The Sacred Book of the Werewolf
'Then what is it they're holding on to, these line holders?'
'In the line of transmission there is nothing you can hold on to.'
'I don't understand.'
'There's nothing there to understand, either. Seeing that clearly is exactly what holding the line means.'
'All right,' he said, 'then tell me this, in words of one syllable. Does anyone in the world have the formal right to call himself the super-werewolf according to this tradition? Even at the most primitive level?'
'Yes,' I said.
'And who's that?'
I lowered my eyes modestly.
'Who?' he repeated.
'I know this will be a blow to your vanity,' I said. 'But we did agree only to tell each other the truth . . .'
I nodded. He swore under his breath.
'And who does this line of transmission run from?'
'I'll tell you about it sometime later.'
'No, let's have it right now. So you won't have time to invent anything.'
Well, okay, I thought, the truth cannot be concealed. He'll find out sometime anyway.
'All right. Then listen and don't interrupt. One evening, about one thousand two hundred years ago, in the country that is now called China, I was riding from one town to another in my palanquin. It is of absolutely no importance now which towns they were and why I was travelling. What is important is that on that evening we halted outside the gates of a monastery on the Yellow Mountain . . .'
Sometimes in ancient China there used to be misty evenings when the world seemed to reveal the face it wore in its infancy, at the very beginning. Everything all around - the houses, the walls, the trees, the groves of bamboo, the poles with lamps burning on them - changed in the most miraculous fashion, and it began to seem as if you yourself had cut all this out of coloured paper and carefully arranged it all around, and then started to pretend that it really was a big wide world through which you could roam . . . On just such an evening twelve centuries ago, I was sitting in my palanquin in front of the gates of a monastery on the Yellow Mountain. The world around me was beautiful, and I was gazing through the window in melancholy delight, and there were tears in my eyes.
It was music that had affected me so deeply. Somewhere close by a flute had been singing for a long time - singing of the very feelings that were in my heart. As if once in our childhood we had lived in a huge house and played magical games. And then we had become so lost in our games that we began to believe in our own inventions - we had gone out to have fun walking among the dolls and lost our way, and now there was no power that could lead us back home if we did not remember that we were simply playing games. But it was almost impossible to remember that, so spellbinding and horrifying had the game turned out to be . . .
I do not know if music can be 'about something' or not - the dispute over that is an ancient one. The first conversation on that theme that I can recall took place in the time of Qin Shi Huang. And many centuries later, when I came to Yasnaya Polyana in the guise of a nihilist girl student, Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy mocked the idea all the way through supper, berating Beethoven with especial disdain - why, he asked, was it the moonlight sonata? On the whole, I would not claim that the sounds of the flute contained precisely that meaning. Or even that there was any meaning in them at all. But I realized that I had to talk to the flute-player straight away.
Of course, from the point of view of common sense, I ought not to have got out of the palanquin at all. When a flute plays beautifully somewhere nearby, it is best simply to listen to its sounds and not seek the company of the flautist. You cannot tell if he will say anything that is interesting or new to you, but you can be sure that he will stop playing. But all are wise in hindsight. Especially we foxes - by virtue of our anatomy.
There was mist all around: the people were in their houses, and I was not anticipating any particular danger to myself. Jumping out of the palanquin, I set off towards the source of the sound, stopping occasionally and literally squeezing my tail tight against myself at the astounding, incomparable beauty of the evening. There have been no evenings like that since the eighteenth century - they say that the chemical composition of the air has changed. Or perhaps it is something more serious than that.
The monastery consisted of numerous buildings crowded together beside the main gates, which were huge, red and very costly. These gates were not set in a wall. Learned monks had explained to me that this was an allegorical expression of the sect's doctrine: the gates symbolized a journey leading back to where it starts, and starting from anywhere. The gates that weren't gates, the total openness and radiant space on all sides, I could even remember the hieroglyphs saying that. But I assumed there had simply not been enough money for walls. Just let someone donate the money for a wall, I thought, and changes would be introduced into the doctrine.
