CHAPTER NINE: The Tiger-Dragon Society


As the morning dawned on his last day at the monastery, Fan took off the robe he had worn for the previous two years, folded it carefully and put it into his suitcase. He then searched through the Western clothes he had stored away, chose something and dressed himself for his final meeting with the abbot. The previous day, he had said his farewells to the other brothers, especially to Brother Yang who had helped him so much during his first days at the temple.

With a heavy heart, he picked up his suitcases and went to the abbot's office. Professor Lee was waiting there to take him back to the airport. The two greeted each other warmly and Fan began to tell him about his experiences at the monastery. In the middle of their conversation, an elderly monk came out into the corridor and asked Fan to accompany him inside. He led Fan to the abbot's chapel and then left, indicating that the abbot was waiting inside. After entering the room, Fan closed the door behind him.

It was dark inside the chapel. The curtains were drawn and as Fan's eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see that it was being lit by the glow of a single candle. The abbot was sitting on a carpet, facing Fan. There was a small table in front of him, and a small green pillow partially covered by a red cloth on top of the table. The temple's astrologer sat on his left side, his gaze focused on the flame of the candle that was sitting on another low table in front of him.

The abbot's strong voice rang out, “Brother Fan, please walk slowly toward us, trying not to make any sudden movements, and sit down in front of me.”

Following his directions, Fan moved slowly forward. As he moved, the oracle kept his eyes fixed on the flame of the candle and the abbot kept his eyes fixed on Fan. It took exactly twelve steps for Fan to reach the edge of the carpet, and during that time, the flame did not flicker. Fan then sat down on the two cushions that had been placed on the carpet in front of the table.

Seconds later, the astrologer rang a small bell. Two monks then entered the room, opened the windows and door to let in the sunshine and took away the candle. He then said a few words to the abbot that Fan could not hear.

“Very good, Brother Fan,” said the abbot. “If the candlelight had flickered even once as you moved across the room, you'd already be on your way to the airport, never to return to the monastery.”

After tea was served by an assistant, the three men were again left alone in the chapel. “I see that your Western clothes still fit you well,” said the abbot. “Before the professor takes you back to the city, we must discuss some important matters.” After a pause, he continued, “When you first came here, we cast your horoscope and now we'd like to tell you the results of that horoscope. We've waited this long to tell you because with so much at stake, we couldn't afford to make a mistake and wanted to confirm its findings by observing your behavior, conduct and preferences. We also wanted to see if you could remember anything about your past lives. You've been patient and we've tried to put you on the right path. You must now decide if you'll continue along this path or abandon it for another one.”

With his right hand, the abbot lifted the piece of cloth covering the pillow on the table, revealing a jade medallion about two inches in diameter that was white and blue in color. Fan was attracted by the medallion's simplicity of design, and was elated by the strange combination of its colors.

Pushing the pillow toward Fan, the abbot said softly, “You can pick it up and look at it if you wish, Brother Fan. It isn't a sacred object.”

Fan lifted the medallion from the pillow and looking at it closely, saw that it was a beautiful carving done from a single piece of jade. It had an outer circle and two inner figures. The upper figure was that of a dragon. It was soft blue in color, and every part of the animal-its eyes, horns, claws, and scales were perfectly proportioned and exquisitely detailed. Its eyes were looking down, toward the tail of the figure in the lower half of the circle.

The figure in the lower half of the circle was that of a tiger. It was white in color, the same color as the circle that surrounded the two figures. It seemed to be roaring and one of its legs was raised, as if ready to strike. Its eyes were looking up at the dragon's tail, and this created a perfect sense of balance between the two figures.

After looking at the medallion for several minutes, Fan reluctantly started to return it to the pillow but was stopped by the abbot who said, “You can keep it. It has been with us for a long time and we're pleased to be able to return it to its rightful owner. It was previously yours and is yours again.”

The abbot's words startled Fan and he couldn't fully understand their meaning. “Your Excellency, what have I done to deserve such a wonderful piece of art? I'm not a jade expert, but I imagine that this must be an extremely valuable object.”

The abbot sighed, “The answer to your question brings us back to the results of your horoscope reading. It's a long story and I'll tell it to you now.

