Once there was a Taoist hermit, who had been entrusted with a precious statue carved from a rare variety of jade. The statue had been given to the hermit by a dying man. Clad only in rags and dying of starvation, the man explained that he had once been a wealthy and prosperous merchant. He had stolen the jade statue from temple beyond the western gates. Since then, his business foundered, his wives had died one by one, and his children had been killed by bandits, or accidents, or illnesses. He had become a pauper. Hearing of his ill fortune, no-one would buy the statue, believing it to be cursed.
So he gave the statue to the hermit, believing that the hermit, owning nothing and living alone, would be immune from the curse.
One day a young stranger came to the village at the foot of the mountain, where the hermit lived. On hearing the rumour of the immensely valuable statue guarded only by a hermit, the young man decided to take the statue, by force, if necessary.
He climbed to the hermitage and arrived, hot, sweaty and exhausted, to find the monk waiting for him with a pitcher of cool refreshing spring water. The monk offered the young man the water. “Later, Monk”, the young man snarled, raising his sword as if to cut off the Monk’s head. “Give me the statue.”
The Monk smiled. “You may take the statue, if that is what you wish, young man. But first, won’t you have some cool water to refresh yourself?”
The young man lowered his sword, but kept it within reach. He took the cup of water offered by the Monk and sipped it slowly. It was indeed refreshing. It was cool and seemed to taste of pine and spring blossom all at once. The young man rudely demanded another cup and another. He began to feel drowsy. Too late he realized the water had been drugged. He reached fumbling for his sword and fell into unconsciousness.
When he awoke, the Monk had gone. Next to his sword, stood the jade statue. On the ground below the statue the Monk had written, “Danger”.
Laughing, the young man picked up his sword and the statue and left the mountain. His fortune was made.
And, indeed it was. Luck seemed to follow him everywhere. His trading business flourished. He was rewarded with powerful government posts. He had his pick of beautiful young women from wealthy families as his wives. They gave him many sons. The jade statue was given pride of place in his household. Indeed, so precious had it become to him that he could not bear to be parted from it. Where he travelled, it travelled, housed in a rich coach of its own and protected by a platoon of fierce Mongol soldiers.
One day, he was passing through the hermit’s village. He thought he would flaunt his good fortune in front of the Monk and laugh at his foolish warning. He instructed his men to bring the Monk to him.
He looked at the plump, smiling, well-dressed man before him. Could this be the same skinny hermit-monk, clad only in worn robes, that he had seen all those years ago? The same smile told him it was so.
“So you no longer live in your mountain cave?”
“No, your Excellency. After your Excellency took the statue, there was no need. So I came back the village. I have a farm, a wife and several children, all of whom bring me joy each day. I eat well and laugh a lot. I am happy, Excellency”
“Ha, you call that happiness, Monk. I have wealth beyond measure. I have many wives and concubines. They have given me many sons who now work in my businesses and many daughters to make good marriages with rich and powerful families. I advise the Emperor’s advisors. I eat the finest, richest foods. I have the services of the best and finest doctors and apothecaries to look after my health. I owe it all to the statue, which I give pride of place to. Truly, the statue wasn’t cursed.”
The Monk smiled “Wasn’t it?”