who can explain it. All attempts at popular explication are like the ramblings of an idiot, with each layer of exegesis merely adding another layer of distortion. Long ago Tao Yuanming chose not to seek a detailed explanation in reading texts. Now, if a Chinse does not dare seek a detailed explanation in reading a Chinese text, how can he be so reckless as to try interpreting a foreign one? I do not presume to be Buddha’s right-hand man; all I hope is to escape his condemnation. That is why I keep my ignorance to myself and abstain from explicating the scriptures.”
When they asked him why he chose not to live on some famous mountain, he replied, “A practicing Buddhist must not set eyes on any object of desire, lest it throw his thoughts into turmoil. Now, objects of desire are not confined to carnal pleasure and money. A cool and pleasnat breeze, an enchanting moon, melodious birdsong, even succulent fernshoots -anything that charms or enraptures and makes us unwilling to give it up is an object of desire.
“Once you start living in some scenic place, the spirits of mountain and stream will be there to tempt you to poetry, so that you can never put your writing aside. And the nymphs of wind and moon will disturb your meditations and make you fidget endlessly on the midnight prayer mat. That is why those who go up famous mountains to pursue their examination studies never finish them, and also why those who go there to master the doctrine find it so hard to purge their senses. Moreover, on every famous mountain, there are women who come to pray and gentlemen who come to celebrate. The affair between the priest Moonbright and the girl Liu Cui is a warning of what can happen. That is why I have spurned famous mountains and come to live here in this desolate place, my sole purpose being to ensure that nothing I see or hear will block my progress.”
His questioners were greatly impressed with his answers, which, they felt, contained insights never before expressed by an eminent priest.
By virtue of these three abstentions, he became famous despite himself. But although visitors flocked there from all quarters to join the order, he would not accept them easily. Before giving applicants the tonsure, he insisted on examining them to ensure that they had a good moral basis and had renounced all worldly desires, and if he felt the slightest doubt, he would reject them out of hand. For this reason, despite the many years he had been in the order, he had very few disciples. He lived alone beside a mountain stream in a small thatched hut that he had built with his own hands, eating the food he grew himself and drinking the water from his stream. He wrote out a pair of scrolls, which he stuck on the uprights in his hut. They read,
No ease or comfort is to be found in the study of Buddhism; through all eighteen hells you must make your way.
It is no simple matter to understand Zen; how many thousand prayer mats have you worn out?
Even in these scrolls one can see his lifelong mortification of the flesh.
One day of dismal autumn wind, when the trees were shedding their leaves and the drone of insects filled the air, the prest rose early in the morning, swept the leaves from his door, changed the pure water before the image of Buddha, inserted the incense, and then, placing a prayer mat in the center room, sat down cross-legged upon it to mediate. By chance he had forgotten to shut the door, and suddenly a young student attended by two pages came walking in. In appearance:
An expression like autumn water,
A form like a spring cloud.
A face like Pan An’s,
A waist like Shen Yue’s.
An unpowdered complexion pale as any woman’s,
Unroughed lips rosy as any maiden’s.
Eyebrows so long as to meet his eyes,
A form so delicate as hardly to bear his clothes.
A jet-black crepe-silk cap he had,
Matching his face like a crown of jade.
Bright red tapestry-silk shoes he wore,
And stepped as lightly as if walking on clouds.
These lines describe the grace and charm of his while person, and yet they give only the most general of accounts. If you were to try describing the various parts of his body one by one, you could write dozens of rhapsodies and hundreds of eulogies and still not do them justice. But with the single exception of his eyes, his features, fine as they were, were not greatly superior to other people’s. His eyes, however, were quite extraordinary. Extraordinary in what way, you ask. A lyric to the tune “Moon Over West River” supplies the answer:
Crevices fine as delicate jade,
Pupils frozen-crystal clear.
Their black and white too bold a clash,
Flames forever on the move.
At sight of man, they’re white,
At sight for woman, black.
In contrast, Ruan Ji’s eyes were short on passion;
No mirror they, of pretty girls.
Eyes of this type are what are commonly known as lustful eyes. People who have them generally prefer the covert glance to the direct gaze, and reserve it for their specialty, which is peeping at women. They do not need to be at close range, either. Even when hundreds of feet away, they need flash only a single glance at a girl to tell if she is pretty or not. If she is pretty, they’ll send her a wink. If she is a proper, highly principled girl and passes by with her head lowered, not glancing at the man’s face, the wink has fallen on stony ground. But if they meet a woman with lustful eyes, one who shares their own weakness, then winks will pass back and forth, w whole love letter will be exchanged through their eyes, and they’ll be inextricably involved. That is why, for both men and women, it is by no means a blessing to be born with such eyes, for they lead only to the loss of honor and reputation. If your honorable eyes are of this kind, gentle reader, you must exercise the greatest care.
