Li, the Pagoda-bearer
In Buddhist temples there is to be seen a richly attired figure of a man holding in his hand a model of a pagoda. He is Li, the Prime Minister of Heaven and father of No-cha.
He was a general under the tyrant Chou and commander of Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan at the time when the bloody war was being waged which resulted in the extinction of the Yin dynasty.
No-cha is one of the most frequently mentioned heroes in Chinese romance; he is represented in one account as being Yü Huang’s shield-bearer, sixty feet in height, his three heads with nine eyes crowned by a golden wheel, his eight hands each holding a magic weapon, and his mouth vomiting blue clouds. At the sound of his Voice, we are told, the heavens shook and the foundations of the earth trembled. His duty was to bring into submission all the demons which desolated the world.
His birth was in this wise. Li Ching’s wife, Yin Shih, bore him three sons, the eldest Chin-cha, the second Mu-cha, and the third No-cha, generally known as ‘the Third Prince.’
Yin Shih dreamed one night that a Taoist priest entered her room. She indignantly exclaimed: “How dare you come into my room in this indiscreet manner?” The priest replied: “Woman, receive the child of the unicorn!” Before she could reply the Taoist pushed an object to her bosom.
Yin Shih awoke in a fright, a cold sweat all over her body. Having awakened her husband, she told him what she had dreamed. At that moment she was seized with the pains of childbirth. Li Ching withdrew to an adjoining room, uneasy at what seemed to be inauspicious omens. A little later two servants ran to him, crying out: “Your wife has given birth to a monstrous freak!”
An Avatar of the Intelligent Pearl
Li Ching seized his sword and went into his wife’s room, which he found filled with a red light exhaling a most extraordinary odour. A ball of flesh was rolling on the floor like a wheel; with a blow of his sword he cut it open, and a babe emerged, surrounded by a halo of red light. Its face was very white, a gold bracelet was on its right wrist, and it wore a pair of red silk trousers, from which proceeded rays of dazzling golden light. The bracelet was ‘the horizon of Heaven and earth,’ and the two precious objects belonged to the cave Chin-kuang Tung of T’ai-i Chên-jên, the priest who had bestowed them upon him when he appeared to his mother during her sleep. The child itself was an avatar of Ling Chu-tzŭ, ‘the Intelligent Pearl.’
On the morrow T’ai-i Chên-jên returned and asked Li Ching’s permission to see the new-born babe. “He shall be called No-cha,” he said, “and will become my disciple.”
A Precocious Youth
At seven years of age No-cha was already six feet in height. One day he asked his mother if he might go for a walk outside the town. His mother granted him permission on condition that he was accompanied by a servant. She also counselled him not to remain too long outside the wall, lest his father should become anxious.
It was in the fifth moon: the heat was excessive. No-cha had not gone a li before he was in a profuse perspiration. Some way ahead he saw a clump of trees, to which he hastened, and, settling himself in the shade, opened his coat, and breathed with relief the fresher air. In front of him he saw a stream of limpid green water running between two rows of willows, gently agitated by the movement of the wind, and flowing round a rock. The child ran to the banks of the stream, and said to his guardian: “I am covered with perspiration, and will bathe from the rock.” “Be quick,” said the servant; “if your father returns home before you he will be anxious.” No-cha stripped himself, took his red silk trousers, several feet long, and dipped them in the water, intending to use them as a towel. No sooner were the magic trousers immersed in the stream than the water began to boil, and Heaven and earth trembled. The water of this river, the Chiu-wan Ho, ‘Nine-bends River,’ which communicated with the Eastern Sea, turned completely red, and Lung Wang’s palace shook to its foundations. The Dragon-king, surprised at seeing the walls of his crystal palace shaking, called his officers and inquired: “How is it that the palace threatens to collapse? There should not be an earthquake at this time.” He ordered one of his attendants to go at once and find out what evil was giving rise to the commotion. When the officer reached the river he saw that the water was red, but noticed nothing else except a boy dipping a band of silk in the stream. He cleft the water and called out angrily: “That child should be thrown into the water for making the river red and causing Lung Wang’s palace to shake.”
