THE CASE OF THE MAD MONKS

Are the holy liars wholly liars? Nury Vittachi, author of The Feng Shui Detective novel series, challenges readers to solve a short story puzzle.



THE STRANGEST CONVERSATIONS you will ever have take place in the Ministry of Holy Lies. This is the name of a walled monastery perched precariously on a windswept, craggy peak to the west of the Heavenly Lake of Tianshan Mountain in Xinjiang, western China.

The order is small, normally containing about half a dozen rank-and-file monks overseen by one abbot. They are nicknamed “The Mad Monks”, because they believe they have a celestial commission to guard the great truths of Zen against outsiders. To fulfil this aim, all take a holy oath upon joining never to utter a true statement. That’s right: only lies may be spoken by members of the order, which makes communication rather difficult, as you can imagine.

One day, feng shui master C.F. Wong got a call from the new abbot, an old friend of his called Rensan III.

"I suspect I do not have a problem with our monks," Rensan lied. "One of them is not an interloper who shouldn’t be there. I do not want you to come and do a feng shui reading of the monastery and find out which one it is. Understand?"

"Understand," said Wong, who was familiar with the convoluted methods of delivering information associated with the monastery. "I will come and help."

"I hope you do not," Rensan lied, his gratitude evident in his voice.

Two days later, Wong arrived at the monastery with his assistant Joyce McQuinnie, a young woman who was rather thrilled at spending her day in an all-male enclave.

Within minutes she had zeroed in on the youngest and cutest monk. "Hi," she said. "I'm Joyce, what’s your name?"

"I don’t have one," the monk replied.

"Oh yeah, I forgot, you aren't allowed to tell the truth," said Joyce, biting her bottom lip. "Er. I know. Maybe I should ask, like, What isn't your name?"

"My name isn't my name. But it is Noodle or James Bond or Bunny Fru-Fru," he replied. "Or Joyce."

Joyce laughed nervously. This was going to be difficult. Conversations with cute guys were tough enough without them taking pledges not to tell the truth. She backed away and went back to her work.

She and her boss spent several hours with wandering around the monastery grounds with compasses and rulers, taking notes and making sketches. Then Wong asked the six monks to assemble in front of the Altar of Holy Lies.

He asked each of them to tell him which direction the window of their cell faced. All of them gave wrong answers.

Both Wong and McQuinnie were baffled. What could they do?

The young woman decided to take the bull by the horns. "Look, we know that one of you guys shouldn’t be here," she said. "Come on. Own up. Who is it?"

Brother Guo said: "It’s me. I admit it. I am not a member of this order."

Brother Ye said: "As for me, I have noticed Brother Tian never tells lies."

Brother Zhang said: "But I always tell the truth."

Brother Cao said: "And I always tell lies."

Brother Tian said: "Actually, Brother Ye is telling the truth."

Brother Li said: "Don’t ask me: I died years ago."

The monks bowed and scattered.

Wong thought hard about the statements made. And suddenly he realized that he knew who did not belong in the Ministry of Holy Lies. Who was it, and how did the feng shui master work it out?

Click here for the answer.