Xu Xian had zojuist een uitnodiging ontvangen voor de openingsceremonie van een nieuwe tempel. Zijn vrouw, Bai Su Zhen, waarschuwde hem om er niet heen te gaan, maar Xu Xian, een vrome boeddhist, voelde zich verplicht om dat wel te doen. Wat ze niet wisten was dat deze uitnodigingen afkomstig waren van Fa Hai, de monnik die vastbesloten was om hen uit elkaar te krijgen. Kunnen de jonge geliefden ooit ontsnappen aan de bemoeienis van de monnik? Shunan Teng deelt deze Chinese mythe.
Xu Xian had just received yet another invitation to the opening ceremony of the new Jin Shan Temple. His wife, Bai Su Zhen, had warned him not to attend. Since she was in fact a benevolent white snake spirit in human form, their marriage had already weathered attacks by meddling monks. But devout Buddhist that he was, Xu Xian felt obligated to make an appearance. What they didn’t know was that these invitations had come from none other than Fa Hai– the misguided monk who had tried to separate the young lovers, almost killing Xu Xian in the process. The monk confronted Xu Xian, telling him that because he consorted with a demon, he must remain at the monastery and cleanse his soul. Xu Xian protested, but Fa Hai would not let him escape.
At home, Bai Su Zhen was uneasy. Her husband had departed so quickly that she hadn’t been able to tell him she was pregnant with his child. And now he had been gone so long she sensed something must be wrong. She made her way to the temple, and upon encountering Fa Hai the monk threw his prayer mat, which erupted into fire and smoke. Weakened from her pregnancy, Bai Su Zhen desperately summoned a fleet of shrimp soldiers and crab generals to subdue the monk, and waves to put out the blaze. But the water also flooded the surrounding area, drowning many innocent villagers. For the first time, Bai Su Zhen had harmed humans, and she fell out of the gods’ favor. With their blessing retracted, Fa Hai attempted to trap her in his magical alms bowl. But just when all hope seemed lost, a bright glow came from within her belly, saving her from the mad monk’s magic.
The couple fled home, grateful to the mysterious power that had saved them, and soon after, Bai Su Zhen gave birth to their son, Xu Shi Lin. Yet despite this joyous occasion, Xu Xian was uneasy. He was shaken by his wife’s accidental act of destruction, and he feared the misfortune it might bring upon their home.
Not a month later, Fa Hai appeared at their doorstep. He offered Xu Xian an alms bowl to ensure good fortune for his newborn son. Still wary of the monk, but also remembering Bai Su Zhen’s destructive act, Xu Xian accepted the gift. But as soon as the bowl entered their home, it flew to Bai Su Zhen’s head and trapped her inside. Against the family’s wishes, Fa Hai buried the bowl beneath the Lei Feng Pagoda. And when Xu Xian begged him to release his wife, the monk sternly replied: “She will be free when the iron tree blooms.”
Overcome with guilt, Xu Xian ran away to a monastery, leaving Shi Lin in the care of his aunt. But there was something neither of them knew. The boy was the reincarnation of Wen Qu Xing, the wisdom god, sent to the family to reward Xu Xian’s devotion. It was this power that had protected Bai Su Zhen at the temple, and as he grew, so did his wisdom. At age 19, Shi Lin went to the capital city to take the nation-wide imperial exam and obtained the highest score in all the empire. The Emperor himself bestowed Shi Lin’s prize: an ornate hat decorated with jewel-encrusted flowers. But though he returned home in glory, the fate of his parents still weighed heavy on his mind.
Coaxing his father from exile, Shi Lin took him to visit the Lei Feng Pagoda to pay respects to his mother. Kneeling before it, he placed his jeweled prize on the iron tree as an offering. Suddenly, the ground opened and Bai Su Zhen stepped out. With her sins absolved by the tribute of a god, and a blossom on the iron tree, Shi Lin had freed his mother, and reunited his family– both mortal and divine.