“The results of your reading stunned us,” the abbot began. “They told of us events that took place in this temple centuries ago. To help you better understand these events, let me start by telling you the history of this monastery.

“Our temple was founded in the year 1639, at the end of the Ming Dynasty. During the early years, our founders asked famous monk-teachers to come to the monastery to establish its intellectual precepts and to train its first generation of Taoist monks. In time, the fame of our temple spread throughout the country and we received donations from many sources, most importantly from officials at the Imperial Court in Beijing who often chose to join the ranks of our monks after retirement. Many of these officials were renowned scholars and they taught our young monks, imparting their wisdom before leaving this world. Under their guidance, our monastery began to produce some of the best religious and philosophical minds of the time.

“Military officers and strategists also chose to retire to our monastery and they taught their art to our students, not to help them wage war, but to help strengthen their bodies. Since then, whenever our young monks perform at festivals, their physical strength and prowess is evident.

“In the year 1646, two years after the foreign Ching (Manchu) dynasty had taken power in China, a general of the Imperial Army arrived at the doors of the monastery. Our records don't list his family name, as the names and ranks of army officers were seldom divulged to outsiders in order to prevent spies from discovering their identities. What our records do show, however, is that he asked to be admitted to the temple, not as a monk, but as an ex-army officer and that he be allowed to change his name after he'd entered. He told the abbot that he'd attained the rank of general even though he was of Han-Chinese descent. From this fact, we know that he must have been a great warrior because Ching officials allowed few such individuals to command soldiers, fearing that they might use their power to overthrow the government. In the case of this general, their suspicions were correct.

“The general had gone on to explain that while stationed in Beijing and fulfilling his duties at court, he had been approached by members of a society of Chinese patriots who were plotting to overthrow the empire. The rebels had pressured him to join them, understanding that he would be of great value to their group, and the general, being of Chinese descent, could not refuse their request.

“After joining the rebel society, the military information provided by the general allowed the rebels to sabotage and harass the Imperial Troops and this created a great deal of difficulty for the Manchu leaders. Eventually, a spy denounced his activities to two Manchu generals who had surmised that someone from inside their ranks was providing the rebels with information and had begun to suspect that the general might be the person responsible. Enraged, they had him arrested, stripped of his rank and thrown into prison to await execution for treason. They also ordered that his possessions be confiscated, his house burnt, and everyone in his family, including the servants, be arrested and executed as well-hoping that this would dissuade other Chinese officials from hatching treasonous plots in the future.

“Two days after his arrest, the general was taken to Beijing's central square, tied to a pole and forced to witness the decapitation of his parents, wife, children, relatives and loyal servants. As he watched his loved ones die, he wanted to scream in desperation but with his eyes set on the infinite sky, he focused instead on his determination to fight the Manchus, knowing that without his family, his only loyalty lay to the millions of Chinese who were being oppressed by this foreign power.

“Frustrated by the general's lack of emotion, the Manchu generals ordered that he be taken back to his cell in the military stockade. There his head was covered by a dark sack so that he wouldn't know the time of day, and his hands were kept tied behind his back, except when meals were served and they were tied in front of his body to allow him to eat.

“With the general trapped in prison, the remaining members of the rebel society worked frantically to devise a plan to help him escape. With little time, the plan they devised was a simple one, but they knew that the general's military abilities would be of great help when the time came.

“Inside the prison, the general was taking stock of his situation. He knew that his cell was guarded by two soldiers, each armed with a spear, and that the door of his cell had been removed so they could easily enter the room to check on him. By listening to them speak to two other guards on top of the parapets, he had been able to calculate the distance between his cell and the outer wall of the stockade. He knew that any escape plan would be difficult to execute because the guards on the parapets would be trained archers who wouldn't be easily surprised by escaping prisoners or outside attackers but he never doubted that the rebels would soon arrive to help him.

“One morning, an old man arrived at the prison. He claimed to be a friend of the family and said that he had food for the general. In those days, visitors bringing food were allowed to enter the prison, but each was carefully searched before being allowed to do so. In actuality, the old man was a trained rebel fighter who had hidden a thin knife blade in the ponytail that was covered by his cap, but this wasn't discovered by the guards who searched him.

