The Difference Is in a Single Thought
(Clearwisdom.net) Li Linfu (who died in 752 A.D.) was Prime Minister for Emperor Tang Xuan Zong (713-756 A.D.) of the Tang Dynasty. He lived on the east side of Luoyang City. When he was 20 years old he had yet to take up serious studies, though he enjoyed swimming, hunting, and was fond of falcons and dogs. He often stood upside down on his hands and leaned against a wall to rest. One day he met a Taoist who told him, "Although you are very good at this, you may one day fall suddenly into a calamity, and then it will be too late!" Li Linfu immediately stood up normally and said that he would cultivate himself and practice morality from then on, learn to be respectful and prudent, and give up his bad behavior. The Taoist said, "I've traveled the world for 500 years and you're the only one I've met who has a predestined relationship with the divine. After you've completed your cultivation and consummated you can rise up in broad daylight and leave (becoming an immortal) (from the book Yi Shi). If you don't wish to cultivate you can be Prime Minister for twenty peaceful years and wield great power. Now go home and think about what you want, and come back and see me in three days."
When the day arrived, Li Linfu told the Taoist, "I'm a young member of the Emperor's clan and have been chivalrous since childhood. I'd rather be a Prime Minister for twenty years and have great power than become an immortal. That's my decision."
Upon hearing Li Linfu's words the Taoist said sadly, "I've only met one predestined person in 500 years, and he'd rather cling to power in the human world and miss his opportunity to cultivate. What a pity!"
Li Linfu was very regretful and wanted to change his mind, but the Taoist said, "A person's first thought is most important. The Gods have already heard your wish, and it's too late to change it now."
The Taoist cautioned him, "When you serve as an official you should do good deeds and help people as much as you can. Don't kill innocent people. Don't become vicious and never commit crimes. In 300 years I'll teach you how to cultivate and you can still become an immortal." Li Linfu agreed to obey, while falling to his knees and crying, and said goodbye to the Taoist.
Not long after, Li Linfu became very successful in his career, made steady progress and soon became the Prime Minister. However, he was shrewd and calculating, with ulterior motives and a silver tongue, and Emperor Tang Xuan Zong liked him very much. He established a big prison and killed many dissidents. Many people were falsely accused, and the common people led miserable lives.
One day the Taoist suddenly showed up at the Prime Minister's office. Li Linfu saw him and recognized him as the same old man who'd taught him so many years before. He was extremely ashamed and fearful, and was at a loss for words. He remembered that the Taoist had told him he'd be "Prime Minister for twenty years." He realized his time was up, yet he hadn't fulfilled any of the teachings. He felt sick to the stomach and immediately knelt before the Taoist.
The Taoist said, "Many years ago you promised to do what I asked you, but you haven't done any of it. I asked you to do good deeds, yet you are sly and vicious and have killed many innocent people. The Heavenly Gods know every single detail of your crimes and your punishment is horrifying!" Li Linfu kowtowed continuously when he heard that.
Li Linfu asked the Taoist, "I remember you said in 300 years I'd have the opportunity to become an immortal. Is it still possible?" The Taoist replied, "What you've done is against the laws of Heaven. There will be negative consequences and we'll have to add another 300 years, so you won't get another chance until 600 years have past."
Li Linfu was extremely regretful.
February 9, 2007