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Consuming Medicinal Charms

LIÚ Yìqìng 刘义庆 (403-444) produced a famous set of miscellaneous anecdotes and observations about people who lived between about AD 150 and his own era. Although he arranged them by topic (stories about affairs of state, stories about death and grieving, stories about perceptiveness, &c), the work never lost its chaotic character.

Whatever its organizational shortcomings, the work's individual sections are often historically instructive, inherently interesting, or amusing.

In the following vignette we meet the gullible Daoist CHĪ Yīn 郗愔, who is undergoing great physical discomfort and the benign healer YÚ Fǎkāi 于法开 who at once heals him and most politely makes him look like a fool.

The name Fǎkāi means "Opening of the Dharma," and clearly shows him to be a Buddhist, almost certainly a priest.

Is this a critique of Daoism? Of medical charlatans? Of gullible fools?


1. CHĪ Yīn was a committed believer in Daoism. 郗愔信道甚精勤。
CHĪ Yīn xìn dào shén jīng qín.
郗愔信道甚精勤,
2. But once he had a pain in his bowels, which no Daoist treatment was able to cure. 常患腹内恶, 诸医不可疗。
Cháng huàn fù nèi è, zhū yī bù kě liáo.
常患腹內惡, 諸醫不可療,
3. He heard of a famous [Buddhist] named YÚ Fǎkāi, and went to see him. 闻于法开有名, 往迎之.
Wén YÚ Fǎkāi yǒu míng, wǎng yíng zhī.
聞于法開有名, 往迎之.
4. Having felt his pulse, Yú said, “What your honor is suffering from is merely excessive enthusiasm.” 既来, 便许脉, 云, 「君侯所患, 正是精进太过所致耳.」
Jì lái, biàn xǔ mo, yún, "Jūn hóu suǒ huàn zhèng shì jīng jìn tài guo suǒ zhì ěr."
既來, 便許脈, 云, 「君侯所患, 正是精進太過所致耳.」
5. He mixed up a medicine and administered it. As soon as Chī Yīn took it, he had a massive bowel movement. 合一剂汤与之。 一服即及大下。
Hé yī jì tāng yǔ zhī. Yī fú jí jí dà xià.
合一劑湯與之, 一服即及大下,
6. Several rolls of paper came out, each as big as your fist. 去数段纸如拳大。
Qù shù duàn zhǐ rú quán dà,
去數段紙如拳大,
7. On examination he saw that they were Daoist charms that he had consumed earlier. 剖看乃先所服符也。
Pōu kàn nǎi xiān suǒ fú fú yě.
剖看乃先所服符也.

Jìn Dynasty Source:
—LIÚ Yìqìng (403-444)
A New Account of Tales
of the World

(ch. 20, sec. 10)
— 刘义庆 《世说新语》
— LIÚ Yìqìng
Shìshuō Xīnyǔ

— 劉義慶 《世說新語》

 

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