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A Riddle on the Lantern Festival
- Stories Told by a Young Chinese Monk (20)

21 February 2008

Each year on the night of the first full moon of the year, when the lantern festival is held all across China since the Han Dynasty (206B.C. - 220A.D.), the government of the Watery Town would organise a lantern show; on each lantern, there would be a riddle; and people who crack a riddle would be rewarded with a prize.

My Master Wisdom Follower, the abbot of our monastery, is both a highly creative riddle creator and a top smart riddle cracker. Each year prior to the festival, Mr Chen, the organiser of the show, would come to the monastery to collect dozens of riddles from the wise monk.

On the night of lunar January 15, strings in various colours were lined up along a small river outside the town, and lanterns in various shapes were hung from the strings. The town folk were all dressed up and attended the show; many of them would place a candle on a plate and release it to flow downstream; and some of them would further put a memorable note in the candle plate, hoping that a potential soul mate might pick it up and read and respond.

For this is in fact a festivity of romance and love and passion, my master forbids us to participate, which is of course a great disappointment to some fun-seeking young monks, especially to No Ego (戒傲) who loves to go party millions times more than to sit in meditation.

Once when seeing No Ego and other young monks in such low spirits for not being able to attend the show, Master Wisdom Follower made a concession, provided that we could crack a riddle created by him.

We all agreed the deal and thus each received a paper from the abbot. On the paper there were eight characters: "月夜静思,过犹不及" (Reflecting in the moonlit eve, going too far is as bad as not going far enough), and the answer is said would be a daily item in the monastery.

On the following days leading up to the lantern show, I gathered all my thoughts on resolving the riddle, while No Ego and No Hurdle (戒障) looked in every corner in the monastery for inspiration. The moon was perfecting its roundness by the day and the festival night was fast approaching, yet none of us had any clue on the answer. By then our minds were no longer concentrated on the upcoming lantern show, as we all keenly looked forward to the day when Master Wisdom Follower would disclose the answer to the riddle.

The answer did come the day after the lantern show: "The answer is in your own hand".

We eventually realised that the answer was on the reverse side of the paper, if only we bothered to read it and read it in relation to the words on the reverse side of the papers in other monks' hand.

(You can visit Monk No Anger's personal blog to read his original posts in Chinese at "")

Pre: A Gambler's Wife
Next: Let's Crack Riddles


Lantern Show in China

Lantern Show in the north of China

A red lantern in the white world of the ice castle in Haerbin

Lantern Show in the south of China

Water lanterns in the shape of dragons paying a bead (双龙戏珠) in Guangzhou Pearl River

An Ancient Verse on the Lantern Festival


by 苏味道

I don't have a big ego, but I theoretically know that I know all the answers to life's riddle, just I don't know how to make myself practically know that I know.


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