Wise Monk Teases and Outsmarts the Emperor of China

If Dihui had answered the Emperor’s questions correctly, he would have said: “bamboo green (mie qing)” and “bamboo yellow (mie huang),” which in Mandarin sounds like “eliminate Qing (Dynasty)” and “eliminate the emperor.” Then the emperor would have had a reason to kill him. (ajari / Flickr)
If Dihui had answered the Emperor’s questions correctly, he would have said: “bamboo green (mie qing)” and “bamboo yellow (mie huang),” which in Mandarin sounds like “eliminate Qing (Dynasty)” and “eliminate the emperor.” Then the emperor would have had a reason to kill him. (ajari / Flickr)

Dihui means slander, and just as his name suggests, wise monk Dihui liked to express his opinions on current events, and condemn anything and anyone at will. Dihui was a monk at the Jingci Temple in the Nanping Mountains in southern Zhejiang Province. People liked to go and listen to him because he had good reasoning, and his comments were interesting.

Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty disguised himself as a scholar and went to Jingci Temple hoping to meet monk Dihui. When the Emperor arrived at the Temple, Dihui was wearing a cassock that was ragged, with numerous patches sewn on.

The Emperor said: “I heard that you are a high level monk with great virtue. How come you are wearing this tattered cassock?”

Monk Dihui smiled and said: “I once wore splendid clothes when I was young, but the stray dogs tore up my good clothes and then I became a monk wearing this ragged cassock. Though my clothes are deteriorated, my mind is righteous, unlike those officials that seem glorious on the outside, but are in fact out-and-out scoundrels.”

Just like getting smacked across face, the comment made the emperor secretly angry. He thought: “This monk definitely deserves his reputation! I have to find a reason to get rid of him.”

As the emperor followed Dihui into the temple, he noticed a person splitting bamboo to make baskets. He picked up a slice of the bamboo and held the green side facing Dihui. He asked: “Master, what is this?”

Dihui answered: “Bamboo skin.” The Emperor turned the bamboo slice around and had the white side facing Dihui, “Then what is this?” Dihui answered: “That’s bamboo flesh.” The Emperor had a wry smile: “What an interesting way to call it!”

Dihui answered: “My guest, the world is not what it used to be. Of course, names have to evolve along with it.”

The Emperor was like a deflated tire and stayed silent.

During that time in history, there was a heavy literary inquisition in China. Words were taken out of context, and if people said or wrote words remotely suggesting or sounding like subversion, the officials arrested and killed them.

wise monk

As the emperor followed Dihui into the temple, he noticed a person splitting bamboo to make baskets. He picked up a slice of the bamboo and held the green side facing Dihui. He asked: “Master, what is this?” Dihui answered: “Bamboo skin.” (PHOTOGRAPHRdotNET / Flickr)

If Dihui had answered the Emperor’s questions correctly, he would have said: “bamboo green (mie qing)” and “bamboo yellow (mie huang),” which in Mandarin sounds like “eliminate Qing (Dynasty)” and “eliminate the emperor.” Then the emperor would have had a reason to kill him.

After Emperor Qianlong worshiped the Buddha in the Main Hall, he followed Dihui to the kitchen. The Emperor looked around and saw a bunch of bean sprouts. A dog came in, cocked his leg, and sprayed on the bean sprouts. The Emperor asked: “Master, are these bean sprouts now clean in your opinion?” Dihui answered: “They sprouted and grew in water, so of course they are clean.”

The Emperor said in contempt: “There is dog urine on them; how could they be clean?”

Dihui laughed out loud: “As the old saying goes: clean is to not see, and quiet is to not hear. Just pretend that you did not see it; then it is clean! For example, someone is cursed and condemned by the common man in this country day-in and day-out, but he just pretends that he doesn’t hear. As a result, he shamelessly claims that he is a saint!”

Emperor Qianlong was enraged upon hearing this blatant criticism, but he couldn’t show it because he did not want to expose his identity. Instead, the emperor snuck out of the temple through the back door.

 

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