The Mysterious Buddhist Robe
But the chief glory and attraction of the day to the assembled crowds was the Emperor, Li Shih-Ming. Never had he been seen in such pomp and circumstance as on this occasion. Close round him stood the princes of the royal family, the great officers of state and the members of the Cabinet in their rich and picturesque dresses. Immediately beyond were earls and dukes, viceroys of provinces and great captains and commanders, whose fame for mighty deeds of valour in the border warfare had spread through every city and town and hamlet in the Empire.
There were also present some of the most famous scholars of China, who, though not members of the Buddhist Church, yet felt that they could not refuse the invitation which the Emperor had extended to them.
In short, the very flower of the Empire was gathered together to carry out the benevolent purpose of rescuing the spirits of the dead from an intolerable state of misery which only the living had the power of alleviating.
The supreme moment, however, was when Sam-Chaong and more than a hundred of the priests most distinguished for learning and piety in the whole of the church, marched in solemn procession, chanting a litany, and took their places on the raised platform from which they were to conduct the service for the dead.
During the ceremony, much to his amazement, Li Shih-Ming saw the two men who had bestowed the fairy vestments on Sam-Chaong, standing one on each side of him; but though they joined heartily in the proceedings, he could not help noticing that a look of dissatisfaction and occasionally of something which seemed like contempt, rested like a shadow on their faces.
At the close of the service he commanded them to appear before him, and expressed his surprise at their conduct, when they explained that the discontent they had shown was entirely due to a feeling that the ritual which had been used that day was one entirely inadequate to the occasion. It was so wanting in dignity and loftiness of conception, they said, that though some ease might be brought to the spirits suffering in the Land of Shadows from the service which had been performed, it would utterly fail in the most important particular of all—namely, their deliverance from Hades, and their rebirth into the land of the living.