On this occasion the student came in and bowed four times before the image of Buddha and another four times before the priest. He then straightened up and stood to one side, stock-still and bolt upright. The priest, having already begun his meditations, was unable to return his greeting. Only when he had finished his duties did he leave the prayer mat and give four deep bows in return. Then, inviting his visitor to sit down, he asked him his name.
“You disciple,” said the student, “has come from a long way off to pursue his studies in Zhejiang. My sobriquet is Scholar Vesperus. Hearing that the master is the most eminent priest of the age and a living buddha between Heaven and Earth, I have fasted and observed the proscriptions, and I come here to do him reverence.”
Storyteller, when you told us just now that the priest asked him his name, why didn’t he give his family and personal names instead of a sobriquet?
Gentle reader, you should understand that the intellectuals at the end of the Yuan dynasty held to certain rather unusual practices. Educated men were reluctant to use their family and personal names and addressed each other by their sobriquets instead. Thus everybody had a sobriquet. Some called themselves Scholar This, some called themselves Savant That, while others called themselves Master Whatever. In general, the young men used the word Scholar, the middle-aged Savant, and the elderly Master. The characters that formed the sobriquet all had their various connotations, signifying some passion or predilection. The only requirement in choosing your characters was that their meaning be apparent to you; it was not necessary that it be apparent to everybody else.
Since the student was preoccupied with sex and favored the nighttime over the daytime and the earlier part of the night over the later part, he had, on seeing the lines “What of the night? Vesper’s still the hour” in the Poetry Classic, plucked a character or two out of context and taken the name Scholar Vesperus.
Embarrassed by the young man’s effusive greeting, the priest replied with a few modest phrases.
By this time the vegetables in the prest’s earthenware pot were ready to eat. Since his visitor had come such a long way, the priest thought he must be famished and asked him to stay and share the morning meal. Then, sitting there opposite each other, they began to discuss Zen, in which their wits proved to be evenly matched. The reason for this was that Vesperus, in addition to being highly intelligent, had not only prepared himself thoroughly in his examination subjects, he had also ranged through the texts of all the various religions and philosophies. Zen subtleties that others would not have understood even after long explanations he grasped completely as soon as the priest touched on them. Although the latter did not voice the thought, he could not help musing, What a fine intelligence the man has! But the CReator is at fault for giving him this physical form. Why match a heart that was meant for the study of Buddha with a face that will lead to damnable deeds? In his looks and demeanor, I see all the sigs of a notorious satyr who, should I fail to get him into my leather bag, will wreak havoc in the women’s quarters with his clandestine amours. Goodness knows how many women throughout the world will be ruined by him! If I’d never met this troublemaker, I could have ignored him, but I would be offending against the principle of compassion if I did not try for mankind’s sake to stop him. Even if the root of evil should prove too firmly planted, I will at least have done my best!
“Ever since I set my heart on the salvation of mankind,” he said to Vesperus, “these eyes of mine have observed countless people. Those stupid husbands and wives who refuse to turn to goodness we can ignore. But even the scholars who come here to study Zen, like the officials who come to hear the doctrine, are rank novices. In general it takes a different kind of intelligence to understand Zen than to understand doctrine, Zen being much the harder. People who understand ten times as much as they are taught in Confucianism can expect to understand only twice as much on turning to Buddhism. So I am pleasantly surprised at your perceptiveness, worthy lay brother. If you were to apply it to Zen, you could expect to attain perfect understanding within just a few years. For a human born into an earthly existence, attaining physical form is the easy part, attaining a soul the difficult. Mere time is easy to endure, it’s an eon that is hard. Having the innate capacity to become a buddha, you must not take the demons’ road. Why not seize this moment, in the bloom of your youth, to rid yourself of sexual desire and take your vows as a monk? Common clay though I am, I may still serve to bring out better things in you. If you will take this pledge and secure the fruits of enlightenment, after your death you will not only share sacrificial benefits with other priests, you will also escape the rule of the demons in Hell. Well, laymen, what do you say?”
“Your disciple has long aspired to join the order,” said Vesperus, “and at some point in the future I shall certainly turn to it. But I have two unfulfilled desires that I cannot rid myself of. I intend to return and fulfill them while I’m still young, enjoying a few years of pleasure and ensuring that my life has not been lived in vain. There will be time enough afterward for ordination.”
“May I inquire what your two desires are?” asked the priest. “Can I assume that you want to do justice to your studies by gaining an appointment in some prosperous place and also to repay the Court by winning glory in foreign parts?”
