The Lake God

G-13-01

(Book 129 Entering the Most Hidden Yin- Yang Realm《走入最隱秘的陰陽界》)
‧Written by Master Sheng-yen Lu

Occasionally, I would walk towards Lake Sammamish, where there are often water ducks and blooming lotuses.
I love walking along the floating pier, where one can look to the bottom of the lake and view all those fishes swimming right above the fine sands.
When True Buddha School students come to pay homage at Ling Shen Ching Tze, the Leizang Temple in Redmond, many of them also make time to visit Lake Sammamish.
Once, while looking at the fine sands at the bottom of the lake and at the carefree fishes swimming there, I started counting: one fish, two fish… With tails swishing, the fish were nibbling on the water grasses, causing them to undulate from side to side.
Suddenly, a moving shadow under the water caught my eye. At first, there was just the appearance of hair and beard; then, after a short while, a face with eyes, ears, nose, and mouth emerged. The person’s eyes looked as if they were shut, and the sight startled me greatly.
It was not a floating corpse. Except for the visible facial features, the face was actually transparent, and I could still see two or three fishes swimming underneath it. Submerged under in water, this trans-parent face was leisurely gliding along.
At the same time of the appearance of this face, I also heard the sound of jazz music playing and smelled the fragrance of orchids.
I noted it mentally although I did not understand it. If someone else had seen such a face in the water, he or she would have undoubtedly started screaming or yelling. But I did not, as I was used to such things. I stood up. I was sure it was not my reflection in the water, as I did not have any hair or beard.
Quietly I started walking back towards the direction of Ling Shen Ching Tze. It was at that moment when I became aware of something moving next to me, right at the level of my cheek. I could hear the stepping sounds on grass and sand.
He spoke to me, “You are a god, and I am also a god.”
“I am not a god,” I replied.
“But you have the signs of a god.”
Without answering him, I asked him instead, “Why did you show your face in the water?”
“Because I felt that you are Master Lu from the Leizang Temple.”
“Why did you approach me?”
“I just want to ask you for a glass of wine.”
I nodded, agreeing.
I believe if someone had happened to be in the vicinity while I was conversing with “the man in the lake,” they would only have witnessed me talking and nodding to myself and nothing else.
“Are you a lake ghost?” I asked him again.
“Master Lu of the Redmond Leizang Temple, you indeed live up to your reputation. You saw right away that I am a ghost and not a lake god.”

I laughed and said, “Among the divine lights of the devas in this world, those of the water devas are the most beautiful, and are known to be resplendent with various colors. Water devas also have their own attendants, and when they do appear, people who are able to, would see a lake brimming with rainbows. They certainly won’t have over- grown beard and sideburns like the ones you have. Besides, I have met the lake god of Sammamish, and his name is Shariff. Who are you and what is your name?”
“My name is David. I got drunk, fell into the lake and drowned.”
“Ha! So you are a drunken ghost?”
“Do not laugh at me, Master Lu.”
With a stern countenance, I asked him, “What is it like for you in the lake?”
He replied, “This world is just too unfair! I heard that Shariff had also fallen into the lake after getting drunk. But, after meeting the Dragon King who greatly admired his talents, Shariff became the lake god. I also got drunk and drowned, but no one has paid any attention to me, and now I am a lake ghost. What great disparity between his and my luck!”
“This is karma!” I explained, “Shariff gave up drinking and started cultivation, but you have not!”
“You can’t blame me, Master Lu. As soon as I start drinking, I feel like I am in heaven.”
Well, I had no reply to that.
***
During those days, I often took with me a small bottle of wine on my walks to the lake. At the edge of the lake, I would sprinkle the wine onto the sandy beach.
“Have some wine, David,” I would call out.
The drunken ghost would then appear.
Every few days, I would walk to the lakeside to sprinkle wine. These were solitary trips, marked by the greeting, “David, here I am. Have some wine.”
These frequent short trips to the lake became a cause of concern for some people. They found it weird that I was often nowhere to be found in the temple compound.
“The Grand Master often disappears for no reason at all.”
“Grand Master Lu is hiding some secret.”
“But Grand Master Lu is an adept in esoteric cultivation.” Some people even wondered…
“Does Grand Master have a secret date?”
To my students, I only smiled and said, “I just love to see the lake!”
Once, I described the lake:
The lake, of such beauty, shimmering with a turquoise glow.
The lake, of such beauty, a venerated sage.
The lake, of such beauty, innocent and mysterious like a child.
Once I wrote a poem in praise of Lake Sammamish:Here there is only the joining of palms,
Where the heart and spirit do not wander as is described;
Everything is forgotten,
Including all sorrows.
Sunset at Lake Sammamish,
Bathed in holy light like the Buddhas;
A hymn naturally sacred and pure,
That can be seen without eyes.
***
On one occasion, David and I were enjoying the cool shade under a pine tree.
David asked me, “Have you become naturalized yet?”
“Yes, I am an American citizen now. How about you?”
“Ha ha! I am a citizen of the drowned,” answered David.
“What is that?”
“Master Lu, you are a Living Buddha and know the Buddhist view of the six realms of transmigration, but I suppose you do not know of the citizens of the drowned! All those who die of drowning belong to the domain of the citizens of the drowned. As far as I know, those who perished in fires are called citizens of the incinerated.”
“Oh, I see.” I was taken aback and asked again, “How many citizens of the drowned are there in Lake Sammamish?”
“One hundred twenty-five.”
“Who is in charge of them?”
“The lake god.”
“How can you get out of this domain?”
“To get out, I have to wait for my chance. It is the same as that of a company that needs fifty employees to do the work, and only allows one to leave if another worker is found. If no one comes in, no one leaves.”
“Finding a replacement.”
“That’s right, finding a replacement.”
I thought of the ancient Chinese legend of drowned ghosts looking for replacements. In a story I heard when I was small, a man was fetching from a river when suddenly a hand rose out from the water, grabbed him and tried to drag him into the river. Fortunately, an old woman was walking by. When she saw what was happening, she started screaming, “Water ghost, water ghost!” Startled, the water ghost vanished.

