Chapter 176 Epiphany
This was absurd. As in the is-this-shit-really-happening kind of absurd. All his life, Li Yundong had been scorned, laughed at, bullied, mocked, ridiculed, and even spat at. But now, he was being worshipped by a bunch of Tibetan Buddhists. Weren't Buddhists supposed to be devoted to their faith?
Maybe the Buddha took a day off or something.
"Guys… Come on... What's with this Mahakala nonsense, eh?"
Truth be told, this wasn't the first time he'd been called by that name.
Changbagela had mentioned that name too back at the monastery that night when Li Yundong caught him and Meiduo spying on him. Then again, Li Yundong's mind was too occupied with Changbagela's intentions to ask what that name meant.
Li Yundong surveyed his surroundings.
Miss Liu Xia was staring at him in shock whereas the two foreigners were looking back and forth between the jeep and him. Poor dudes. They were probably so mind-fucked that they might need brain condoms.
Then, the pilgrims began to chant.
"Mahakala! Mahakala! Mahakala!"
Li Yundong shot Meiduo a desperate look, then dropped his voice into a low hiss. "Hey, can you all just stand up and, you know, talk like normal people?"
Meiduo shook her head, then prostrate herself before him. "No! We can't do that! Doing that would be a great disrespect to you, my Lord Mahakala."
As if making him feel awkward wasn't a form of disrespect.
"Come on, guys. Get up already!"
The pilgrims ignored him and kept chanting. He wasn't even sure most of them heard him over the loud chants.
Li Yundong rolled his eyes. "Fine! Mahakala orders all of you to stand up!"
The chanting stopped immediately. Clothes rustled as everyone rose to their feet like obedient soldiers.
Li Yundong resisted the urge to do a face palm.
"Alright, guys. Look… I think there's some kind of mistake here. I'm not Mahakala—"
"You're too humble, kind sir," Changbagela said with a smile.
Meiduo bowed reverently. "That's right, Brother Li. We've seen what you're capable of. Twice now, in fact."
"But I don't even know who this Mahakala is!"
A look of surprise flashed across Meiduo's face. A second later, she schooled her features and assumed a look of reverence again. "Mahakala is a protector deity that we Tibetan Buddhists worship..."
Gee, thanks. That explained a lot.
Li Yundong gave Meiduo a blank stare.
Meiduo smiled shyly. "And he's the Dharma Protector and the Lord of Justice."
Li Yundong forced out a smile. "Well, good for you guys. I truly hope you'll get to meet this awesome deity one day."
Meiduo looked at Li Yundong from under her lashes. "Perhaps we already did." Reverence shone in her eyes.
Li Yundong sighed. "Look, like I said, I'm not—"
"We think you're a reincarnation of Mahakala sent to protect our people," Meiduo said, cutting him off.
"Reincarnation…" Li Yundong said in a skeptical tone.
Meiduo blushed and waved her hands a few times. "Oh… I mean I know you don't have six arms, three faces, and all that, but—"
"What did you say?" Li Yundong whispered, his eyes narrowing into slits.
Chills travelled down his spine as every single muscle inside his body went taut. Meiduo had just described the physical appearance of his personal god, the one he saw inside his Spirit Space when he achieved Ishvara.
How the hell could she possibly know?
Meiduo frowned and shared a glance with Changbagela. "Um…"
"You said six arms and three faces!" Li Yundong said sharply, causing Meiduo to flinch. "What do you mean by that?"
Meiduo's eyes flicked towards Changbagela's face.
"At ease, kind sir. She meant no harm by that. In fact, what she said is common knowledge among us Tibetans," Changbagela said gently.
Li Yundong raised his brows. "Common knowledge?"
Changbagela nodded. "That's right, sir."
"That's Mahakala's physical form, Brother Li," Meiduo explained hurriedly. "Six arms and three faces."
Li Yundong stared at Meiduo for a few seconds before relaxing his stance. A moment later, he tensed up again. "Wait a minute…" His eyes snapped to Meiduo. "Just now you said I was sent here to protect your people…"
Silence pervaded as Li Yundong waited for Meiduo's explanation. When he got none seconds later, he raised both hands and sighed heavily. "Look, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but you've really mistaken me for someone else. I am not your protector. And I'm definitely not here to stay. I must return to my city the moment I—"
Li Yundong held his tongue before he let slip about the true reason he was here.