“After the search, the old man was allowed to enter the general's cell where he greeted the general warmly. Upon hearing his visitor's voice, the general realized that help had arrived and he focused intently on the old man's actions, trying to detect any instructions he might be given. One of the guards then tied the general's hands loosely in front of his body so he could hold the bowl of food and use his chopsticks. He then left the cell, keeping a close eye on the men inside to ensure that the sack remained on the general's head. Using the pretense of helping his friend find his food, the old man slipped the knife blade under the bowl and handed it to the general. Feeling the blade under the bowl, the general remained silent while his guest tried to distract the guard by talking loudly about the burial arrangements being made for the general's family. When the guard turned his head for a moment, the old man softly tapped the general's left foot with his own, and the general, understanding the movement, quickly slipped the knife into his left shoe. Just before the guard reentered the cell, the old man quietly said, 'It will soon be dark.' The guard then tied the general's hands behind his back and asked the visitor to leave the prison. The old man did so, apologizing to the guards for having inconvenienced them with his presence.

“After the old man's departure, the general was left alone with his thoughts. He understood that he had to escape that night and that the blade was the only help that the society could give him. His visitor's words also told him that he had to act quickly because darkness was about to fall and since the number of guards doubled at night, he knew that escape would be impossible if he did not act immediately.

“After several minutes had elapsed, the general bent down, took the knife from his shoe and used it to cut the rope around his wrists. Since his hands were tied behind his back, his movements were hidden from the guards who noticed nothing when they looked into the cell to check on him. Once the rope was cut, the general held the blade in his right hand and waited until he heard the guards take their positions on either side of the door outside his cell. He then removed the sack from his head and after allowing his eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness of the room, stood up slowly and waited until one of the guards again looked into the room. When this happened, the guard lept into the cell like a cat, intending to strike the general with his spear, but the prisoner swept the spear aside and plunged the knife into the guard's abdomen, giving him no time to cry out in warning before he died.

“Pushing the dead guard to one side, the general pulled the spear from his hand and turned to face the second guard who had rushed into the cell. He used the lower part of the spear to hit the right side of the guard's head, breaking his skull and killing him before he hit the floor.

“With the guards disposed of, the general carefully stepped outside his cell, spear in hand. At that moment, one of the guards on the parapet looked down into the corridor, probably wondering why it had suddenly fallen so silent. The general threw his spear at the guard, hitting him in the chest and causing him to fall over the wall into the corridor. Alerted by the commotion, the other guards rushed from their posts and seeing the general attempting to escape by running toward the outer wall of the stockade, began to hurl their spears and shoot arrows at him. Fortunately, his military training made him a difficult target to hit and in no time at all, he had vaulted over the wall and escaped into the darkness.

“After fleeing the prison, the fugitive came upon a swamp. With his knowledge of terrain, he knew that this would be the perfect place to hide and he quickly made his way into the vegetation and continued on, careful to keep hidden from the well-armed guards pursuing him. When dawn arrived the next morning, the general found himself far from the swamp and was able to find his way to the home of one of the rebels. He knew that he had to take revenge on the Manchu generals who had imprisoned him or the souls of his relatives would never be able to rest in peace, so he waited at his refuge for information that would allow him to plan his attack.

“One night, after the rebel spies had provided him with the information he needed, the general dressed himself in black clothing, took the weapon that he planned to use against his enemy-a blow-gun armed with a poison dart-and left for the home of one of the Manchu generals. There, he hid in thick bushes several feet from the front entrance of the house and waited patiently for his enemy to return. After several hours had passed, he heard the sound of running feet and looking out from his hiding place, saw a group of runners arrive, followed by another group of men carrying a litter. The group stopped in front of the house and servants emerged from the home, placed wooden steps in front of the litter and held torches close to its curtained door to illuminate the area for the person inside. As that person pushed aside the curtains with his hands and started to descend, the general could see that it was the tall figure of the Manchu general wearing a long, green robe decorated with the figures of two white cranes.

