Embers Ad Infinitum

Chapter 37: A Great Dream

Chapter 37: A Great Dream

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong were stunned when they heard Jingfa’s words.

Jingfa stared at them for two seconds with his blinking red eyes before saying to Long Yuehong, “You don’t know about the Kalendarium.” After saying that, he looked at Shang Jianyao and spoke without any emotional fluctuations. “You know.”

Huh? Long Yuehong turned to look at Shang Jianyao in confusion and surprise. The two of us have received the same education and lived in the same environment. We are also often inseparable. Why have I never heard of the term ‘Kalendarium’ before when Shang Jianyao seems to know it very well?

Shang Jianyao’s eyebrows twitched slightly as he frankly replied, “I’ve heard a little about them.”

The red light flickered on Jingfa’s metallic black face again. “Ending, beginning; end of year, beginning of year... You learned about it from the believers of the Arbiter of Fate.”

Shang Jianyao, who had been feeling strange, immediately confirmed one thing—the mechanical monk opposite him seemed capable of hearing some of the voices in his heart!

Long Yuehong couldn’t be bothered to think about the title, ‘Arbiter of Fate,’ and also sensed that something was amiss.

Jingfa didn’t continue. Instead, he simply explained, “The Kalendarium are the deities who control time and this world. There are a total of 13 such deities, and they correspond to different months.”

“Aren’t there just 12 months?” Long Yuehong pointed out the obvious. He had an inkling that the Kalendarium was a popular religion or myth on the world’s surface.

Jingfa’s voice was cold and deep, sounding nothing like a human’s. “There’s one Kalendria that rules over the leap month, or rather, the entire year—all time.”

Without waiting for Long Yuehong to ask any further, Jingfa cut to the chase. “Our parish speaks of the corporeal body’s nothingness and the four elements’ hollowness because this world is Buddha Loke?vara-Tathāgata’s dream world.”

Shang Jianyao suddenly interrupted Jingfa. “Loke?vara-Tathāgata? Isn’t it supposed to be Subhuti?”

Jingfa pressed his palms together. “Loke?vara-Tathāgata is a Buddha of the past, the sovereign of creation. Buddha Subhuti is the Tathāgata of the present world, the origin of all sentience. Don’t you want to ask about the Kalendaria who’s in charge of the leap month and represents the entire year? This Penniless Monk will tell you now that it’s Loke?vara-Tathāgata.”

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong came to a realization and nodded indiscernibly.

Jingfa lowered his head and chanted, “Namo Loke?vara-Tathāgata.”

As he chanted, he straightened his back—which was made up of metal bones. He maintained the posture of pressing his palms together and bowed slightly at the towering ‘chimneys.’

“Are you going to ask why this Penniless Monk bows to the tower that refines iron and steel?” After Jingfa raised his body, he took the initiative to voice Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong’s thoughts.

“That’s because Buddha Loke?vara-Tathāgata has another name, Stupa. This is another form of address for Buddhas. At the same time, it represents a Buddha tower. Therefore, when we recite Loke?vara-Tathāgata’s Buddhist title, we should salute the highest tower around us. It can be a Buddha tower, a water tower, iron tower, signal tower, or high-voltage towers.”

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong originally found the mechanical monk, Jingfa, to be reasonable and logical. However, they began to find him a little strange when they heard the latter half of his preaching.

It was unknown if Jingfa had sensed their thoughts, but he stopped in time and said, “Outside of asceticism, Buddha Loke?vara-Tathāgata has another honorific name.”

“What is it?” Long Yuehong blurted out.

Jingfa remained cross-legged. It was impossible to discern any emotion from his metallic face. “Master Zhuang.”

“Master Zhuang... Kalendaria Master Zhuang... Once before, Master Zhuang dreamt of being a butterfly...” Shang Jianyao couldn’t help but mutter to himself.

Jingfa’s head bobbed up and down. “Master Zhuang’s dream is referring to our world. All of you should have had dreams before and know that everything in a dream is an illusion. All your feelings and interactions are only emulated by fate. If you can’t figure this out, you will continue to sink into this darkness, experiencing life, old age, disease, death, love, separation, hate, desire, and pain of the five appropriated aggregates over and over again.”

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong thought about it and inexplicably felt that the mechanical monk opposite them made sense. Of course, the premise was that this world was indeed a particular deity’s dream.

At that moment, Jingfa changed the topic. “Patrons, please wait a moment. This Penniless Monk needs to carry out maintenance.”

“...” Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong dazedly watched the monk in the monk robe and kasaya opposite them as he opened a metal cover at its waist and took out a plastic bottle.

He then unscrewed the small metal lid at the location of his clavicle and poured a little of the plastic bottle’s sticky yellow ‘oil’ in.

“This is...” Shang Jianyao spoke curiously.

He didn’t expect Jingfa to answer, but the latter frankly replied, “Dedicated lubricant.”

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong’s expressions froze for two seconds. They instantly found themselves ridiculous for previously finding sense in what the monk had said.

Jingfa seemed not to notice anything. After putting away the special lubricant, he looked up at the two people opposite him with his blinking red eyes. “Patrons, how old art thou?”