He cleared his throat. "I mean I'll leave after I get what I came here for." He finished lamely and let his hands drop to his sides.
Granted, it was still a matter of some debate whether or not he was able to leave Tibet alive, but none of the pilgrims needed to know that.
Whispers spread over the crowd.
People were giving him strange looks now. Some of them even looked crestfallen, like they just had all their hopes crushed. Perhaps this was why Zi Yuan had warned him to mind his own goddamn business and to minimize social contact once he crossed Tibetan borders.
Li Yundong took a step back, then bent down to put on his shoes. A twinge of guilt coursed through him. He sighed and removed the shoes, then stood back up. He approached Meiduo and took her hands before pressing the shoes into her hands. Meiduo stared back at him in utter confusion.
"You should keep them." Li Yundong nodded at the shoes in her hands. "The other men need them more than I do." He pointed at one of the pilgrims with muddy shoes.
Then, Li Yundong turned towards Changbagela. "And about that book you gave me…" Li Yundong sighed. "I really think you should take it back. It belongs to the temple. I have no right to take it."
Changbagela opened his mouth to protest, but Li Yundong was already backing away.
Changbagela reached out to grab Li Yundong's arm. Something fell out from the sleeve of his robe. Li Yundong glanced down at the fallen object and realized that it was a string of prayer beads. Li Yundong picked up the prayer beads from the ground and studied it for a moment.
All the beads were brown in color except for six of them.
Each of the six beads had their own color—white, green, yellow, blue, red, and black—and they were all evenly spread out.
But why six beads?
Li Yundong looked up from the prayer bead. Changbagela was eyeing him curiously.
Li Yundong raised the beads. "Why do these six beads have different colors?"
Changbagela flashed a smile and waved his hand casually. "Well, they represent the colors of a special mantra."
Six beads… Six syllables?
Wait a minute…
"Which mantra?" Li Yundong asked anxiously.
"The om mani padme hum mantra." Changbagela gave Li Yundong a strange look. "Have you heard of it before?"
Li Yundong exhaled slowly and started pacing around.
His mind was reeling.
"That's one of the mantras mentioned in the Mahamudra Tantra…" he whispered to himself.
"I beg your pardon, sir?" Changbagela asked.
Li Yundong ignored the man and kept pacing.
"The Intelligent Fist…" he mumbled to himself. "Mahavairocana's hand sign…"
Suddenly, he stopped pacing. Wait a minute… He raised the prayer beads to his eye level and studied the six beads again.
Five of those six beads had colors that corresponded to Zhang Zhongjing's Five-Organ Pathological Model first presented in The Essential Prescriptions from the Golden Cabinet. Su Chan had told him about the Five-Organ Pathological Model the other night before he passed the Lianqi phase.
And according to the Five-Organ Pathological Model, each of the five Zangs in the human body was color-coded: white for the Lung; green for the Liver; yellow for the Spleen; red for the Heart; and black for the Kidney.
Was it just a coincidence that five of those six beads had colors that corresponded to the colors of the Five Zang's Qis?
Wait. What about the remaining bead? What about blue?
Li Yundong lowered the prayer beads and turned around abruptly to face Changbagela. "What does the color blue represent?"
Changbagela stared at him blankly. Not that Li Yundong could blame the old man. The guy was probably surprised by Li Yundong's sudden show of interest in the prayer beads. After all, the beads themselves looked innocuous enough.
"Well?" Li Yundong prompted when Changbagela didn't answer him. "Why is one of the beads blue?"
"Blue corresponds to the syllable pad in padme."
"Okay, but what does it mean? What does it represent?"
Just like that, a million light bulbs went off inside Li Yundong's head.
"Wisdom…" he whispered.
"Yes," Changbagela said with a nod. "Blue represents the elimination of moha from one's character or existence. In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a concept known as the three poisons, or what we call the three defects of one's character: Moha; Raga; and Dvesha. Moha refers to delusion, confusion, and ignorance."
A smile tugged at Li Yundong's lips. "So it's a code…" He chuckled. "Now I see…"
Changbagela frowned. "Code? What code?"
Li Yundong laughed and handed the prayer beads back to Changbagela.
