Way of Choices

Chapter 210 - The Reflecting Monolith

It was very quiet around the monolith hut; Chen Changsheng was the only person present. It was completely different from yesterday. At that time, there had been dozens of examinees in front of this monolith hut. Though very quiet, there had been simply too many people for it to not feel crowded. The sounds of rustling fabric and footsteps would never cease. Even when night fell, those people did not leave, but instead lit the lanterns in front of the hut. However, the Mausoleum of Books had already existed for countless years. People from many sects and academies had entered the mausoleum and viewed the monoliths. They had summarized their experiences long ago, and passed along this knowledge before the Grand Examination. After the initial excitement had died down, the examinees finally realized that viewing the monoliths was not something that could be done in one day and night, and that they had to take care of their bodies. Heeding the advice of their seniors, they had descended from the mausoleum and begun to search for places to rest. Right now, they were all probably still asleep.

Chen Changsheng knew nothing of these events as he seriously examined the monolith.

The surface of the monolith was black and covered with innumerable lines that were thick and thin, deep and shallow. The lines had been carved onto the surface by some sharp tool, and they seemed to curve off randomly. The lines covered the entire surface of the monolith, making countless connections with each other to form an indescribably complex pattern. If one looked at it through sentimental eyes, or viewed it through the lens of history, those lines would seem to carry some primal meaning. But if one looked at it calmly and disposed of their reverence to the Heavenly Book, those lines actually did not seem to have any pattern, much less carry any meaning. Instead they seemed like the nonsensical drawings of some small child. Many scholars felt that those lines had possibly been naturally formed, a school of thought that had been popular many years ago.

Today was the first day that Chen Changsheng had set his eyes on a legendary Heavenly Tome Monolith, so he naturally did not have the ability to draw any conclusions. Chen Changsheng’s heart suddenly started to beat faster, not because he had suddenly understood something or because he was shocked at having seen those lines before, but because of the sort of emotion that naturally came from seeing a legend with one’s own eyes.

Yes, he had seen the marks on this Heavenly Tome Monolith, the so-called monolith inscriptions.

It was not by chance or destiny, nor was it through some miracle. Many people had seen the incomprehensible monolith inscriptions of the Heavenly Book—outside the Mausoleum of Books, there were countless stalls on both sides of the main road that were selling rubbings of the monolith inscriptions. Almost every tourist visiting the mausoleum would have a set of these rubbings. One has to realize that these rubbings were the Mausoleum of Books’ best-selling souvenirs.

Countless years ago, the rubbings of Heavenly Tome Monoliths were already in circulation. After the human dynasty had gradually tightened the distinction between social classes, an emperor had attempted to forbid the spreading of the monolith inscription rubbings . However, there were already too many rubbings outside, and their existences were too enticing making it impossible to stop. In the end, they were unable to prohibit it, and were forced to drop the matter.

Rubbings of the first seventeen monolith inscriptions were especially common. During the previous dynasty, those rubbings had been publicly sold three times by the government, printing a dozen official editions. At least several million had been printed, enriching the palace treasury, while also providing suitably soft paper for people to use for cushioning on their mahjong tables at home.

The simplest reason why the rubbings of the monolith inscriptions were so widespread, besides the fact that their circulation was impossible to stop, lay in two points. Firstly, to look at rubbings of the monolith inscriptions and to see them for oneself were two completely different things. Since ancient times, countless cultivators had testified that only by seeing the monolith inscriptions with one’s own eyes would one be able comprehend the true meaning of the Heavenly Daos hidden within the inscriptions. Secondly, there was a limit to the number of monolith inscriptions contained in these rubbings. The vast majority of the rubbings were from the Monoliths in the front mausoleum. It has to be noted that those who were able access additional monoliths were undoubtedly experts whose knowledge of the Dao was exceptionally profound, so they cared not for fame and profit. Take, for instance, a expert like Wang Po of Tianliang, who possessed shocking talent. That year, he had only viewed thirty-one monoliths in the Mausoleum of Books. Even if he had succumbed to greed, he still would not have been able to take a rubbing of those later Monoliths and take them out of the mausoleum.

After Chen Changsheng had arrived in the capital, he had stayed in the Plum Garden Inn outside the Mausoleum of Books. He would see stalls carrying those rubbings of the monolith inscriptions every day, so naturally he had bought some. When he first held those rubbings in his hands, he had been extremely excited. Only after he had realized that they had no meaning did he toss them to a side.

But now that he stood before the Heavenly Tome Monolith, looking at those lines carved on the Monolith first-hand, it was a completely different matter.

For tens of millions of years, this monolith had sat silently under this hut, as enigmatic as ever.

The lines on the black surface of the monolith began to float up in Chen Changsheng’s eyes. A mark on the lower right of the monolith that had been deeply carved into the surface suddenly bulged out. The dozens of lines connected to it also started to leave the surface, seemingly hovering in the air.

Chen Changsheng knew this was an illusion. When the mind became connected to the Mausoleum of Books, one’s ability to see reality was affected. Back when he was a child, he would study the Daoist Canons in Xining village’s old temple,  and read the various accounts of viewing the monoliths left behind by members of the Orthodoxy. Thus, he was not too shocked by this abrupt change, and instead chose to maintain his calm.

The so-called change was not actually any change at all, but a trick of light. The objective truth was that the lines remained where they were.

Regardless of whether it was overcast or pouring rain, if the hut was there or not, if the surface was wet or dry, if one looked at in the gloom or in dazzling light, the monolith was ultimately still a monolith. Those lines were still lines. But when comparing those rubbings of the monolith inscriptions circulating among the people to the real thing, was not this change the greatest difference?

The positions were relative, and the appearances were also relative.

As positioning changed with landmarks, the appearances changed with environment.