The flute was being played in the main building, which housed the Hall of the Transmission of the Teaching. It would never have entered my head to stick my face in there, despite the romantic lilac mist, but the music lent me courage.
If you fear tigers, do not go into the mountains, I thought - so come what may . . .
Raising the skirts of my gown so that my tail would be ready for any surprises, I walked on. In ancient China all garments were wide and spacious, and so I was in no danger from a chance encounter with one or two idle passers-by, especially in the mist.
As a general rule I did not induce any special illusion - I showed the same world that was all around, but without little A Hu-Li in it. Whenever someone saw me, their eyes would usually pop out of their heads at the sight of my ginger pride, but the next second they would be completely baffled at what could have set them trembling so badly - there was nothing anywhere nearby, only the bare, empty field, with the wind swirling the dry leaves in the air above it . . . This sounds simple, but in fact it is difficult, one of the most advanced of a fox's tricks, and if you encounter more than three people, there are problems. By the way, that is why, from the times of Sun Tzu, in time of war it was customary to place at least four guards at the entrance to a fortress: they feared my sisters, and with good reason.
In the main building one window was lit. That was where the flute was playing, there could be no mistake about that. It was a corner room on the first floor, and climbing into it presented no difficulty. I had to jump up on to the tiled canopy and follow it past the dark windows. This I did with no difficulty - I am light-footed. The shutters were raised at the window behind which the flute was playing. I squatted down on my haunches and cautiously glanced inside.
The flute-player was sitting on the floor with his back to me. He was wearing a robe of blue silk, and on his head he had a small conical straw hat. I could see that his head was shaved, although his style of dress was not like a monk's. He had broad shoulders and a lean body, light and strong - I sense such things immediately. On the floor in front of him I saw a teacup, a brush and a pile of paper. There were two oil lamps burning on the wall.
Evidently, I thought, he was engaged in calligraphy, and then decided to rest and took up his flute . . . I wonder what I shall say to him?
I had no plan at all - only some vague ideas swirling around in my head: first have a heart-to-heart talk, and then hypnotize him, that was the only way to deal with people. Although, if I had thought about it calmly for a moment, I should have realized that it would not work: no one would talk to me openheartedly, knowing that afterwards I would hypnotize them in any case. And if I were to hypnotize them from the very beginning, then what openheartedness could there possibly be?
But I was not allowed to think the matter through - the light of torches glimmered below me, I heard footsteps and voices. There were about ten men - I could not cast a spell on so many all at once. Pondering for no more than a second, I leapt in through the window.
I decided I would quickly bewitch the flute-player, then hide and, when the men had gone away, go back to my palanquin, since fortunately it was already almost dark outside. I landed on all fours without making a sound, raised my tail and called out quietly to the man sitting in the room.
'Most honourable sir!'
He calmly put his flute down and turned round. I immediately tensed my tail and focused all the power of my spirit at its tip - and then something quite new and unexpected happened. Instead of the pliable fizzy jelly which is how my tail perceives the human mind (it is pointless to attempt to explain this to someone who has never experienced it for themselves), I encountered absolutely nothing at all.
I had met many people who were strong or weak in spirit. Working with them was like drilling through walls made of different materials: everything can be drilled, only in different ways. But here I discovered nothing to which I could apply the willpower focused in the fine strands crackling with electricity above my head. In my astonishment I literally lost my balance and slumped to the floor like a fool, with my tail squeezed between my legs, which were exposed in front of me in an unseemly manner. At that moment I felt like a fairground juggler whose balls and ribbons have all fallen plop into the liquid mud.
'Hello, A Hu-Li,' the man said, and inclined his head in polite greeting. 'I am very glad that you have found a moment to call in and see me. You may call me the Yellow Master.'
The Yellow Master, I thought, drawing in my legs. Probably from the Yellow Mountain on which the monastery stands. Or perhaps he is aiming to be emperor.
'No,' he said with a smile, 'I do not wish to be emperor. But you are right about the Yellow Mountain.'