“Who is that who speaks so brutally?” said No-cha. Then, seeing that the man intended to seize him, he jumped aside, took his gold bracelet, and hurled it in the air. It fell on the head of the officer, and No-cha left him dead on the rock. Then he picked up his bracelet and said smiling: “His blood has stained my precious horizon of Heaven and earth.” He then washed it in the water.
The Slaying of the Dragon-king’s Son
“How is it that the officer does not return?” inquired Lung Wang. At that moment attendants came to inform him that his retainer had been murdered by a boy.
Thereupon Ao Ping, the third son of Lung Wang, placing himself at the head of a troop of marines, his trident in his hand, left the palace precincts. The warriors dashed into the river, raising on every side waves mountains high. Seeing the water rising, No-cha stood up on the rock and was confronted by Ao Ping mounted on a sea-monster.
“Who slew my messenger?” cried the warrior.
“I did,” answered No-cha.
“Who are you?” demanded Ao Ping.
“I am No-cha, the third son of Li Ching of Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan. I came here to bathe and refresh myself; your messenger cursed me, and I killed him. Then—”
“Rascal! do you not know that your victim was a deputy of the King of Heaven? How dare you kill him, and then boast of your crime?”
So saying, Ao Ping thrust at the boy with his trident. No-cha, by a brisk move, evaded the thrust.
“Who are you?” he asked in turn.
“I am Ao Ping, the third son of Lung Wang.”
“Ah, you are a blusterer,” jeered the boy; “if you dare to touch me I will skin you alive, you and your mud-eels!”
“You make me choke with rage,” rejoined Ao Ping, at the same time thrusting again with his trident.
Furious at this renewed attack, No-cha spread his silk trousers in the air, and thousands of balls of fire flew out of them, felling Lung Wang’s son. No-cha put his foot on Ao Ping’s head and struck it with his magic bracelet, whereupon he appeared in his true form of a dragon.
“I am now going to pull out your sinews,” he said, “in order to make a belt for my father to use to bind on his cuirass.”
No-cha was as good as his word, and Ao Ping’s escort ran and informed Lung Wang of the fate of his son. The Dragon-king went to Li Ching and demanded an explanation.
Being entirely ignorant of what had taken place, Li Ching sought No-cha to question him.
An Unruly Son
No-cha was in the garden, occupied in weaving the belt of dragon-sinew. The stupefaction of Li Ching may be imagined. “You have brought most awful misfortunes upon us,” he exclaimed. “Come and give an account of your conduct.” “Have no fear,” replied No-cha superciliously; “his son’s sinews are still intact; I will give them back to him if he wishes.”
When they entered the house he saluted the Dragon-king, made a curt apology, and offered to return his son’s sinews. The father, moved with grief at the sight of the proofs of the tragedy, said bitterly to Li Ching: “You have such a son and yet dare to deny his guilt, though you heard him haughtily admitting it! To-morrow I shall report the matter to Yü Huang.” Having spoken thus, he departed.
Li Ching was overwhelmed at the enormity of his son’s crime. His wife, in an adjoining room, hearing his lamentations, went to her husband. “What obnoxious creature is this that you have brought into the world?” he said to her angrily. “He has slain two spirits, the son of Lung Wang and a steward sent by the King of Heaven. To-morrow the Dragon-king is to lodge a complaint with Yü Huang, and two or three days hence will see the end of our existence.”
The poor mother began to weep copiously. “What!” she sobbed, “you whom I suffered so much for, you are to be the cause of our ruin and death!”
No-cha, seeing his parents so distracted, fell on his knees. “Let me tell you once for all,” he said, “that I am no ordinary mortal. I am the disciple of T’ai-i Chên-jên; my magic weapons I received from him; it is they which brought upon me the undying hatred of Lung Wang. But he cannot prevail. To-day I will go and ask my master’s advice. The guilty alone should suffer the penalty; it is unjust that his parents should suffer in his stead.”