If one wanted confirm one’s position, one needed to also confirm the position of the surrounding landmarks.

If one wanted to examine the unvarying and objective truth, then should not one first understand how the environment affected the objective reality?

The information that those who viewed the monoliths had to understand, the principals that they had to comprehend, were they not hidden within this transformation?

Standing before the hut, Chen Changsheng examined the Monolith Inscription. He stayed in this position for a long time without moving..

The morning sun had now completely risen above the horizon, transmitting its warmth to the mausoleum facing the crimson morning clouds, gradually dispersing the chilliness of the forest. The side of the Heavenly Tome Monolith was dyed red in the light of sun, a truly beautiful sight.

Seeing that smear of red on the edge of the monolith, Chen Changsheng closed his eyes, steadied his mind, and then turned around.

He no longer looked at the monolith, but instead explored the hut’s surroundings.

The branches of the trees in the forest were all dyed red, and looked as if they were about to ignite. As for those distant and barely distinct monolith huts in the distant, it was exceedingly difficult to ascertain their positions. He had walked up from the base of the mausoleum all the way to this first Heavenly Tome Monolith. The path had come to an end, and there was no way to proceed to those other monoliths. However, it was said that the Mausoleum of Books had only one path. What was going on here?

The morning sun ignited the tree branches, and the radiant red light of the sun illuminated a portion of the dark cliff face. It was only then that he saw that a line of words had been carved into the cliff.

Unlike the ineffable Heavenly Tome Monoliths, the words on the cliff were very easy to understand, because they had been written in a language that everyone could read.

"The foggy woods are reflected in the smoky river water,
Houses with painted eaves on the banks are adjacent to each other.
Gently on the patches of lotuses shines the autumnal light.
The pearl-woven curtains are bathed in the fragrant wind of ten miles."

(TN: The author used the parts of the poem “An Ode on Southern China” by Zhang Yanghao. Link: http://www.en84.com/dianji/qu/200912/00000465.html)

This poem had been composed by the Leader of the Dao around two-thousand years ago. When he had first entered the Mausoleum of Books to view the monoliths, he had been so moved that he had composed this poem.

From then on, the first monolith in the Mausoleum of Books had possessed its own name: Reflecting Monolith.

From the time he had arrived at the front of the monolith hut to the time of his departure, Chen Changsheng had viewed the monolith for not even a quarter of an hour. He turned around and left without the slightest bit of hesitation.

Leaving the Reflecting Monolith, he followed the mountain path down. After passing through a mountain depression, he saw Zhexiu. Judging from the time, Zhe Xiu had probably been standing there for quite a while.

Zhexiu arched his brows. Clearly, he had not expected Chen Changsheng to return so quickly.

“I’m not much for noise, so I don’t want to view the monoliths while crammed with other people.” Chen Changsheng gave a rather unconvincing explanation. Seeing the faint columns of kitchen fires rising up from the forests around the mausoleum, he advised Zhexiu, “It looks like everybody has woken up. If you want to view the monoliths undisturbed, it’s best to be fast about it.”

Zhexiu nodded and set off on the mountain path.

Chen Changsheng watched Zhexiu walk off, and after some hesitation, he called out, “I don’t think you need to see it for long. It’s not very useful; in fact, it might even be detrimental.”

Zhexiu paid him no attention.

Chen Changsheng continued walking down the mountain. On the path, he encountered a middle-aged man clothed in white.

He recognized the man as one of the Monolith Guardians that had explained the rules of the Mausoleum of Books to them.

These Monolith Guardians had sacrificed their youths and lives to the Mausoleum of Books, so everyone had some form of respect for them. Chen Changsheng was no exception, so he gave a respectful bow.

The middle-aged man did not return the bow, and did not even nod in response . However, he did not leave, and instead indifferently looked at Chen Changsheng.

Chen Changsheng felt uneasy and asked, “Does Senior have something to tell me?”

“You are Chen Changsheng?” That middle-aged man asked, his tone cold.

Chen Changsheng was amazed that this man who could never leave the mausoleum actually knew his name. Somewhat cautiously, he replied, “Correct.”

“You are the one who obtained first place on the First Banner?” That middle-aged man continued to question him. Hiss tone was now not only ice-cold, but also contained sense of severity.

Chen Changsheng’s levels of unease and confusion continued to grow, and he responded, “That’s right.”

That middle-aged man asked in a low voice, “From the time you ascended the mausoleum to the time you left, about a quarter of an hour has passed. Are you telling me that in such a short time, you were able to comprehend the Reflecting Monolith?”

Chen Changsheng tried to explain. “Of course not, I….”

Without waiting for him to finish, that middle-aged man coldly admonished him. “Of course, I know there is no way you could have comprehended the Reflecting Monolith in such a short amount of time! You think your powers of comprehension are that great? I’m saying that your attitude isn’t proper! You can be as silly as you want to be outside the mausoleum, you can be the first rank on the First Banner or have some other qualification, but you’d better get this straight: this is the Mausoleum of Books! This is the place where countless Saints humbly comprehended the Dao! I’ve met countless people that were first place on the First Banner, so don’t think that your name allows you to be so impudent!”

Hearing these skull-splitting words of admonishment, Chen Changsheng was stunned. If this was really a senior pointing out the flaws of the junior, then it would have been fine, but it was very obvious that all the man wanted to do was humiliate him. Stranger still, the man was a Monolith Guardian that could never leave the Mausoleum of Books, so why would he hold such enmity against Chen Changsheng?

That middle-aged man looked at him without even concealing his contempt and disgust. He continued, “I’m warning you, the Mausoleum of Books is a holy ground! No matter how great your background is, you must still revere this place. And don’t you even think about bringing any of those grotesque things from the chaotic world inside this place. At the very least, tell that to the man outside the mausoleum who came to find you.”


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