'What, did I say it aloud?'
'Your thoughts are reflected so clearly on your sweet little face, that it is quite easy to read them,' he said with a laugh.
Embarrassed, I covered my face with my sleeve. And then I remembered there was a tear in my sleeve, and began to feel completely ashamed - I covered one arm with the other. My robe at the time was a beautiful one, an imperial concubine's cast-off, but no longer new, and there were holes in it here and there.
But my embarrassment was, of course, a pretence. In actual fact I was feverishly searching for an exit, and I deliberately hid my face so that he would not read in it what I was thinking. It was not possible that I could be defeated by one man on his own. I could not feel his mind anywhere. But that did not mean that his mind did not exist at all. Clearly he knew some cunning magical trick . . . Perhaps he was showing himself in a place which was not where he really was? I had heard about such things. But he was not the only one who knew some tricks.
We foxes have a method that we can use to transmit an illusion in all directions at once, instantly subduing a human being's will. When we do this, we do not attune ourselves to a specific client, but become, so to speak, a large, heavy stone that falls on to the smooth mirror of the 'here and now', sending out in all directions ripples that make people's heads spin. And then the disoriented human mind grasps at the very first straw offered to it. This technique is called 'Storm above the Heavenly Palace'.
I applied it straight away - jumping up on to all fours, pulling up my robe and shaking my tail furiously above my head. It is not the tip of the tail, but its root that has to be shaken, that is, the point from which it grows, and therefore this action appears both indecorous and suggestive, especially with one's robe pulled up. However, we foxes overcome our innate modesty because the man has no time to see anything properly.
I mean a normal man. The Yellow Master not only saw, he laughed offensively as well.
'How very pretty you are,' he said. 'But do not forget that I am a monk.'
Refusing to capitulate, I strained my will to its very limit: and then, frowning as if he had a headache, he removed the hat from his head and flung it at me. The black string of the hat caught on my tail and the hat pinned it to the floor - as if it were not a simple cone of dry straw, but a massive millstone.
The Yellow Master followed that by picking up two sheets of paper covered with hieroglyphs, rolling them up and flinging them at me as well. Before I had time to think, they had pinned my wrists to the floor, like two shackles of iron. I tried to reach one of the sheets with my teeth (when we are badly frightened, the same thing happens to us as during a chicken-hunt - our human face grows longer and is transformed for a few seconds into a pretty, sharp-toothed little muzzle), but I could not. This, of course, was some sort of sorcery. I managed to read a few of the hieroglyphs written on the paper - 'there is no old age and death . . . and also no deliverance from them . . .'
My heart felt a little lighter at that - it was the Buddhist Heart Sutra, which meant this man before me was not a Taoist. Everything might yet be all right. I stopped thrashing about and calmed down.
The Yellow Master lifted his cup of tea and took a sip from it, looking me over like an artist surveying a picture that is almost finished and pondering where a final flourish of ink is required. I realized I was lying on my back and the entire lower part of my body was indecently exposed. I even blushed at such humiliation. And then I started to feel afraid. Who could tell what was on this sorcerer's mind? Life is terrible and pitiless. Sometimes, when people manage to catch one of my sisters, the things they do to her are so terrible, it is better not even to recall them.
'I warn you,' I said in a faltering voice, 'that if you are intending to violate a virgin, the earth and the heavens will shudder at such a sin! And in your old age you will know no peace.'
He laughed so heartily that the tea splashed out of his cup on to the floor. In my unbearable shame, I turned my head away and once again I saw the hieroglyphs on the sheet of paper shackling one of my hands. This time it was the other sheet, and the hieroglyphs on it were different: 'having taken as a support ... and there are no obstacles in the mind . . .'
'Shall we talk?' the Yellow Master asked.
'I am not a singer from the bawdy quarter, I do not converse with my skirt hem pulled up,' I retorted.
'But you pulled it up yourself,' he said imperturbably.
'Perhaps I did,' I replied, 'but now I am unable to pull it down again.'