He then left for Ch’ien-yüan Shan, and entered the cave of his master T’ai-i Chên-jên, to whom he related his adventures. The master dwelt upon the grave consequences of the murders, and then ordered No-cha to bare his breast. With his finger he drew on the skin a magic formula, after which he gave him some secret instructions. “Now,” he said, “go to the gate of Heaven and await the arrival of Lung Wang, who purposes to accuse you before Yü Huang. Then you must come again to consult me, that your parents may not be molested because of your misdeeds.”
When No-cha reached the gate of Heaven it was closed. In vain he sought for Lung Wang, but after a while he saw him approaching. Lung Wang did not see No-cha, for the formula written by T’ai-i Chên-jên rendered him invisible. As Lung Wang approached the gate No-cha ran up to him and struck him so hard a blow with his golden bracelet that he fell to the ground. Then No-cha stamped on him, cursing him vehemently.
The Dragon-king now recognized his assailant and sharply reproached him with his crimes, but the only reparation he got was a renewal of kicks and blows. Then, partially lifting Lung Wang’s cloak and raising his shield, No-cha tore off from his body about forty scales. Blood flowed copiously, and the Dragon-king, under stress of the pain, begged his foe to spare his life. To this No-cha consented on condition that he relinquished his purpose of accusing him before Yü Huang.
“Now,” went on No-cha, “change yourself into a small serpent that I may take you back without fear of your escaping.”
Lung Wang took the form of a small blue dragon, and followed No-cha to his father’s house, upon entering which Lung Wang resumed his normal form, and accused No-cha of having belaboured him. “I will go with all the Dragon-kings and lay an accusation before Yü Huang,” he said. Thereupon he transformed himself into a gust of wind, and disappeared.
No-cha draws a Bow at a Venture
“Things are going from bad to worse,” sighed Li Ching, His son, however, consoled him: “I beg you, my father, not to let the future trouble you. I am the chosen one of the gods. My master is T’ai-i Chên-jên, and he has assured me that he can easily protect us.”
No-cha now went out and ascended a tower which commanded a view of the entrance of the fort. There he found a wonderful bow and three magic arrows. No-cha did not know that this was the spiritual weapon belonging to the fort. “My master informed me that I am destined to fight to establish the coming Chou dynasty; I ought therefore to perfect myself in the use of weapons. This is a good opportunity.” He accordingly seized the bow and shot an arrow toward the south-west. A red trail indicated the path of the arrow, which hissed as it flew. At that moment Pi Yün, a servant of Shih-chi Niang-niang, happened to be at the foot of K’u-lou Shan (Skeleton Hill), in front of the cave of his mistress. The arrow pierced his throat, and he fell dead, bathed in his blood. Shih-chi Niang-niang came out of her cave, and examining the arrow found that it bore the inscription: “Arrow which shakes the heavens.” She thus knew that it must have come from Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan, where the magic bow was kept.
The goddess mounted her blue phœnix, flew over the fort, seized Li Ching, and carried him to her cave. There she made him kneel before her, and reminded him how she had protected him that he might gain honour and glory on earth before he attained to immortality. “It is thus that you show your gratitude—by killing my servant!”
Li Ching swore that he was innocent; but the tell-tale arrow was there, and it could not but have come from the fortress. Li Ching begged the goddess to set him at liberty, in order that he might find the culprit and bring him to her. “If I cannot find him,” he added, “you may take my life.”
Once again No-cha frankly admitted his deed to his father, and followed him to the cave of Shih-chi Niang-niang. When he reached the entrance the second servant reproached him with the crime, whereupon No-cha struck him a heavy blow. Shih-chi Niang-niang, infuriated, threw herself at No-cha, sword in hand; one after the other she wrenched from him his bracelet and magic trousers.
Deprived of his magic weapons, No-cha fled to his master, T’ai-i Chên-jên. The goddess followed and demanded that he be put to death. A terrible conflict ensued between the two champions, until T’ai-i Chên-jên hurled into the air his globe of nine fire-dragons, which, falling on Shih-chi Niang-niang, enveloped her in a whirlwind of flame. When this had passed it was seen that she was changed into stone.
