1924 Ceaseless

    The Land of Eternal Night truly deserved its name. Most of the year, the sky was entirely covered by the frozen clouds, making the place soaked in an eternal night of darkness.

    However, when the clouds dispersed occasionally, allowing the rays to pass through, this place would boast the most glorious sunlight in the entire Ancient Sages Sector that looked like glowing rainbows.

    Li Yao saw such glamorous sunlight the day before he left the Ancient Sages Sector.

    The waterfall that felt like a rainbow poured on the entire ice field, raising countless colorful bubbles on the ground in the middle of the sky and the earth.

    Against such magnificent, soul-stirring rainbows, Master Bitter Cicada was sitting cross-legged on the head of a starship and reading classics wholeheartedly on a mini crystal processor. He looked so calm, casual, and pacifying that ten thousand flowers seemed to be blossoming around the monk.

    Li Yao had been upset and ill at ease and therefore decided to take a random walk. He could not help but feel touched by the view and flew to the back of the starship docked on the ice field before he went to Master Bitter Cicada stealthily.

    For someone of Li Yao's Cultivation, his eyesight was absolutely incomparable to that of normal people. Before he walked to the back of the monk, he already saw the classics that the master was studying carefully, which were...

    'A Hundred Tales of the Young Man and the Monk', 'Collection of Chicken Soup for the Soul', 'A Parchment: Ancient Wisdom from the Forest Ocean Sector', 'Women Are Born to Be Graceful'...

    "Cough, cough. Cough, cough, cough, cough."

    "Why do you stop there when you have already come, Fellow Cultivator Li?" Master Bitter Cicada asked. "I can tell that your footsteps are heavy and disordered. Anything troubling you?"

    "Nothing in particular," Li Yao said. "I'm here mainly to thank you for your protection the other day. Had it not been for the help of you and the other fellow Cultivators, I probably would've been mentally deranged and doomed forever!

    "Furthermore, I do have some minor trouble that I would like to discuss with you. However... since you are obviously occupied in your study of the classics, maybe another time."

    "Those classics from the Star Glory Federation are indeed quite philosophical. I feel greatly enlightened and have learned a lot from the tales!" Master Bitter Cicada said. "If you don't feel that my tongue is too clumsy, why don't you tell me what is troubling you? I can help you interpret it with the morals and lessons from the 'chicken soup for the soul'. Rest assured. This is part of my training. It is free of charge."

    "...Fine." Li Yao walked forward and sat cross-legged before Master Bitter Cicada. Looking at the colorful, immeasurable sky, he hesitated for a moment and asked, "Master, has it ever occurred to you that everything before our eyes can be illusionary and that there may be a world beyond our worlds, a universe beyond our universe? If there is indeed a universe beyond our own, and our universe is but a projection of a higher universe or even an insubstantial game, how can we decide whether we are 'real' or an illusion? And what is the meaning of everything we are an illusion?"

    Master Bitter Cicada smiled and said, "To eat and sleep."

    Li Yao frowned. "Master, I am asking for your enlightenment sincerely. You don't have to trick me with such an ancient cliché, do you?"

    'To eat and sleep' came from a story. A young man asked a monk what 'trouble' was, and the monk replied with a smile 'to eat and sleep'. The young man then asked what 'training' is, the monk still smiled and said 'to eat and sleep'. The young man was completely baffled, but the monk simply explained, "Trouble is when you sleep while you should eat and when you want to eat while you should go to sleep. Training is when you focus attention on eating while you should eat and when you go to sleep without being distracted by anything while you should sleep. Nothing more."

    It was a rather old story and was almost a cliché in the Star Glory Federation. Li Yao naturally knew it clearly with his excellent memory.

    Master Bitter Cicada, however, cleared his throat and said, "The tale may be old, but the lesson is new. What is 'real' and what is 'illusionary' are the most indistinguishable, and the least needed to be distinguished, things in the world.

    "In the Star Glory Federation, there is even the hypothesis of 'the brain in the vat'. Today, after the development of training techniques and virtualization magical equipment, it is already possible to build a vivid, almost perfectly simulated Grand Illusionary Land. Even if someone has only a brain left that is placed in a tank filled with nutrition liquids, they will be misled into thinking that their body is intact and that they are living in the real world after thousands of wires are connected to their brain.

    "Then, how can the person tell whether they are living in 'reality' or are merely a 'brain in a vat' that lives in the illusions constructed by someone else?

    "Then, how can we make sure that the so-called 'three thousand Sectors' are the ultimate reality, that a being of a higher level than ours did not devise and create everything, and that our entire universe is not an enormous 'brain in a vat'?"

    Li Yao nodded quickly. "Exactly. That's the question I'm having right now. How can we distinguish them and prove our discovery?"