'Do you promise that you will not attempt to run away?'
I mimicked an expression of agonizing internal struggle. Then I sighed and said: 'I promise.'
The Yellow Master quietly muttered the final phrase of the Heart Sutra in Chinese. All the men of learning that I knew claimed that this mantra should only be recited in Sanskrit, since that was the way the voice of the Victorious One had first pronounced it. But nonetheless, the hoops round my wrists instantly released their grip and were transformed into two ordinary sheets of crumpled paper.
I adjusted my hem, sat up on the floor in a dignified pose and said:
'How instructive! The gentleman uses the same sutra as the lock and the key. Or does the meaning here lie in the fact that this mantra truly does bring relief from all suffering, as the Buddha promised?'
'Have you read the Heart Sutra?' he asked.
'I have read a smattering,' I replied. 'Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.'
'Perhaps you even know the meaning of these words?'
I gauged the distance to the window with a glance. It was two leaps away. Well, I thought, even if he were an imperial body-guard, he would never catch me.
'Of course I do,' I said, gathering myself into a tense spring. 'For instance, the fox A Hu-Li is sitting here before you. She appears to be quite genuine, she has form. But look closely, and there is no A Hu-Li before you, for she is an empty void.'
And with those words I made a sudden dash for the dark square of freedom already scattered with stars.
Anticipating later events, I should say that this was the experience that subsequently helped me to understand Kazimir Malevich's picture Black Square. I would just have drawn in a few tiny bluish-white dots. However, Malevich, although he called himself a supremacist, remained faithful to the truth of life - for most of the time there is no light in the Russian sky. And there is nothing left for the soul to do but produce invisible stars from within itself - that is the meaning of his canvas. But these thoughts only came to me many centuries later. Just at that second I collapsed to the floor, overwhelmed by an absolutely unbelievable, unbearable sense of shame. It hurt so badly that I could not even cry out.
The Yellow Master had removed the shackles from my hands. The window was very close. But I had forgotten about the hat that was pinning my tail to the floor.
No physical or even moral pain can possibly compare with the suffering that I experienced. Everything that anchorites endure in years of repentance was packed into a single second of incredibly intense feeling - as if a flash of lightning had lit up the dark corners of my soul. I felt myself crumble like a handful of dust, and a stream of tears gushed from my eyes. There in front of my face was a crumpled page of the Heart Sutra with its indifferent hieroglyphs gazing out at me, telling me that I, my failed attempt to escape, and the inexpressible torment I was suffering at that moment were nothing but empty appearance.
The Yellow Master did not laugh, he even looked at me with an expression of something like compassion, but I could tell he was barely able to restrain his laughter. That made me feel even sorrier for myself, and I kept on and on crying, until the hieroglyphs that my tears were falling on blurred and dissolved into formless blots.
'Is it that painful?' the Yellow Master asked.
'No,' I replied through my tears, 'I feel . . . I feel . . .'
'What do you feel?'
'I am not accustomed to talking frankly to people.'
'In your trade that is hardly surprising,' he laughed. 'But even so, why are you crying?'
'I feel ashamed . . .' I whispered.
I felt so dreadful at that moment that I was not thinking of any cunning tricks, and the sympathy showed to me by the Yellow Master seemed undeserved - I knew very well what the due reward for my deeds was. If he had started skinning me alive, I believe I should not have objected greatly.
'What are you ashamed of?'
'Of all the things that I have done . . . I am afraid.'
'I am afraid that the spirits of retribution will send me to hell,' I said in a very low voice.
It was the honest truth - one of the fleeting visions that had just flashed before my inner eye was this: a black wheel was turning inside an icy stone cell, winding my tail on to itself, tearing it out of my body, but the tail would not tear away, it kept on growing and growing, like the silk thread emerging from a spider's belly, and every second of this nightmare brought me intolerable torment. But the worst thing of all was the realization that it would go on like that for all eternity . . . No fox could imagine a more terrible hell.
