It was the Tang Dynasty. Master Yuan Ze, a Buddhist monk residing in Huilin, was a friend of Li Yuan, the governor of Luoyang. Once the two decided to go on a pilgrimage to the E’mei Mountains, where the temple of the Buddha Pu Xian was located.
Li proposed to go by boat, upstream westward through the Yangzi River Valleys. Master Yuan Ze, however, for certain reasons he declined to tell, insisted that they should rather take the mountain roads and avoid the waterway. But Li was so coercive that the Master finally gave in and got onboard with Li reluctantly.
As the boat approaching a port called Nanpu, they saw a pregnant woman, with her belly swelled so large, was bailing water from the river. The Master suddenly burst out crying. “That’s exactly why I was so reluctant to take this route,” said he, “for, you see, the child that has been in the womb for three years is actually ME. Now that it seems I have no way to escape this fate, let’s have this agreement settled. Three days from now, when the baby is to be baptized, please visit the house of the woman and when you see me, I will pay you a smile for return so that you will be assured it’s me no doubt. Twelve years later we will be meeting again outside the Tianzhu Temple in Qiantang. ” As soon as he finished these words, the Master died peacefully.
The woman gave birth to a child that night and Li did what the Master had asked him three days later. As soon as he saw the baby, it smiled back as Yuan Ze had promised. Li return to his boat right away, convinced that the words his friend had told him were serious.
When the time came, Li went to the Tianzhu Temple as agreed. It happened to be Mid Autumn; under the full moon there appeared a shepherd boy, tapping the buffalo’s horn while singing:
On the Stone of Three States the old spirit dwells
Worshiping the moon and singing in the wind
How blushed I am that the old lover came from afar
The body no longer the same, the soul remains eternally true.
Li knew immediately that this was indeed the Master himself, so he came up and greeted the shepherd boy, “How are you, your reverend?”
The boy replied, “You are such a faithful man, my lord. Yet since the paths of our lives are already differed, I entreat you not to befriend with me anymore. Let’s instead devote ourselves even more diligently into the hardship of training, for that is the only thing that we can do to console ourselves.” Then he sang again:
What was my life before and what will be after, I care no more
I dare not talk about the bond between us, lest you will be brokenhearted
The mountains and rivers in the east I have searched through and through
Now it’s time to take a boat and return to the Valleys in the west.
Then he was gone. No one had ever heard about him since.