At the right-hand corner of the garden, formed by the side and back walls, was a small shrine. The green-glazed tiles of the roof matched those that capped the high rear garden wall. Four crimson-coloured wooden pillars supported the roof of the shrine and the finely woven bamboo side screens. The floor was brick. In the corner stood a small altar. On it was a bronze dish, decorated with intertwined dragons. It held clear, fragrant oil in which floated a wick, supporting a soft, amber-coloured, smokeless flame. It presented a feeling of peace and silence, as though time waited.
Tai-yu wasn't much inclined to Buddhism or any of the other philosophic ideas that had swirled around the Mandarin courts during five thousand years of Chinese history. He had plodded through life taking it for what he found it to be in his own circumstances.
He didn't know what an altar should hold. He put an assortment of family portraits, fresh fruit and dyed eggs there. He couldn't imagine where he might be going after life's end, but he firmly believed he was going somewhere. "Everything in mortal life," he thought, "is ruled by somebody and it must certainly be so wherever I am going." He just hoped whoever it was that would be looking after things next liked what he presented on his altar.
He was pragmatic, trying to prepare for all possibilities the next world might offer. He even wondered, vaguely, if the monks were right when they told him that after death he could well become a part of his beloved garden. What, then? One of the beautiful carp, or goldfish in the lotus pond? Brief glory as a beautiful flower? That struck his fancy. He wondered.