'Do foxes really believe in retribution?' the Yellow Master asked.
'We do not have to believe or not believe. Retribution comes every time our tails are tugged sharply.'
'Ah, so that's it,' he said thoughtfully. 'So I should have tugged on her tail . . .'
'A few years ago a highly cultured fox from the capital came here to pray for forgiveness of her sins. Unlike you, she had no fear of hell at all - on the contrary, she asserted that absolutely everybody would find their way there. She reasoned like this: even people are sometimes kind, and how greatly the mercy of heaven transcends earthly mercy! It is clear that the Supreme Ruler will forgive absolutely everybody and send them immediately to heaven. People themselves will turn heaven into hell - exactly as they have done to the earth . . .'
I am usually curious, but at that moment I was in such a terrible state that I did not even ask who that fox from the capital was. But her argument sounded convincing to me. Swallowing my tears, I whispered:
'Then does that mean there is no hope at all?'
The Yellow Master shrugged.
'The realization that everything is created by the mind demolishes even the most terrible hell,' he said.
'I understand this idea already,' I replied. 'I have read the sacred books and my grasp of them is really quite good. But it seems to me that I have a wicked heart. And a wicked heart, as that fox from the capital said so correctly, will always create hell around itself. No matter where it might be.'
'If you had a wicked heart, you would not have followed the sound of my flute. Your heart is not wicked. Like all foxes' hearts, it is cunning.'
'And can a cunning heart be helped?'
'It is believed that if its owner lives a righteous life, a cunning heart can be cured in three kalpas.'
'And what is a kalpa?'
'It is the period of time that passes between the appearance of the universe and its destruction.'
'But no fox will ever live for so long!' I said.
'Yes,' he agreed. 'A cunning heart is difficult to cure by forcing it to follow the rules of morality. Precisely because it is cunning, it will always seek a way to circumvent all these rules and make fools of everyone. But in three kalpas it can come to understand that it is only fooling itself.'
'But can it not be done any faster?'
'It can,' he replied. 'If the desire is strong and the will is determined. '
'The Buddha gave many different teachings. They include teachings for people, teachings for the spirits, and even teachings for the gods who do not wish to be cast down into the lower worlds. There is also a teaching for magical foxes treading the path above the earth, but will you place any credence in it if you are told of it by a man?'
I assumed a highly respectful attitude and said: 'Believe me, I hold human beings in great esteem! If it sometimes happens that I sap their life-force, it is only because that is the way nature has made me. I could not have obtained sustenance for myself otherwise. '
'Very well,' said the Yellow Master. 'By a happy coincidence, I am familiar with the secret teaching for immortal foxes, and am prepared to transmit it to you. Indeed, I am obliged to do so. I shall soon leave this world, and it would be a pity if this marvellous knowledge were to disappear with me. But it is unlikely I shall meet another fox in time.'
'But what of your visitor from the capital? Why did you not transmit the teaching to her?'
'E Hu-Li is not suitable,' he said.
So that was the fox from the capital! She had come here in secret to atone for her sins in prayer. But in conversation she would not even admit that sins existed.
'Why is my sister E Hu-Li not suitable?' I asked. 'You told me yourself that she came to repent of her misdeeds.'
'She is too sly. She repents when she is plotting a dark deed that is utterly wicked. She seeks to lighten the burden of her soul, so that it may accommodate more evil.'
'I am also capable of such things,' I replied honestly.
'I know,' said the Yellow Master. 'But at the same time, you will remember that you are intending to commit a crime, and so your deception will come to nothing. But E Hu-Li, having planned her next act of villainy, can repent so sincerely of the previous one, that she will indeed lighten the burden of her soul. She is too cunning ever to enter into the Rainbow Stream.'
He pronounced the last two words with emphasis.
'Where?' I asked.
'The Rainbow Stream,' he repeated.
'And what is that?'