That particular river was said to be frequently haunted by water ghosts, and many people had died in it. I loved swimming when I was a child, but fear kept me from swimming there. Indeed, one drowning incident involved a group of children swimming there. They all became citizens of the drowned.
So, not only do Chinese water ghosts look for replacements; western water ghosts do too.
“Are you going to make me your replacement?” I spoke half in jest.
“Ha ha! How can that be possible! You are a Living Buddha, your whole body is immersed in light and you have troops of dharma protectors around you. Without your permission, I would not have been able to come near you.”
“How about that first time when you showed yourself ?”
“I was in the water, which is my natural domain. Your gaze had barged into our world.”
Suddenly David stood up. “Master Lu, I should go now. My fellow citizens of the drowned are looking for me!”
In that instant, I saw troops in plumage and feathered canopies standing on the surface of the lake. David walked towards the surface of the water and disappeared.
***
One day, David said to me, “Master Lu, I am leaving Lake Sammamish. I am finally going to be released from the citizens of the drowned.”
“This is good, it’s a very good news.”
Yet, after second thought, I asked him, “This is because you found a replacement?”
“Yes, a junior high school student by the name of Reynold is coming to play in the water. It will be tomorrow afternoon, and he will have the urge to go swimming. The spot that he will choose has an abundant grove of water grass which will entwine around his feet.”
“Where will you be at that time?”
“I will be right by his side. My hands will be there amid the tangled water weeds, holding tightly onto his feet.”
I became nervous. “What is going to happen to him?”
David broke into laughter, “Need you ask? His mouth will be agape and gasping, and he will try to break loose. His two eyes will look like those of a dead fish, while his whole body will convulse uncontrol- lably. Then everything will quiet down. He will be in a swooning state of consciousness and, when he comes back into awareness, he will find himself no longer in the human world, and that everything has changed for him.”
“What about his parents?”
“They will feel great grief. His school will hold a memorial service for him and many of his classmates will be crying. They will talk about his life…”
I became silent.
“Master Lu, what is the matter with you?”
I replied, “As Buddhists, there are things we do and do not do. One, we refrain from activities that benefit only ourselves and not others. Two, we engage in deeds that benefit both ourselves and other people. Three, we refrain from activities that benefit neither ourselves nor others. Four, we engage in deeds that benefit others, though not ourselves.”
“What does all this mean?” “Shakyamuni Buddha taught us that we should act as sunlight to thaw and liberate beings who are trapped by ice and snow. This is teaching us to give up our lives to help others. There are stories of the Buddha giving up his body to feed the tigers and slicing his flesh to feed the eagles. Buddhism teaches one to develop a compassion that is as vast as the sky, like auspicious clouds, roaring thunder, and quenching rain. Buddhism teaches one to engage in works of liberation and rescue.”
David turned to me, “My holding onto his feet so he would not be able to breathe, is that an evil deed? Is it an evil thought?”
“Can pulling someone’s feet and preventing that person from breathing be a good deed or a good thought?”
“Well…” David could not say anything. Then he continued, “In this world today, people are only concerned about their own rights and own preservation. Men, even countries, harbor animosities and in- tolerance for each other and enact all kinds of wickedness upon each other. News reports in the mass media are full of stories of violence and abuse and everyone does whatever he or she likes, as if possessed. I don’t have that much power of wisdom, and now I am just acting in accordance with what fate has dealt my way. How can this be a wicked thought?”
I explained, “I feel that Buddhism is full of auspiciousness and wonders. Your encountering me indicates an affinity between us. But now, you are falling again into the sink of negative karma. Gaining such a rebirth is very dangerous as your action will bring you karmic retribution.”
“Do you wish me to stay forever among the citizens of the drowned?”
“No.”
“If not, how else can I get out of here?”
“Well… I can try to think of something.”
David walked pensively towards the lake and gradually disap- peared from sight.
***
For a period of time, I did not visit Lake Sammamish.
About three months later, I went back to the lakeside. The surface of the lake had not changed. Its large stretch of mist-covered water quietly hugged the mountains, as if rinsing away the dust that had become stuck from one’s body and mind. Several ducks were still quacking away merrily, forever free from honor or shame or emotional afflictions.
A small dingy on the lake further magnified the largeness of the lake. To lie on the dingy bobbing up and down would be like experiencing the deva realm up in the clouds. A few anglers were still around, very quietly sitting and waiting, hope followed by hope.
In the lake, luxuriant red and white lotuses were in bloom, and reeds swayed to the rhythm of the wind. The blue sky above was expansive and clear, yet the tiniest ring of ripple in this water could set the whole sky into motion.
Occasionally, wild geese would fly past and, once in a while, some would descend upon the lakeside. I was not just enjoying the sight of the fast moving clouds; the elegant forms of wild geese gliding down also delighted me. I was not just casually looking at everything. With a mind entering into stillness, one found all waves quiet; with the body in peace, one could hardly feel any breeze.
Here is a verse:

A boat anchored in emerald water shrouded in mist,
Without calculating thoughts for reputation or profit;
I love instead the white lotuses at the lake’s edge,
Freely blooming and dying unfettered.
While I was looking, the sky started to drizzle. There was a rush of wind, and the lake became even hazier. Colorful bright lights ap- peared in the mist above the lake, revealing four lovely female atten- dants whose beauty was ethereal and beyond this world.
In the center of this colorful brilliance, the lake god appeared. He had a handsome and distinguished-looking face. His hair and beard were short and stylish, and he wore elegant attire, with long sleeves that fluttered in the wind.
As he came close to me, his eyes looked familiar.
“David?” I asked in surprise.
“It’s me, Master Lu.”
“What happened? You are still here?”
“Yes.”
“And who are you now?”
“I am the lake god now. I am a god just as you are.”
David, the lake god, said to me, “That day, Reynold did come to the lake to swim, and I was right there waiting for him. When his feet got entangled by the water grass, I reached out my hands.”
“Oh! You grabbed his feet.” I found my voice raising.
“No, I untied the water grass that was wrapped around his feet.”
I heaved a sigh of relief.
David the lake god continued, “Letting my replacement go also meant that I did not get to be reborn. All the water ghosts of the citizens of the drowned had known of my impending rebirth and, when I missed the chance, they all felt sorry for me. I didn’t feel so bad myself, I was actually happy for doing something right. Master Lu, you are right, one should not do anything that benefits oneself but hurts others.”
“And ever since then, a light has appeared inside my heart,” said David the lake god.
“A light?”
“A light of virtues. After that incident, I went on to save three more people’s lives. Their car plunged into the lake, and I opened the car door for them.”
“Ah!” Boundless praise and admiration welled up in me.
“After the original lake god moved up to a higher position, his post fell naturally onto my shoulders. I am now the chief administrator of this lake, and I have the power to call upon rain, to ride upon winds and to render help to other beings.”
“Wow, you are indeed a god now!”
“Master Lu, I am indebted to you for your teaching.” David was very happy.
“Do you still drink?”
“Not any more!” David said, “I am now the lake god, a good god.
I take pride in being brave, upright, and moral. I would like to take refuge in you and practice the Buddhadharma.”
I taught him the Fourfold Refuge and Five Precepts, and David the lake god formally started his practice of True Buddha Dharma.

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