“At that moment, the Chinese general rushed from his hiding place and ran up to the group, his face clearly illuminated by the torchlight. Startled, the Manchu general stared at the fugitive, and in that instant, his entire life flashed before his eyes. He started to say something to his retinue and to point his finger at the fugitive but it was too late. Whistling as it was propelled from the blow-gun, its green and red ribboned tail flashing in the light, the poison dart found its target between the general's eyebrows. Its quick-acting poison immediately caused the general to fall to the ground, his body seized with convulsions, his face turning purple and becoming marked with black spots. Since he was the only one who knew the antidote to the poison, the Chinese general knew that no doctor would be able to cure his enemy and that the general would take several days to die, suffering greatly as fever and pain consumed his body. His revenge complete, the Chinese general slipped away into the shadows, his identity unknown to everyone but his victim, whose swollen tongue would not allow him to utter a single, intelligible word about his assailant.

“Three days later, the general appeared on the roof of a two-storey building where he waited for the arrival of a military procession that would be passing by on its way to an official ceremony in the inner city, aware that his next victim would be just behind the flag bearers at the head of the procession, mounted on a white horse, proudly leading his soldiers through the city streets.

“Once the procession came into sight, another poison dart whistled through the clear air and found its target. As the Manchu general's heavily-armed body slid from the saddle, his bodyguards spotted and tried to pursue his killer but were unable to catch him as he nimbly fled across the rooftops.

“With his greatest enemies dead and the spirits of his relatives now able to rest in peace, the fugitive thought about his options for the future: he could fight openly and be captured and killed, or he could go into hiding. Realizing that it would be difficult to hide in a city filled with soldiers and spies all trying to capture him, whose citizens would be killed if found guilty of helping him, he realized that he had only one option available-to take advantage of an imperial edict that allowed political refugees to enter monasteries and remain there for the rest of their lives. This was possible because the powerful religious leaders of the time had been able to extract from the Emperor the promise that temples and monasteries would be considered inviolable spaces, and that those inside would be protected from government prosecution. Of course, this did not mean that common criminals were able to escape justice by entering a monastery, as religious authorities were careful to admit only certain people seeking refuge under this law. Such individuals were usually military or court officials who had fallen from grace after making decisions that didn't please the government. Years later, this edict would be revoked but at the time that these events took place, the Chinese general was able to seek refuge in our monastery, where he was accepted by the abbot. Since our records refer to this general only as 'A Great Dragon,' we've tried to determine who he might have been by looking at the historical annals of the time, but with nothing to corroborate our hunch, his identity remains a mystery.

“After being accepted into the monastery, the general was given the honorary title of 'Master Min.' He was allowed to wear civilian clothes in the temple and to engage in activities of his choice. Since he was not allowed to leave the temple, his followers-some military, some scholars-soon started to arrive, also asking to be admitted. By now it was clear that this growing group of individuals would soon start plotting to overthrow the Emperor but since the monks were also patriotic Chinese, the abbot didn't attempt to curtail their activities. When the group had grown to about twenty in number, the abbot allowed them to move into the north wing of the temple, and ensured that they were answerable only to him.

“Without family or fortune, Master Min spent his time practicing martial arts. He designed the martial arts yard in which you've been exercising, as a practice space for himself and his friends. When some of the younger monks asked Master Min to teach them, he agreed to do so, but chose to teach only those with the greatest capacity to learn. This is how our martial arts school was created. Master Wei is a direct descendent of that first generation of monks who wisely asked Master Min for instruction.

“After five years at the monastery, Master Min asked the abbot for authorization to form a new society that would rally his group under a single flag and be in contact with rebels outside of the temple. After being granted permission to do so, Master Min became the Dragon or head of the society-the intellectual force of the group who would guide them to new heights in their fight for liberation from the Manchu invaders. The old man who had helped him escape from prison became the Tiger-the spirit of the group. The small north wing was declared the headquarters for the 'White Tiger-Blue Dragon Society,' whose members focused solely on practicing martial arts and plotting against the Imperial army.”

“Your Excellency,” asked Fan, “I've learned something about the meaning of the White Tiger and Blue Dragon. Did the two leaders of the society also represent two complementary forces?”