Blue represents wisdom, and wisdom comes from the mind or, in other words, the upper Dantian. When he was memorizing the contents of the Mahamudra Tantra, he had a hunch that those hand signs and mantras were all linked somehow.
His hunch was right.
The Convergence of Five Qis. That, was the key to unleashing the Intelligent Fist.
It all just fit together perfectly. Each of the six syllables was associated with a color. At the same time, five of those colors represented the colors of the Five Zangs' Qis. The remaining color, blue, represented the upper Dantian. When put together, the meaning was obvious: to unlock the power of the Intelligent Fist, the Qis of the Five Zangs had to be drawn out and then gathered at the upper Dantian, which, in essence, was just the Convergence of Five Qis.
Well. So far this was all just theory. He had to test it out.
Li Yundong began to walk away from the crowd.
"Brother Li!" Meiduo yelled. "Where are you going?"
He kept striding uphill without looking back.
Suddenly, he stopped walking and turned around. Then, his eyes swept over the crowd.
"Don't follow me," he said sternly. "I need you guys to give me a few hours alone."
With that, he turned around and continued his path uphill. Yeah. They really should stay away from him.
It was for their own good.
Because if he was right? Then things were about to get dangerous.
Meiduo stared at the shoes in her hands. Everyone was now back at the camp, sitting around, resting and chatting. After Brother Li's hurried departure, Changbagela had decided to postpone their journey for another day, which meant they would set off tomorrow morning instead of today as planned. Changbagela wanted to wait for Brother Li to return first before they set off again. Nobody had outright admitted it, but everyone felt much safer with Brother Li there to guard them from the wolves. Even more so after everyone saw Brother Li effortlessly lift a jeep out of a deep mud hole a few hours ago.
That feat had cemented everyone's believe that Brother Li was indeed Mahakala's reincarnation sent to protect their people. Now, even some of the men (who'd initially been skeptical about Brother Li's abilities) couldn't help but be in awe with Brother Li's strength. Meiduo herself was sold on the idea ever since she saw Brother Li put a dent in a rock from 10 meters away. And she was pretty sure that Changbagela was the same. But of course, it was Changbagela who suggested the idea of Brother Li being the living reincarnation of Mahakala in the first place.
Meiduo sighed and lowered the shoes onto the wagon's surface. About time too, since she'd been staring at them for the past few hours since Brother Li left. It was now noon with the sun hanging high in the sky.
Still, there were no signs of Brother Li.
His backpack was gone too.
Maybe he left them already.
The wagon swayed a little when someone took a seat beside her. Her heart hit her stomach when she turned and saw that it was only Changbagela.
Meiduo scooted the side for make room for Changbagela. Then she pulled up her feet and hugged her knees to her chest.
They sat there quietly for a while, watching the other pilgrims bustled around with various chores.
"Maybe we should just be on our way…" Meiduo said, hoping that Changbagela couldn't detect the sadness and dejection in her tone.
When Changbagela didn't answer right away, Meiduo turned her head to look at him. Changbagela was turning those colored prayer beads in his hands. He seemed distracted.
Changbagela shook his head a few times and put the prayer beads away. "Sorry," he said, then gave her a smile. "You said something, Meiduo?"
Meiduo hugged her knees tighter. "I said maybe we should continue our journey on our own…" Those words left a bad taste to her mouth. "He's probably on his way already. His things are already gone."
Brother Li didn't even take the Mahamudra Tantra with him.
A small part of Meiduo hoped that Brother Li would return for the book, though she knew that it wasn't likely. After all, he did say that he had memorized the whole book.
Still, the book was rather thick…
"It's already noon," Changbagela said, bringing Meiduo out of her reverie. He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the glaring sun. "It's pointless to set off now, since we won't be able to go far before we have to stop for the night. We might as well just wait until tomorrow."
Meiduo heaved a small sigh of relief. She didn't want to just leave Brother Li behind. Well, she didn't want to be separated from Brother Li, period. And deep down, she knew the real reason she wanted him to stay, and it had nothing to do with wolves. When Brother Li hugged her this morning…
She felt so warm and safe inside his arms.
She wanted to experience it again.
Maybe Brother Li felt something for her too. Why would he hug her out of the blue if he didn't at least have some feelings for her? Maybe there was a chance they could…
Meiduo turned her face away from Changbagela to hide her blush.