'You say that you have read the sacred books. Then you should know that life is a promenade through a garden of illusory forms that seem real to the mind which does not see their true nature. A mind that loses its way may find itself in the world of the gods, the world of the demons, the world of human beings, the worlds of animals, the world of hungry spirits or hell. Having passed through each these worlds, the Victorious Ones left their inhabitants a teaching on how finally to cure themselves of death and rebirth . . .'
'I beg your pardon,' I interrupted, wishing to demonstrate my learning - 'but it says in the sutras that a human birth is the most precious of all, since only a human being can attain liberation. Is that not so?'
The Yellow Master smiled.
'I would not reveal this secret to humans but, since you are a fox, you should know that the same assertion is made in all the worlds. In hell they say that only an inhabitant of hell can attain liberation, since in all the other places the beings spend their lives in the pursuit of pleasures, of which there are almost none in hell. In the world of the gods, on the contrary, they say that none but the gods can attain liberation, because the leap to freedom is shortest of all for them, and their fear of falling into the lower worlds is the strongest. The inhabitants of every world are told that it is the most propitious for salvation.'
'But what about animals? They are not told that, are they?'
'I am speaking of those worlds in which the inhabitants posses the concept of salvation. But where there is no such concept, it follows of itself that there is no need to save anyone.'
I see, I thought. As smart as a fox.
'And the salvation of which you speak - is it the same for all the worlds, or different in each one?'
'For human beings liberation is to enter nirvana. For those who live in hell liberation is to merge with the lilac smoke. For an asura-demon, it is to take possession of the sword of emptiness. For the gods, it is to dissolve into the diamond effulgence. When we speak of form, salvation is different in every world. But in its inner essence, it is the same everywhere, because the nature of the mind that dreams all these worlds never changes.'
'And how do matters stand with foxes?'
'Formally speaking, were-creatures do not fit into any of the six categories of which I have spoken of. You are a special case. It is believed that sometimes a mind born into the world of demons takes fright at its cruelty and goes to live on its outer perimeter, where the demonic reality borders on the world of people and animals. Such a being does not belong to any one of these worlds, since it migrates between all three - the worlds of humans, animals and demons. It is to this category that magical foxes belong.'
'Yes,' I said sadly, 'that is how it is. We fall between three stools and all because of our horror at life. Then is there a way out for us?'
'There is. The Buddha and his disciples were once fed a delicious meal by a fox, who was not, in fact, acting entirely without self-interest and had designs on the disciples. But the Buddha was very hungry, and in gratitude he left this fox a teaching for were-creatures that is capable of bringing them to liberation in a single lifetime - taking account of the fact that were-creatures live for up to forty thousand years. The Buddha was pressed for time, and therefore the teaching was brief. But since it was given by the Victorious One himself, it nonetheless possesses magical power. If you follow it, A Hu-Li, you can not only save yourself, you can also show the way to liberation for all were-creatures living on the earth.'
My head started to spin in excitement. I had dreamed of something like this all my life.
'Of what does this teaching speak?' I asked in a whisper.
'Of the Rainbow Stream,' the Yellow Master replied, also in a whisper.
I realized that he was making fun of me, but I was not offended.
'So what is this Rainbow Stream?' I asked in a normal voice.
'It is the ultimate goal of the super-werewolf.'
'And what is the super-werewolf?'
'It is a were-creature who succeeds in entering the Rainbow Stream.'
'And what else is it possible to know about the super-werewolf? '
'Outwardly it is the same as other were-creatures, but inwardly it is different. Only there is no way the others can tell that from its external appearance.'
'And how is it possible to become one?'
'You must enter the Rainbow Stream.'
'But what is that?'
The Yellow Master raised his eyebrows in astonishment.
'I have already told you. The ultimate goal of the super-werewolf. '
'And is it possible to describe the Rainbow Stream in some way? In order to have some idea of which way to direct one's aspiration?'
'It is not. The nature of the Rainbow Stream is such that any descriptions will only serve as a hindrance by creating a false idea of it. It is not possible to say anything certain about it, it is only possible to be there.'
'But what must a super-werewolf do, in order to enter the Rainbow Stream?'