“Every secret society used different animal symbols. Master Min's group used the Blue Dragon because since a dragon only shows its head and hides the rest of its body in the clouds, in the military arts, it represents secrecy. They used the White Tiger because they wanted to indicate that the members of their society were united in harmony behind their leader and that they all had the courage and heart of a tiger. In the jade medallion you were looking at, the two figures represent the Yin-Yang and that's why they're positioned head to tail-one following the other; the circle around them representing the loyalty of all the members of the group.

“As time passed, whenever the members of the society traveled outside of the monastery as doctors or to run errands for the temple, they collected information from or passed information to their collaborators. As rumors of the monks' strength and power spread, their activities attracted the attention of the authorities who flooded the area with spies in an attempt to determine what was happening inside the temple. They soon discovered that Master Min was the leader of the group and reported this back to the capital. Unfortunately, we know that the more famous an individual, the lesser his chances of living a long life, and the general was no exception-his fame as an archer, calligrapher, and martial artist had led to events that would bring about his downfall.

“Once the Manchu leaders learned of Master Min, they began to think of ways to capture him. Since they couldn't send troops to attack the temple, they decided to send just one individual to deal with him. The person they chose was a Chinese officer who was stationed on the Mongolian border. He was very knowledgeable about many religions and, after he'd been given instruction as to how to present himself, he was sent to the temple. He arrived there, walking with a false limp and leaning on a five-foot-long staff, and told the abbot that he'd been injured in the war and was looking for a place to retire. He also said that he had received many rewards during his illustrious career and that he would 'donate' all of his property to the temple if he was allowed to spend the rest of his life in solitude there. The abbot considered his request and decided to allow him to enter the monastery.

“Once inside the temple, it wasn't difficult for the newcomer to enter into contact with the members of the secret society. At first, he was only allowed to attend meetings of lesser importance but once he had proved himself to be a good strategist, he was brought to Master Min for questioning. Master Min asked about his military record and since the officer had been well-prepared by the army, he was able to convince the master that his motives were genuine. As time passed, the officer's natural talent for planning made him one of Master Min's closest advisors and they delighted in challenging each other to countless games of chess-Master Min's favorite pastime.

“When Master Shin (the old man who represented the White Tiger in the society) passed away, the infiltrator was asked to take his place because it was felt that he had proven his loyalty to the cause, that he had exceptional organizational abilities and because he was Chinese. The spy accepted, of course, and this gave him even more access to the society's secret plans.

“The new White Tiger was well-respected and pretended to be the most loyal member of the group. In reality, he was about to realize the final stage of his plan-the assassination of Master Min. The weapon he'd chosen to kill his target was hidden in his staff. It was a metal blade that had been sharpened to a needle point and impregnated with the poison of seven animals. The poison had been adhered to the blade by fire and would be released into the victim's body through even the tiniest of scratches and take his life within seconds. While the infiltrator knew that he had to ensure that the blade not be deflected during a fight, he was confident that he would be able to defeat his opponent and that the fate of Master Min now rested in his hands.

“One quiet night, Master Min and the spy were playing chess in the Master's living quarters. They were sitting by the window that opened onto the courtyard, the only light in the room provided by candles. In the courtyard, one of the society's members was practicing archery under the moonlight, taking aim at twenty-five burning sticks of incense that had been aligned in a row in the ground fifty feet in front of him. His long, white, civilian tunic was parted in front from the waist down, its lower left edge tucked into his wide belt, allowing him to crouch in a special stance used by archers. He was deeply concentrated on his practice, at times spending long minutes with an arrow fully pulled back on his bow, as motionless as a statue, demonstrating his strength and calm state of mind. The only sound heard in the courtyard was the occasional whistling of his arrows as they sped through the air toward their targets.

“In his living quarters, Master Min's green tunic shone under the light of the candle. As he leaned over to take a closer look at the chessboard, pondering his next move, the spy stood up and walked to the other side of the room, saying that he wanted to find a better chair. Once behind him, he unlocked his staff, pulled the blade from its sheath and swiftly stabbed Master Min in an acupuncture point on his back between his right lung and spinal column, killing him instantly. Master Min didn't even have time to cry out, his head falling forward onto the chessboard, scattering the chess pieces that then fell to the ground.