"Besides, some of the others are still exhausted from yesterday's journey," Changbagela continued. "And the climb will be even more difficult past this point. It might be a good idea to rest for an extra day so that we can regain our strength for the journey ahead."
Silence passed between them.
After a while, Meiduo began to play with the shoes she'd made for Brother Li.
"Do you think he left already?" Meiduo asked carefully, half-afraid to hear Changbagela's answer. Changbagela always had a knack for reading people and their behaviors. He was also a great judge of character. That was how he had garnered so much respect from the lamas and even the guardian sentinels. He could smell evil and sin from miles away.
"I don't know," Changbagela said. "But I don't think he'd leave without at least saying goodbye." Changbagela laughed. "He's too honorable, Meiduo."
Meiduo pondered Changbagela's words for a moment.
"Amitabha… A man like him, a man of honor, is in short supply these days. Sad." Changbagela paused. "But true."
"An honorable man..." Meiduo said wistfully.
"Indeed he is…" Changbagela shifted slightly on the wagon. "He brought me back to life. He rejected my offer to repay him several times now." Changbagela chuckled. "And did you see the way he tried to return the Mahamudra Tantra earlier? A lesser man would've taken the text and then resold it back to the temple at a high price!"
Changbagela made a good point.
"There's something special about him, Meiduo. I'm certain of it," Changbagela said. "I just don't know what it is."
Meiduo had to agree. She was certain that Changbagela was gone before Brother Li brought him back to life. At first she thought that perhaps Brother Li was a worshipper of the Healing Buddha. In Tibetan Buddhism practices, worshippers of the Healing Buddha perform healing rituals by chanting the healing mantra 108 times: Tadyatha Om Bhekhaze Bhekhaze Maha Bhekhaze Bhekhaze Radza Samungate Swaha. But when Brother Li revived Changbagela, she could've sworn that he didn't make a sound.
A group of men were walking towards the wagon.
Meiduo stole a glance at the men and shifted in her seat. "The others said that they felt safer with Brother Li travelling with us."
Changbagela nodded. "I'm aware of that. But let's not forget that the whole point of a pilgrimage is to show our devotion to Buddha. A pilgrimage is not meant to be easy. Whatever that may come our way, we must face them, with or without his help."
Meiduo kept quiet. The men stopped in front of wagon. One of them, a senior member of their group and one of Changbagela's trusted disciples, greeted Changbagela with a bow.
Changbagela pressed his palms together and nodded.
"The foreigners have requested to join our camp for the night," said the man.
"Then we shall open our camps to them and see to their needs," Changbagela replied in a heartbeat.
Two men left the group, most likely to carry out Changbagela's orders.
"You know, Meiduo…"
Meiduo looked up from the shoes and found the man staring at back at her.
"There might be a way to keep him," said the man.
"Nobody is keeping anyone," Changbagela said sternly. "Whether he stays with us is entirely up to him. We cannot, and will not, force him to stay. "
"My apologies, Changbagela," said the man. "Perhaps I should've phrased my suggestion better. I don't mean forcing him to stay with us. I am merely suggesting that we give him a reason to stay…"
The man shot a pointed look at Meiduo.
Meiduo blushed and looked towards Changbagela.
Changbagela's eyes were now closed, and there was a peaceful look on his face. Meiduo would be lying if she said she hadn't been entertaining that thought herself. Would Brother Li stay for her sake? This morning, he had looked at her with eyes filled with desire. Maybe there was a chance if she offered herself to him…
Changbagela sighed. "As long as nobody is forcing anybody to do something against their will…"
Meiduo construed that as Changbagela's approval.
The question was, would Brother Li accept her?
Li Yundong gripped his hair with both hands and paced around the large rock he'd been sitting on for the past few hours. He had tried everything he could think of, but nothing worked.
He tried converging his Five Qis first before performing the hand sign. When that didn't work, he thought maybe he got the order wrong, so he did it in reverse—performing the hand sign first before converging his Five Qis.
After that, he began messing around with the order in which he channeled the Qis of his Five Zangs into his upper Dantian.
The mantra went like this: om mani padme hum.
And based on Changbagela's explanation, it was obvious that each syllable of the mantra was associated with a colored bead; Changbagela mentioned that the color blue corresponded to the syllable pad in padme.