“Now you are safe,” said T’ai-i Chên-jên to No-cha, “but return quickly, for the Four Dragon-kings have laid their accusation before Yü Huang, and they are going to carry off your parents. Follow my advice, and you will rescue your parents from their misfortune.”
No-cha commits Hara-Kiri
On his return No-cha found the Four Dragon-kings on the point of carrying off his parents. “It is I,” he said, “who killed Ao Ping, and I who should pay the penalty. Why are you molesting my parents? I am about to return to them what I received from them. Will it satisfy you?”
Lung Wang agreed, whereupon No-cha took a sword, and before their eyes cut off an arm, sliced open his stomach, and fell unconscious. His soul, borne on the wind, went straight to the cave of T’ai-i Chên-jên, while his mother busied herself with burying his body.
“Your home is not here,” said his master to him; “return to Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan, and beg your mother to build a temple on Ts’ui-p’ing Shan, forty li farther on. Incense will be burned to you for three years, at the end of which time you will be reincarnated.”
A Habitation for the Soul
During the night, toward the third watch, while his mother was in a deep sleep, No-cha appeared to her in a dream and said: “My mother, pity me; since my death, my soul, separated from my body, wanders about without a home. Build me, I pray you, a temple on Ts’ui-p’ing Shan, that I may be reincarnated.” His mother awoke in tears, and related her vision to Li Ching, who reproached her for her blind attachment to her unnatural son, the cause of so much disaster.
For five or six nights the son appeared to his mother, each time repeating his request. The last time he added: “Do not forget that by nature I am ferocious; if you refuse my request evil will befall you.”
His mother then sent builders to the mountain to construct a temple to No-cha, and his image was set up in it. Miracles were not wanting, and the number of pilgrims who visited the shrine increased daily.
Li Ching destroys his Son’s Statue
One day Li Ching, with a troop of his soldiers, was passing this mountain, and saw the roads crowded with pilgrims of both sexes. “Where are these people going?” he asked. “For six months past,” he was told, “the spirit of the temple on this mountain has continued to perform miracles. People come from far and near to worship and supplicate him.”
“What is the name of this spirit?” inquired Li Ching.
“No-cha,” they replied.
“No-cha!” exclaimed the father. “I will go and see him myself.”
In a rage Li Ching entered the temple and examined the statue, which was a speaking image of his son. By its side were images of two of his servants. He took his whip and began to beat the statue, cursing it all the while. “It is not enough, apparently, for you to have been a source of disaster to us,” he said; “but even after your death you must deceive the multitude.” He whipped the statue until it fell to pieces; he then kicked over the images of the servants, and went back, admonishing the people not to worship so wicked a man, the shame and ruin of his family. By his orders the temple was burnt to the ground.
When he reached Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan his wife came to him, but he received her coldly. “You gave birth to that cursed son,” he said, “who has been the plague of our lives, and after his death you build him a temple in which he deceives the people. Do you wish to have me disgraced? If I were to be accused at Court of having instituted the worship of false gods, would not my destruction be certain? I have burned the temple, and intend that that shall settle the matter once for all; if ever you think of rebuilding it I will break off all relations with you.”
No-cha consults his Master
At the time of his father’s visit No-cha was absent from the temple. On his return he found only its smoking remnants. The spirits of his two servants ran up lamenting. “Who has demolished my temple?” he asked. “Li Ching,” they replied. “In doing this he has exceeded his powers,” said No-cha. “I gave him back the substance I received from him; why did he come with violence to break up my image? I will have nothing more to do with him.”
No-cha’s soul had already begun to be spiritualised. So he determined to go to T’ai-i Chên-jên and beg for his help. “The worship rendered to you there,” replied the Taoist, “had nothing in it which should have offended your father; it did not concern him. He was in the wrong. Before long Chiang Tzŭ-ya will descend to inaugurate the new dynasty, and since you must throw in your lot with him I will find a way to aid you.”