“?” Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong were momentarily at a loss for words.

The textbooks in Pangu Biology were more focused on poems and idioms, not ancient languages.

Jingfa didn’t mind and asked in a more general manner, “Patrons, how old are you?”

“Twenty-one,” Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong replied in unison.

Jingfala picked up the red kasaya and draped it over his knees. “The two of you are still young, so you might not be deeply affected by what this Penniless Monk said. However, wait another 30, 40, or 50 years. When the two of you age bit by bit, becoming weaker and weaker, plagued by more and more diseases, and have seen just as many tragedies, you will understand that the meaning of life is suffering.”

Shang Jianyao opened his mouth. He wanted to say something, but he tightly shut his mouth again. After a few seconds, he seriously said, “However, we’ve all undergone genetic modifications. By the time we’re 50 years old, our bodies should still be healthy.”

Jingfa was speechless, but he quickly recovered. “However, you will eventually die. Over the long years, there is no fundamental difference between 50 years and 100 years.”

Long Yuehong wanted to retort, but he rationally gave up on the idea when he saw the grenade launcher attached to the mechanical monk’s left arm.

“You’re right.” Shang Jianyao retracted his gaze from the same spot.

A red glow flickered in Jingfa’s eyes. “What do you think is real in the dream? Judge from your usual dreams.”

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong pondered for a moment before shaking their heads.

Jingfa’s cold and emotionless voice sounded again. “Actually, they exist. In a dream, there is only one thing that is real—your knowledge of yourself. Everyone in a dream understands that they are themselves. I think, therefore I am.

“Do the two of you still not understand? Everything is illusory, but consciousness is real. When you escape the shackles of your mortal coils and truly control your consciousness, you can escape this dream and enter the Pure Lands to obtain eternal life and paradise.”

Shang Jianyao habitually replied, “How can I truly control my own consciousness then?”

Jingfa pointed at himself. “Use a device to transmit your consciousness into a robot’s body. This can allow you to escape your physical restraints easily and directly.”

“However, shouldn’t a normal religion emphasize self-cultivation?” Long Yuehong said some of the words mentioned in Pangu Biology’s textbooks.

In a monotonous voice, Jingfa said, “There are 3,000 orthodox paths and 40,000 side doors. Each path is different, but they all lead to the Pure Lands. Our Monks Conclave has chosen the technological path of the 3,000 orthodoxies.”

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong’s lips quivered. Their thoughts were in a mess, and they had no way of replying.

Jingfa continued, “When you abandon your mortal coils and upload your consciousness to a robot’s bionic chip, you will see the Pure Lands, the so-called ‘New World’ in the Ashlands. This can allow you to gain insights into the Buddhist Dharma and obtain certain divine powers.

“This Penniless Monk was able to hear the voices in your hearts because Buddha Subhuti is benevolent. He allowed this Penniless Monk to comprehend his mind-reading techniques. Of course, this Penniless Monk’s Phala is still lacking and cannot delve too deep.”

...Why did he expose his weakness so naturally? This thought flashed across Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong’s minds.

Jingfa pressed his palms together and chanted a Buddhist proclamation. “A monk doesn’t lie.”

“...What is Phala?” Shang Jianyao asked another question.

Jingfa monotonously answered, “The uploading of one’s consciousness is not the end, but the beginning. Technology that corroborates the path isn’t the core but an auxiliary component. Its use is to provide better conditions for us to study the Buddhist Dharma.

“After our mortal coils are abandoned, we can see the world from a different angle. From there, we can better understand the Buddhist Dharma and understand the hollowness of all four elements. There’s a process involved. The critical juncture during the process is known as Phala. When your Phala achieves the Great Arhat, you’ll truly enter the Pure Lands and transcend the world.”

After explaining this, Jingfa glanced at Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong. “To the two of you, this is rather profound. Let’s call it a day. This Penniless Monk can tell that you will be walking the Ashlands. I hope you can experience the world and understand that life is suffering and that the body is hollow.

“When the time comes, this Penniless Monk will redeem and send you the Glazed Pure Lands if we are fated to meet again.”

Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong were delighted when they heard the mechanical monk end the preaching. They didn’t dare ask any more questions. They quickly got up, walked to the side, and made way.

“If you don’t want to call this Penniless Monk by his Dharma name, call me Zen Master.” Jingfa pressed his palms together. He then swung his kasaya and retraced his steps, disappearing around a corner.

After watching him leave, Shang Jianyao and Long Yuehong looked at each other and followed the path they came from, leaving the rust-covered steel ‘forest.’

When they arrived at the door, Long Yuehong looked around and calculated the distance. He then picked up the walkie-talkie quickly and pressed a button. “Team Leader, we encountered a monk from the Monks Conclave!”

This was also what Shang Jianyao wanted to do, so he didn’t stop him.

“What? What’s its Dharma name?” Jiang Baimian’s voice sounded amidst static.

Near the towering ‘chimneys,’ Jingfa—who was walking towards the steelworks ruins’ depths—suddenly stopped. The red glow in his eyes suddenly lit up. His neck stiffly rotated as he spoke in an extremely cold and emotionless voice. “A woman’s voice...”

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