It made sense to assume that the rest of the syllables were color-coded as well. In that case, if his interpretation of the mantra's coded message was correct, then it follows that each syllable of the mantra—other than pad—would correspond to a Zang. And since the syllables were to be uttered in a certain order (as defined by the mantra), then perhaps the Qis of the Five Zangs should be channeled into the upper Dantian in that specific order as well. But he didn't know which color corresponded to which syllable other than the fact that pad corresponded to blue, so he ended up trying out all 120 different permutations of sequencing the Qis of his Five Zangs, which took him hours to complete. Fruitless hours, since he literally got nothing out of his efforts.
Li Yundong stopped pacing and leaned his back against a rock. He'd found this place after a fifteen-minute trek from the camp. It was far away enough from the camp to provide him with the privacy he needed as well as to ensure the pilgrims' safety from whatever he was doing. He had brought his backpack along too. He didn't want to leave the Fan of Seven Treasures out of his sight.
Li Yundong pushed away from the rock and huffed out in frustration. "I'm missing something…"
Was it the code?
Had he interpreted the code wrongly?
No. His interpretation fit the code too perfectly to be wrong. What if there was another piece of code that he had yet to crack? That was certainly a reasonable assumption. As far as he could tell, the Buddhists loved to speak in code. What if every single aspect of the technique contained a hidden code, like some kind of cipher?
Li Yundong jumped onto the rock and got into a meditative posture, ready to explore his newfound insight. Okay. Think. What are all the elements that make up the technique? First, there was the mantra. Then, there were the colors corresponding to each of the Five Zangs. And…
The hand sign!
Perhaps the hand sign itself contained the final piece of the puzzle.
Feeling a surge of excitement, Li Yundong performed the Intelligent Fist hand sign as shown in the Mahamudra Tantra, making sure to go through each step slowly this time. He held out his left hand and pointed the index finger upwards at the sky. Then, he wrapped all five fingers of his right hand around the top half of the left index finger, ensuring that the tips of his two index fingers touched each other.
Li Yundong froze.
Something clicked inside his mind.
What if the five fingers of the right hand represent the Qis of the Five Zangs, and the fact that they are wrapped around the tip of the left index finger represents the Convergence of Five Qis? Which means…
The tip of the left index finger must represent the upper Dantian.
Li Yundong unwrapped the fingers of his right hand from his left index finger, then brought his left index finger to his eye level. He studied his finger for a moment, taking note of its features. Two lines cut across the length of the finger, dividing it into three sections.
Wait. Three sections…
"Oh my God…" he whispered, and slowly let his hand drop.
The three Dantians. Each of the three sections represents a Dantian!
He raised his index finger again and stared hard at it. When all three sections were connected together, they formed the entire length of the index finger. So using the same analogy, if he connected his three Dantians together...
The Bridging of the Three Gates. That had to be the missing element. He had to perform the hand sign, converge his Five Qis, and then connect his three Dantians together using his Qi.
Li Yundong exhaled slowly. Time to test it all out. He rose to his feet so that he was standing on the tall rock. Then, he turned away from the direction of the camp to face the woods, where clumps of tall trees stretched far beyond where he stood. The sun had set an hour ago, so the sky was dark.
He performed the Intelligent Fist hand sign, and then guided the Qis of his five Zangs into his upper Dantian. He hesitated at the final step. The Mahamudra Tantra didn't mention the effects of the technique, so he didn't know what to expect.
Maybe I'll try with a little bit of Qi first and see what happens.
He gathered a tiny portion of his Qi at his lower Dantian.
Right. Here goes… He held the hand sign away from his chest, just in case. At least it wouldn't be too close to his heart when things went to shit—like when his hands blow up or something.
He exhaled and bridged the Three Gates.
"OM MANI PADME HUM!"
His hands exploded in a flash of gold the moment his Qi passed his upper Dantian to reach his Baihui. The next thing he knew, a golden apparition of the hand sign flew out from his hands and barreled towards the trees. He was so surprised that he lost his footing and fell off the rock with a loud yelp.
There was a strange roar, which lasted for seconds on end until all he could hear was the splitting of wood and the rustling of leaves.
When things quieted down, he climbed to his feet and peeked out from behind the rock.
"Holy shit…" he whispered.
He had just cleared an entire path through the forest.