Master Dao Qian was the attendant of the abbot, Master Shi Shuang.
After Master Shi Shuang’s passing, the community asked the head monk to accept abbotship.
Master Dao Qian reminded the assembly, “He must have a grasp of the abbot’s teaching before we can accept him.”
The head monk asked, “What is the teaching of the Abbot?”
Dao Qian said,
“The abbot used to say,
Cease, begone! Rest, begone! Chill, begone! One thought a thousand years begone! Cold amber, withering tree, begone! Incense burner in an ancient temple, begone! A string of white pearls, begone!
“Now let’s dispense with the rest and focus on just one thing, what is the meaning of ‘a string of white pearls, begone‘”?
“That was just a reference to the physical body,” replied the head monk.
“You don’t know the abbot’s teaching!”
“You doubt me? Burn an incense now. If I am not gone before incense stick is burned up, then you can say I don’t know the abbot’s teaching.”
So an incense was lighted and before it burned to the end, the head monk’s consciousness left the body.
Dao Qian gently caressed the lifeless body of the head monk and said, “To depart the world in meditation does not mean you know true emptiness. You still have no idea what the abbot’s true meaning is, not even in your wildest dream.”
So what is the meaning of “A string of white pearls, begone”?