    "We cannot distinguish them, and it is unnecessary to prove the discovery," Master Bitter Cicada said. "You have every reason to suspect that the three thousand Sectors and the boundless three-dimensional universe we live in are merely a 'brain in a vat' created by some sort of 'four-dimensional life' in a laboratory. We are just insignificant projections from the four-dimensional world, and we are just an experiment project for the 'four-dimensional life'.

    "However, if the four-dimensional life does exist as a legendary god or devil, is the four-dimensional world that 'it' lives in so-called 'reality'? Is it possible that the four-dimensional world that is beyond our comprehension is a projection from some five-dimensional world, and it is actually a painting drawn by some painter in the five-dimensional world on the spur of the moment?

    "Is the five-dimensional painter in the five-dimensional world the ultimate reality? Is it possible that the entire five-dimensional world is fundamentally a long poem created by a devastated bard in the six-dimensional world, the six-dimensional world is translucent dew on a certain tiny petal in the seven-dimensional world, while the seven-dimensional world is a beautiful dream of a bizarre creature in the eight-dimensional world while it is napping?"

    Li Yao was dumbfounded. "Is-Is it possible?"

    "If you believe in the 'brain in the vat', the four-dimensional laboratory, the five-dimensional painting, the six-dimensional poem, the seven-dimensional dew, and the eight-dimensional beast's dream are all possible," Master Bitter Cicada said. "Despite their low odds, in the eternal time and space and in the infinite dimensions, even the smallest chance is bound to happen.

    "The Stupa Temple always says 'to see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower'. It is exactly the same logic. In the concepts beyond time, space, and dimensions, a grain of sand is the same as three thousand Sectors. Nobody is more 'real' or 'illusionary' than anybody else.

    "It does not matter whether the world is real or illusionary. What matters is your own mind and the way you view the world. If you believe in 'eat when you eat and sleep when you sleep', every world will be real. However, if you think about sleeping when you are having food, if you are upset and dwell on the so-called 'truth' thinking about the things in the four-dimensional world when you are obviously in our three-dimensional universe, even though you may finally reach the higher dimension, so what? After you reach the four-dimensional space, you will wonder if it is a painting of the five-dimensional world. After you arrive at the five-dimensional world, you will begin to worry about the existence of the six-dimensional poet. If you break them one layer after another, you will never be satisfied. How can you find the ultimate reality?"

    Li Yao was dazed for a long time. Scratching his smile, he smiled bitterly. "When I was young, I was full of confusion about the world. There were ten thousand questions in my head. I thought that if I trained hard and became the most awesome Cultivator in the world, I would be able to find out the answers.

    "But as it turns out, as I get stronger and stronger and my level becomes higher and higher, while I have found the answers to ten thousand questions, a hundred thousand or even a million new questions have popped up. I am even more confused than before!"

    "It is only natural. Just like this tiny bubble." Master Bitter Cicada opened his hands, and a shivering, glittering bubble appeared at the center of his palm.

    As his spiritual energy injected, the bubble grew larger and larger. "Fellow Cultivator Li, look. As the bubble becomes greater, it contains more and more 'answers' inside, but the 'superficial area' where it touches the outside world becomes larger, too, and it will sense even more unknowns. As the bubble grows larger, it will meet ten new puzzles after one puzzle is unveiled. What if the bubble grows huge enough to swallow the entire planet and the entire universe? Therefore, the 'unknown', the 'confusions' and the 'trouble' are ceaseless!"

    Master Bitter Cicada's hands shivered, and the bubble flew to the sky, shaking. Illuminated by the sunlight, it released brilliant colors.

    The monk narrowed his eyes and observed attentively before mumbling, "That being said, although confusion is ceaseless as we carry on our training, that is no reason to give up training because... look how beautiful the bubble is!"

    Together with Master Bitter Cicada, Li Yao looked at the bubble flying higher and higher in silence until it almost disappeared in the colorful clouds. He thought carefully for a long time before saying, "Master, I feel that what you said is so profound, wise, and philosophical. But on second thought, I feel that... you actually did not say anything."

    "Of course," Master Bitter Cicada said. "You have come to make fun of me with such a question that carries no answer. I have shown you enough respect by offering you some chicken soup for the soul instead of cursing you and kicking you off the starship. What more do you expect?"

    Li Yao was not angry. He asked again, "Then, master, in your opinion, where will the bubble reach exactly in the end after it flies higher and higher?"

    "How would I know?" Looking at the bubble that had melted into the clouds, or perhaps had surpassed the clouds and flown to the infinite sky, Master Bitter Cicada spoke casually as a layer of golden brilliance popped on his face. "You will have to ask yourself the question, Fellow Cultivator Li. After all, I am just a common monk, not a Bodhisattva[1]."

    [1] In Mahayana Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings. (Oxford Dictionaries)
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