Once there was a bad monk called Liaok’ung. He didn’t act like a monk. He never did nice deeds or helped living creatures. He didn’t look like a monk, either. Most monks do so many good deeds, and think so many nice thoughts, that they look kind and gentle. Not Liaok’ung. He always walked around with an expression on his face like a porcupine in a bad mood.
He was interested in a member of the lily family called Deer Bamboo. Its formal name is Huangching. It grows about three feet high, with pointed leaves. At the beginning of summer, pale green bulbs appear hanging below the leaves, and then it grows a dark colored fruit about the size of a bean. The leaves and root are sweet, and they say that Deer Bamboo can even lengthen your life.
Really? This can make you live longer? That’s what Liaok’ung wanted to know, but he didn’t want to experiment on himself. He had a neighbor named Tang Ah-3, who had a number instead of a name. He was the dumbest guy around.
Liaok’ung put a bunch of Deer Bamboo in the bottom of a dry well and called Ah-3 over.
“Ah-3, I have to say you’re a great guy and a true pal. I like you so much I’m going to tell you a secret. Look down this well here. See that Deer Bamboo down there? All you have to do is stay down there and sniff it and you can live forever.”
“Really? Gee, that’s great! I’m lucky to have you for a friend? Ah-3 believed Liaok’ung, and he was so touched that he almost cried as he climbed into the well. Once he got inside, Liaok’ung fastened the cover on the well. When Ah-3 realized he was trapped, he did begin to cry.
By sundown, the air in there was getting bad. Ah-3 thought, “If I don’t get out of here pretty soon, I’ll smother before I starve.” But he couldn’t get out. All he could do was cry.
But then, between his sobs, he heard a voice calling him. “Ah-3! Ah-3! Tang Ah-3! Can you hear me?”
“Who’s that?” It was so dark he couldn’t see a thing.
“Don’t worry! There’s a little hole in this well cover. If you look carefully, you can see starlight through it. What you have to do now is lie down quietly and look through that hole. You have to concentrate, and keep concentrating. Then your whole body will fly up in the air and you can get out of the well.”
“Are you kidding? Who are you?”
“I am a fox. Everybody knows foxes are full of tricks, and I am too, but once I got trapped and you freed me. Don’t you remember?”
“Oh, yeah, I do. Huh. Hey, I didn’t know you could talk.”
“I don’t unless I have to. You’re in a terrible fix, so I’ve come to help you out, since you saved my life before. Now hush, no more chatting. Lie down and stare at that hole! Your life depends on it!”
Ah-3 did as he was told, and a week later, sure enough, he flew out of the well. Then he went home and had dinner.
When Liaok’ung saw that Ah-3 was back, he was sure that Deer Bamboo worked, so he dumped a pile of it down the well and jumped in after it. He had a friend put on the lid after he jumped in.
A month later, the friend thought, “Liaok’ung sure is quiet down there in his well. Maybe I ought to take a look to see how he’s doing.” He opened the well, and down there at the bottom, on a big pile of Deer Bamboo, he saw the bad monk Liaok’ung, smothered to death.