Monday, July 11, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part VI

The road took an abrupt turn and seemed to disappear. Xing Ren, the children and the ox stood looking at a narrow ledge that clung to the cliff. Below what had been the path, ten times the height of a tall man, flowed a river.
“Well” said Xing Ren “there’s enough room for a person to walk and there’s enough room for an unloaded ox.”

While the children and the ox waited, Xing Ren carried the ox’s baggage along the ledge to the point where the path widened again. He made five trips and tried to reassure the children by telling them the ledge was no more than a hundred steps long. Second Sister went first, leading Little Fish by the hand; Xing Ren followed leading the ox. Second Sister looked down only once, after that she kept her eyes and her intent focused on the path ahead. Little Fish concentrated on his feet, until he heard a rock dislodge and tumble into the river below. He glanced back. Second Sister sensing his distraction stopped and they both turned to see the ox arc through the air and splash into the river. The ox soon rose to the surface, looked up the path and began swimming purposefully with the current.

“Quickly, children, before the path gives way” admonished Xing Ren.
Children and hermit scurried up the path rabbit-like to the top of the cliff where the path widened. On achieving safety Little Fish swung around and kicked Xing Ren in the shins.
“You threw the ox in! How could you?“ Indeed” replied Xing Ren, unfazed by the rough treatment his shins were receiving “how could I?”

Xing Ren brushed Little Fish aside, picked up a sack of rice and a sack of other edibles and strode up the path. Second Sister looked at Little Fish, then at the rapidly retreating man. Grabbing a bag of things-that-might-come-in-handy, she jogged up the path. When the children caught up with Xing Ren, Little Fish continued haranguing him, occasionally throwing in a kick at the wise man’s shins. After a time Xing Ren halted, dropping his bags and both children began yammering at him.
“Stop” intoned Xing Ren clapping his hands with a crack like thunder “one at a time, please!”
“Why did you throw the poor ox in the river?” asked Little Fish.
“Firstly, I did not throw the ox in the river. Secondly, the ox seemed really quite happy, did it not?”
“Shifu, did the ox jump in the river?” asked Second Sister.
“No, the ox did not jump.”
“Did you push the ox into the river?” asked Little Fish.
“No I did not push the ox.”

Second Sister was frowning hard as she sometimes did when thinking on difficulties. “What river is that?” she asked eyebrows still contorted.
“That river” answered Xing Ren, sounding almost pleased, “is the river which runs past the Huang family farm. Now it is my turn to ask questions. Little Fish, do you realize you feel quite well?”
Little Fish looked surprised. “You’re right!” he answered.
Xing Ren addressed Second Sister, “what do you think happened?”
Second Sister spoke slowly “You have the ox’s nose rope in your pocket. This makes my think its swimming lesson was planned, you didn’t want it to get tangled in the rope. The ox wasn’t thrown, or pushed and it didn’t jump. But surely you have something to do with the event. And that is our river….hmmm…what have you done?”
Smiling behind his beard, the Taoist explained, “The event had a three fold purpose. Firstly, the ox needed to be returned, it will swim until it gets to a bank it recognizes, then will climb ashore and walk him. Secondly, by becoming angry Little Fish’s cure has been catalyzed. Thirdly, every hard working ox should have the opportunity to fly once in its life. It is true (Xing Ren looked exceptionally pleased with himself), our friend the ox did not jump and was not thrown. The ox flew.”

That night as the embers of the cooking fire glowed like rubies, Xing Ren explained the workings of Little Fish’s cure.
“You see, Little Fish, you fell ill because too much studying and thinking hurt your Spleen, The Spleen is very important for energy and digestion. Each organ belongs to one of the five elements; Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. The Spleen belongs to Earth. To cure a problem in an element one must engage the controlling element, which in the case of Earth is Wood. The emotion connected with Wood is anger, when you got truly, thoroughly angry Wood was engaged enough to get the Spleen under control.”

Then Xing Ren told a story about a man who became very, very happy when he passed his government exams after the third try. A Doctor from his village feared this excess of joy would irreparably damage the man’s heart; so he told the joyful man that his father was dieing. Fraught with fear the man rushed home to find his father well. Later he asked the Doctor why he lied. The Doctor replied, “To save your life.”
“So you see, children, this was a case where excess emotion threatened to damage the correlating organ and by engaging the controlling emotion to Doctor was able to cure a disease before it happened.”
Children missed this explanation. Both Little Fish and Second Sister were asleep, heads pillowed on the bag of things-that-might-come-in-handy. That night at the Huang farm Youngest Sister told a story about an ox that had been raised by eagles to believe if could fly. And, indeed, it could.