Grandfather Father Son Dies

Abstract: In the Chinese Family, for us to enjoy peace, harmony and happiness the events of birth and death in a family should happen according to nature’s sequence order of natural death.  This way the older generation would not moan over the death of a younger generation.  Would it not be bliss then?  

I have heard a Zen anecdote …

A very wealthy Mandarin in the city of Suzhou was throwing a grand banquet for his patriarch father to celebrate his 91st birthday.  As a way to flaunt his wealth as well as to show his filial duty to his patriarch father, all the scions of the society, rich and powerful landlords and important Imperial officials were invited to the feast.

The Mandarin also invited a Zen monk, a famous calligrapher and who was very much revered for his Buddhist teachings in the city, to give blessings to his father and to the continual well-being, happiness and wealth for his family.

At the banquet the Mandarin requested the esteemed Monk to pen a calligraphy of prosperity, longevity and happiness to commemorate this great and auspicious occasion.

When the scroll of rich red vermillion rice paper had been laid out on the beautifully crafted rose wood table, the Monk rose to the occasion. His countenance was serene, tranquil and with a single-minded focus to the task on hand.  The whole banquet hall suddenly fell into pin-drop silence. Everyone waited expectantly for the delivery of his great masterpiece. Most of them would witness the work of this legendary calligrapher for the first time.

With elan and flourish the Monk rolled up his right golden saffron sleeve to his elbow, dipped the thick paint brush onto a jade inkpot filled with black scented ink and with elaborate penmanship of a single, bold and powerful stroke the calligraphy came up thus:

“Grandfather Father Son Dies”

As the Mandarin looked on aghast, the Monk ordered a serf to hold up the scroll, turn and pan it slowly round to the audience. The audience of the whole banquet hall grasped in horror. How could a reverend Monk do such an incongruous and demeaning act to the gracious host on such a happy and joyful occasion as the celebration of the great patriarch birthday?  This was insulting and might bring calamity and misfortune to the family for the whole year round.

However, the Mandarin, being a well learned and wise man, realized the palpable tension and the volatile atmosphere might turn unpleasant if he reprimanded the Monk.  The Mandarin would lose face and appear as uncouth in front of all the societies honored guests and his subjects.

He smiled and politely requested the Monk to interpret his calligraphy.

The Monk said, “In the Family, for us to enjoy peace, harmony and happiness the events of birth and death in a family should happen according to nature’s sequence order of natural death.  This way the older generation would not moan over the death of a younger generation.  Would it not be bliss then?”   

The audience broke into a thunderous applause.

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