Vesperus shook his head. “It’s not fame and glory that I seek. Although all educated men are expected to try, those certain to succeed are far outnumbered by those destined for failure. Even Liu Fen was failed by the examiners, even Li Bai never succeeded. Your talents may seem certain to bring you success, but you still need the right destiny, and I can hardly arrange that for myself! Glory and high achievement are dependent on fate, and if Heaven denies you the opportunity for glory and men the chance of achievement, even if you have the loyalty of Yue Fei and the integrity of Guan YUI, you’ll still just be beating your brains out and sacrificing your life with no guarantee of ever making a contribution to your country! I know how fame and fortune work, and what I am seeking is not to be found among such things.”
“In that case, what do your desires consist of?”
“What I seek are rewards I can achieve through my own efforts, things I can count on. They are no pipe dreams, nor are they particularly difficult to obtain. To make no bones about it, master, your disciple’s memory for texts, his grasp of doctrine, and the quality of his prose style are all absolutely first-rate. Our present-day mn of letters are reduced to quoting texts from memory and shuffling them about so as to produce a few school exercises that they then publish in a volume of prose or poetry, after which they set themselves up as original geniuses and indulge their idiosyncrasies for the rest of their lives. If you ask me, their works are nothing but pastiche. If you want to be a truly great writer, you have no choice but to read every rare and remarkable book in existence, make the acquaintance of all the exceptional men of the age, and visit every famous mountain. Only after that should you withdraw into your study and set down your thoughts for posterity. If you are fortunate enough to succeed in the examinations, you may also make a contribution to the Court. But if you are out of luck, and spend your life in some humble position, you will still have earned yourself an immortal reputation. Therefore I cherish two secret desires in my heart: First to be the most brilliant poet in the world…”
“That’s your first wish,” said the priest, “but what is your second?”
Vesperus had opened his mouth to speak but then choked back the words as if afraid that the priest would laugh at him. “Since you’re afraid to mention it,” said the priest, “let me say it for you.”
“How could my master know what I have in my mind?”
“Let me try. If I’m wrong, I’ll take the consequences, but if I’m right, you must not deny it.”
“If my master were to guess correctly, he would be an immortal as well as a bodhisattva, and I’d beseech him to point out to me the error of my ways. I would never dream of denying it.”
Slowly and deliberately the priest intoned, “Second, to marry the most beautiful girl in the world.”
Vesperus was struck dumb. After a long pause, he managed a smile.
“Master, you truly are a wizard! I repeat those two wishes to myself all day long. you guessed it the first time,just as if you had overheard me.”
“Have you never heard the saying, ‘The whispering of men on Earth echoes in Heaven like a roll of thunder?”
“By rights,” said Vesperus, “I ought not to discuss matters of sexual passion in your presence. But since you have brought this up, master, I can only reply truthfully. To be candid with you, my religious vocation is still quite undeveloped, whereas my desires are at their peak. The two terms beautiful girl and brilliant poet have always been inseparable. For every brilliant poet there has to be a beautiful girl somewhere to form a pair, and vice versa. But so far I have never seen a truly outstanding beauty. All the women with my claims to attractiveness are already married to the ugliest of men and cannot help but secretly regret it. Now, my poetic gifts go without saying, but looks are flawless too. I often gaze at myself in the mirror, and if Pan An and Wei Jie were alive today, I would not concede very much to them. Since Heaven has given birth to someone like me, it must also have given birth to a girl fit to be my mate. If there’s no such girl alive today, that is too bad. But if she does exist, your disciple will be the one to seek her hand in marriage. That is why at twenty I am still unmarried – I want to do full justice to my genius and my looks. Let me go back, find a beautiful girl, marry her, and have a son to continue the ancestral sacrifices. By then my desires will have been fulfilled and I will have no further ambitions. Not only will I repent my ways, I will also urge my wife to seek salvation along with me. What do you think, master?”