“As the assassin prepared to return his dagger to its sheath, the entrance curtain parted and a monk carrying a tray of hot tea entered the room. Seeing Master Min crumpled on the table, his green robe stained with blood, he immediately cried out, 'Murder in the temple!' and dropped the tray, momentarily unsure what to do next. Seizing the opportunity, the infiltrator thrust his blade into the monk's throat, killing him. Sliding his blade back into his staff, he ran first into the corridor then out into the yard, searching for a place where he could jump over the wall and escape from the monastery. After spotting a good location to do so, he started to run across the yard, his false limp completely gone. As he approached the wall, he thrust one end of his staff into the soft ground and using it as a vaulting pole, thrust himself upward, his body twisting as it rose in a vertical line into the dark night sky. As he approached the top of the wall and his hands let go of the stick, he focused his thoughts on landing safely on the other side, determined not to incur an injury that would prevent him from regaining the palace and obtaining the fame and fortune that awaited him there. What he didn't realize was that danger lurked in the silent shadows below him.

“When the monk cried 'Murder,' the archer practicing in the courtyard placed an arrow on his bow. Then, with the patience of a combat-tested warrior, he waited for his moment to strike. He could hear the alarmed voices of the monks inside the temple and knew that he was in an excellent position to spot anything unusual because he was the only person outside. Slowly, he pulled the right side of his tunic around his right hip and tucked it into his belt, just as he had done with the left side, to give his legs complete freedom of movement. At that moment, he caught sight of a figure running swiftly across the yard and knew that it was the killer, intent on escaping by jumping over the wall. He slowly lowered his weight onto his right leg until his body was almost resting on the ground, his left leg stretched out in front of him. Using his right hand, he then pulled the arrow back behind his right shoulder, stretched the bow forward using his left arm, and took careful aim at his target. He waited until the killer had thrown himself into the air and was about to clear the wall before releasing the arrow. It flew through the air like a meteor, striking the spy with such force that it pierced his heart and penetrated through his chest to his back.

“After being struck, the killer fell outside the wall, just as he had planned, but in agony, not triumph. He died moments later, his body broken during the fall, his lifeless eyes staring up at the moon-his fate the ignominious death of a coward and murderer.

“Several days later, the body of Master Min was buried in the monastery. His death was recorded and his medallion was put away to await the day that his spirit returned to earth to complete the cycle of his life that had been broken by his murder.

“After his death, the society continued its work, the monks eventually taking over responsibility for its survival. Strangely, the killer's lucky charm-a jade swastika-was never recovered. He used to wear it on his right forearm, tied to his body with a piece of silk cord. Although our records say that he was wearing it the day he died, the monks didn't find it on his body. Perhaps he'd sent it out of the temple to notify his co-conspirators of his intention to kill the Master that night. We do not know.

“That's the story of the medallion. As you may have guessed by now, we've determined that you're the reincarnation of Master Min. We were surprised to discover this as we had expected his spirit to be reborn in China, but we know that there must be a reason why you chose to be reborn in the West. We know that you're here to fight a great battle and so have armed you with the weapons you'll need in that struggle, but we don't know when, how or with whom you'll fight. You may choose to believe the story or not, but I would advise you to return to us in three years to learn even more. In the meantime, you must practice what you've already learned. In time, you'll be ready to fight anything and anyone. Since you're not Chinese, you can't claim a place in the White Tiger-Blue Dragon Society. That's a cardinal rule of the society that can't be broken, even for you. You're recognized as a past Dragon, but that's all. We've given you all the help we can and now your body, mind and spirit are strong and ready for the battle that lies ahead.”

The oracle smiled and bowed slightly to Fan saying, “Good luck, Brother Fan. We'll always be with you, don't forget that.”

The abbot stood up. “Now you must return to your country. In three years, we'll await your return. Professor Lee will tell you what procedures you'll need to follow to make that happen.”

After those words were spoken, Brother Fan left the monastery, leaving behind the mysterious world of the red sun, lion dancers, monks and great knowledge. Back in America, he was again Shelton, in name, attire, and appearance but not in mind-not anymore, not ever again.

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