A New No-cha
T’ai-i Chên-jên had two water-lily stalks and three lotus-leaves brought to him. He spread these on the ground in the form of a human being and placed the soul of No-cha in this lotus skeleton, uttering magic incantations the while. There emerged a new No-cha full of life, with a fresh complexion, purple lips, keen glance, and sixteen feet of height. “Follow me to my peach-garden,” said T’ai-i Chên-jên, “and I will give you your weapons.” He handed him a fiery spear, very sharp, and two wind-and-fire wheels which, placed under his feet, served as a Vehicle. A brick of gold in a panther-skin bag completed his magic armament. The new warrior, after thanking his master, mounted his wind-and-fire wheels and returned to Ch’ên-t’ang Kuan.
A Battle between Father and Son
Li Ching was informed that his son No-cha had returned and was threatening vengeance. So he took his weapons, mounted his horse, and went forth to meet him. Having cursed each other profusely, they joined battle, but Li Ching was worsted and compelled to flee. No-cha pursued his father, but as he was on the point of overtaking him Li Ching’s second son, Mu-cha, came on the scene, and keenly reproached his brother for his unfilial conduct.
“Li Ching is no longer my father,” replied No-cha. “I gave him back my substance; why did he burn my temple and smash up my image?”
Mu-cha thereupon prepared to defend his father, but received on his back a blow from the golden brick, and fell unconscious. No-cha then resumed his pursuit of Li Ching.
His strength exhausted, and in danger of falling into the hands of his enemy, Li Ching drew his sword and was about to kill himself. “Stop!” cried a Taoist priest. “Come into my cave, and I will protect you.”
When No-cha came up he could not see Li Ching, and demanded his surrender from the Taoist. But he had to do with one stronger than himself, no less a being than Wên-chu T’ien-tsun, whom T’ai-i Chên-jên had sent in order that No-cha might receive a lesson. The Taoist, with the aid of his magic weapon, seized No-cha, and in a moment he found a gold ring fastened round his neck, two chains on his feet, and he was bound to a pillar of gold.
Peace at the Last
At this moment, as if by accident, T’ai-i Chên-jên appeared upon the scene. His master had No-cha brought before Wên-chu T’ien-tsun and Li Ching, and advised him to live at peace with his father, but he also rebuked the father for having burned the temple on Ts’ui-p’ing Shan. This done, he ordered Li Ching to go home, and No-cha to return to his cave. The latter, overflowing with anger, his heart full of vengeance, started again in pursuit of Li Ching, swearing that he would punish him. But the Taoist reappeared and prepared to protect Li Ching.
No-cha, bristling like a savage cat, threw himself at his enemy and tried to pierce him with his spear, but a white lotus-flower emerged from the Taoist’s mouth and arrested the course of the weapon. As No-cha continued to threaten him, the Taoist drew from his sleeve a mysterious object which rose in the air, and, falling at the feet of No-cha, enveloped him in flames. Then No-cha prayed for mercy. The Taoist exacted from him three separate promises: to live in harmony with his father, to recognize and address him as his father, and to throw himself at his, the Taoist’s, feet, to indicate his reconciliation with himself.
After this act of reconciliation had been performed, Wên-chu T’ien-tsun promised Li Ching that he should leave his official post to become an Immortal able to place his services at the disposal of the new Chou dynasty, shortly to come into power. In order to ensure that their reconciliation should last for ever, and to place it beyond No-cha’s power to seek revenge, he gave Li Ching the wonderful object by whose agency No-cha’s feet had been burned, and which had been the means of bringing him into subjection. It was a golden pagoda, which became the characteristic weapon of Li Ching, and gave rise to his nickname, Li the Pagoda-bearer. Finally, Yü Huang appointed him Generalissimo of the Twenty-six Celestial Officers, Grand Marshal of the Skies, and Guardian of the Gate of Heaven.
From Myths & Legends of China by E.T.C. Werner