The priest said nothing at first, but then gave a sardonic chuckle and finally replied. “Aft first sight, your idea seems irreproachable. The only trouble is that the Lord of Heaven, who created all men, blundered dreadfully in your case. Had he given you an ugly body, your luminous soul might have attained the fruits of enlightenment, for the same reason that so may people crippled by leprosy or epilepsy have become immortals and buddhas by suffering Heaven’s punishment. But when the Lord of Heaven endowed you with physical form, he was a little too indulgent. He acted like those doting parents who cannot bear to spank or scold their child lest he be physically or psychologically harmed by the experience. By the time the boy grows up, he is convinced that his body and nature were given him by Heaven and Earth and nurtured by his father and mother so that no harm will ever befall him, and he does any wicked thing that enters his head. Only after he has committed a crime and been sentenced by the judge to a beating or by the Court to execution does he resent the fact that his parents’ excessive indulgence has brought him to this state. That soft flesh and pampered nature of yours are not a good sign. Layman, because of your looks, and because you are a brilliant poet, you wish to seek out the most beautiful girl. Whether you find a beauty or not is one thing, but supposing you do, I don’t imagine that she’ll have Number One inscribed on her temples, and when you see someone better, you’ll want to change your mind. But the second one, supposing she shares your nature, will be very particular about whom she marries and will want to wait for the most brilliant poet. Will you be able to obtain her as a concubine? And what if she already has a husband, how will you deal with that? If you give up this wild idea of yours, you will not have married the most beautiful girl, true, but if you persist in carrying it out by any and every means, your actions will have consequences that will condemn you to Hell. Layman, would you rather go to Hell or to Heaven? If you’re prepared to go to Hell, just continue your search for the most beautiful girl. But if you wish to go to Heaven, I beseech you to put this wild idea out of your mind and join me in the order.”
“What the master said before, I found extremely interesting. But terms like Heaven and Hell are rather banal, hardly the sort of thing one expects from an eminent priest. The way to understand Zen is simply to realize one’s own origin in order to place oneself outside birth and death and so become a buddha. There’s no such place as Heaven for us to ascend to! Even if one commits a few sins of the flesh, they will offend Confucian doctrine only. There’s no such place as Hell for us to descend to!”
“‘Those who do good go to Heaven; those who do evil go to Hell’. You’re right, those are banalities,” said the priest, “But you intellectuals can avoid the banal in every sphere of live save that of personal morality, where it is absolutely inescapable. Disregard for a moment the irrefutable evidence for the existence of Heaven and Hell. Even if Heaven did not exist, we should still need the concept of Heaven as an inducement to virtue. Similarly, even if Hell did not exist, we should still need the concept of Hell as a deterrent to vice. Since you’re so tired of banalities, I’ll skip the matter of otherworldly retribution, which will take place in the hereafter, and deal only with the thisworldly retribution of the present. But in order to discuss it, I shall need to start off with another banality, an adage that runs, ‘If I don’t seduce other men’s wives, my wife won’t be seduced by others.’
“Now, I grant you, this adage is the hoariest of all banalities, but the lecher has not been born who has escaped its consequences. Those who have seduced other men’s wives have had their own wives seduced; those who have defiled other men’s daughters have had their own daughters defiled. The only way of escaping the banality is to stop your adultery and defilement. If you persist, it will inevitably come to apply to you. Do you want to escape it or not? If not, go right on searching for the most beautiful girl in the world. If you want to escape it, I beseech you to put these wild ideas out of your mind and join me in the order.”
“You’ve given a very thorough exposition, master. The trouble is that, when expounding the doctrine to ignorant people, you have to put things dramatically enough to make their flesh creep if you want them to heed your warnings. But when you’re reasoning with people like me, there’s no need for any of that. The Lord of Heaven lays down strict rules, but he is always merciful about applying them. Although many adulterers and seducers do receive retribution, a considerable number receive none. If the Lord of Heaven goes form door to door checking on adultery and making the seducer’s wivers and daughters pay for his seductions, what a prurient mind he must have! In general terms, of course, the principles of cyclic movement and of retribution are infallible, and wrongdoers have to be apprised of them; that is the main theme of moral education. But why must you be so literal-minded?”
“Am I to understand from what you say,” said the priest, “that there are cases of adultery and seduction that receive no retribution? I seriously doubt that the Lord of Heaven, having once laid down the rules, has ever allowed anyone to escape his net. Perhaps your loyalty and generosity have so affected your observation that you tend to see people escaping. But so far as my observation goes, no one has ever seduced another man’s wife or daughter and failed to receive retribution for it. The case in both the oral tradition and the written record number in the thousands and tens of thousands. As one who has joined the order and accepted the commandments, I have trouble speaking about such matters, but just think for a moment. Seducing another man’s wife or daughter means taking advantage of him, and so the seducer is ready to talk about it and many people come to know. But having your own wife or daughter seduced means suffering a loss, so you are reluctant to talk about it and few people get to know. There are cases, too, of wives and daughters keeping their husbands and fathers in the dark, so that the men are ignorant and think there has been no retribution for their adultery and seduction. Not until the coffin lids close over their heads do they start to believe in the ancient adage, by which time it is too late to tell anyone of their discovery. Not only will your wife and daughters have to repay your debts of seduction and adultery, but the thought of adultery and seduction will no sooner have entered your mind than your wife and daughters will automatically start thinking licentious thoughts themselves. For instance, if you have an ugly wife who does not greatly excite you during intercourse and you get your pleasure by imagining her as the pretty girl you saw that day, how do you know that at that very moment your wife isn’t just as put off by your ugliness and isn’t getting her pleasure by imagining you as that handsome young fellow she saw the same day? This sort of thing is universal, of course, but although no one’s chastity has been compromised, damage has been done to even the stoutest heart and, in its way, that damage is also a retribution for lechery. If even your thoughts are repaid like this, think how much worse is the crime you commit when you enter a woman’s chamber, press yourself upon her, and, unseen by ghosts and spirits and beyond the Creator’s censure, deprive someone’s wife of her chastity! What I’m telling you, layman, is no banality. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Again, you’ve given a very logical exposition,” said Vesperus, “But there’s one question I’d like to raise with you, master. The man with a wife and daughter who seduces other men’s womenfolk has his own wife and daughter to repay his debts. But if he’s a bachelor, without wife or concubine, sons or daughters, how are his debts going to be repaid? This is a case to which the Lord of Heaven’s rules don’t apply. And there is a further argument. A man’s womenfolk are limited in number, whereas there is an infinite supply of feminine beauty in the world. For exmaple, if you have just one wife or concubine, plus a child or two, and you seduce an infinite number of women, even if your wife and daughter go wrong, you will still have made a huge profit on the transaction. How does the Lord of Heaven deal with that?”
When the priest heard him make this argument, he realized that he was dealing with a stubborn stone indeed, one who could not be swayed. HIs only recourse was to suggest a compromise that would give Vesperus a measure of freedom.
“Layman,” he remarked, “your debating skills are so sharp that I’m afraid I’m no match for you. Since my words have failed to convince you, you’ll have to experience these things yourself before you grasp the principle involved. By all means go back, marry a beautiful girl, and gain your enlightenment on the carnal prayer mat; then you’ll discover the truth. I’ll stop my pratttling, but I have one last thing to add. Layman, you have the attributes of a sage among men, you have the capacity to attain the heights, and I cannot bear to give you up. When you have seen the light, if you wish to come and ask me about the road back to salvation, don’t be too embarrassed and cut yourself off from me just because my advice has been all too correct. From now on I shall spend each day waiting anxiously for your return.”
So saying, he cut off a piece of paper, picked up his brush, and wrote a four-line gatha on it. The gatha ran,
Pray cast aside the leathern bag
And on the carnal prayer mat wait.
While still alive you must repent,
Not cry, “The coffin’s shut – too late!”
He then folded the paper several times and gave it to Vesperus. “I am a thick-witted priest who knows nothing of decorum. The gatha is too drastic, I know, but I assure you it is prompted only by compassion. Keep it with you, and one day it will prove me right.”
With that, he stood up as if to see Vesperus on his way. Vesperus realized he as being dismissed and felt it impossible to stay. But he respected the older man too much as an eminent prest to take an ill-mannered departure, so he bowed his head and apologized. “Your disciple is too stupid and pigheaded to accept your instruction, but he still hopes you will forgive him, master. When one day he returns, he will respectfully beseech you to take him in.”
He knelt down again and bowed four times. The priest responded in like manner and then saw his visitor out of the gate, where he repeated his warnings before parting.
With this sentence the priest’s debut is concluded. We shall proceed to tell of Vesperus’s obsession with sex but without further mention of Lone Peak. If you wish to learn what becomes of him, you will have to keep on reading until the final chapter, in which he reappears.
Verperus is the male lead of a play in which Lone Peak is a supporting character. If anyone else had been writing this nobel, he would certainly have begun with Vesperus and brought in Lone Peak as his visitor; that is the orthodox method of fiction writing. This novel, however, begins by telling of Lone Peak in such inordinate detail as to make the reader suspect that the priest may later on behave immorally himself. To our surprise, he does nothing of the sort. Only when, engrossed in his Zen meditations, he forgets to shut the door does the true intent of the novel emerge and give the reader pause. This is a variant technique in fiction, an instance of the author’s complete rejection of conventional practice. Even if another writer were to try it, he would be bound to confuse the theme and jumble the plot lines, leaving the reader unable to tell who is the main character and who the secondary. In this novel, by contrast, they are as distinct as eyes and eyebrows, who that when the reader reaches the opening of the theme, everything is clear to him.
The remarks at the end of the chapter also clarify the plot, relieving the reader of any difficulties. This author is a master of the art whose equal has never been seen outside of the author of the Shuihu. If so, might this not be a case of the younger outshining the elder?