Li Mi Did Not Seek Fame and Power; He Retired as Soon as Achieving Meritorious Accomplishments
(Clearwisdom.net) Li Mi, from the Tang Dynasty, was called the "White Robed Prime Minister." He served four Tang Dynasty Emperors. All four Emperors regarded him highly and considered him a teacher and a friend. Li Mi had lofty aspirations, and enjoyed learning about gods, Buddhas, and Daos. He was filled with compassion and righteousness. When his country was in danger, he became the pillar of the imperial court and developed strategies to subdue the invaders. He retired as soon as he established peace in his homeland. He always maintained a calm and tranquil attitude.
When Li Mi was a young boy, he was known for his quick mind and creativity, and was considered a "child prodigy." One time, Prime Minister Zhang Jiuling wanted to employ an official who was not talented, possessed a weak personality and moral character, and was very obedient. Although Li Mi was only seven-years-old, he said to Zhang Jiuling without mincing words, "Prime Minister, you come from a humble background and have the reputation of being fair and unbiased when you handle government affairs. Do you really want to hire someone who is submissive and lacks moral fortitude?" Zhang Jiuling was very astonished after hearing Li Mi's words. He quickly admitted his mistake and began to call him "little friend."
When Li Mi grew up, he submitted a report to Emperor Tang Xuanzong with several suggestions concerning government affairs. Xuanzong read the report, was highly appreciative and wanted to offer him a government position. Li Mi replied that he was still young and did not wish to become an official. Therefore, Xuanzong offered him the title of "subordinate official" to the crown prince and asked him to advise the crown prince. Li Mi said he wished to remain a civilian and would like to become friends with the crown prince. The crown prince liked Li Mi very much and always regarded him as his teacher.
Li Mi did not like Yang Guozhong who was tyrannical. He wrote sarcastic poems about Yang Guozhong. In response, Yang Guozhong forced Li Mi to leave Chang An, the capital of the Tang Dynasty. When Li Mi noticed the chaotic political situation and "darkness" covering the government, he moved to Ying Yang and lived a secluded life.
During the An Shi Rebellion, people were thrown into a state of intense fear and desperation and were deeply distressed. Tang Xuanzong fled to Sichuan. Crown prince Li Heng ascended to the thrown in Lingwu, Ningxia Province, and became Tang Suzong. Half of the country was in the hands of An Lushan, and less than thirty military and political advisors were with Suzong. That was the time when Suzong remembered his friend Li Mi in Ying Yang and had him brought to Lingwu. Li Mi thought the imperial court must be in trouble and immediately came to Lingwu.
Suzong was very happy to see Li Mi and offered him the Prime Minister position. Li Mi did not accept and said, "Your majesty treats me as your trusted friend, this is a much nobler position than being the Prime Minister. Why do I need such a title?" Suzong did not insist.
Suzong trusted Li Mi and sought his advice in every big and small matter. He even asked Li Mi's opinion regarding the appointment and dismissal of Prime Ministers and concerning candidates for the crown prince spot. During imperial court meetings, Li Mi sat next to Suzong. The imperial generals and officers often said, "The one in the yellow robe is the Emperor, and the one in the white clothing is the recluse from the mountain." Li Mi wore the same outfit when he lived in seclusion and while in Lingwu.
Li Mi, Guo Ziyi, and Li Guangbi developed strategic plans that were successful in recapturing Chang An and Luo Yang. After they ended the An Shi Rebellion, Li Mi said to Suzong, "Your majesty, now that I have repaid you, may I please go back to the mountain?" Suzong replied, "You and I spent years together to end this rebellion. I'd like you to enjoy a peaceful and prosperous time with me now, why do you want to leave?" Li Mi sincerely said, "Your majesty and I became good friends when we were young. You entrusted me with great responsibilities and trusted me completely. It is because of these reasons that I have no choice but to leave." Li Mi continuously asked to be sent home. Therefore, Suzong could not refuse and reluctantly agreed.
Afterwards Li Mi built a house on Mount Heng and lived in seclusion.
Tang Daizong summoned Li Mi during his reign and awarded him the title Supervising Secretary.
When Dezong ruled the Tang Dynasty, there was the Zhuci Rebellion. Dezong rushed to Fengtian and summoned Li Mi to be Prime Minister. Li Mi saved the country from grave dangers with his superior strategies. Therefore, he was awarded the title of Marquis of Ye.
Dezong told Li Mi, "Fortune tellers say that the rebellion by Jianzhong was preordained by heaven, and it had not much to do with human affairs."
Li Mi replied seriously, "Following heavenly destiny means that one must abide by the laws of heaven to handle the affairs, it does not mean that one can evade responsibility because an affair is preordained by heaven. The Emperor and the Prime Minister have the duty of steering the fate of the country and guiding the civilians to abide by the laws of heaven. Should an Emperor disregard his responsibility and misuse heaven's will, he should not be honored with rites and punishments cannot be meted out. Ancient tyrannical rulers such as Jie (Xia dynasty) and Zhou (Shang dynasty) claimed that they were following orders from heaven and attempted to escape their responsibility. If your majesty thinks like this, then I'm afraid you are just like Jie and Zhou."
Li Mi was honest, a decent fellow, exercised self-control and maintained morality. When he served as an official, he acted strictly according to established rules, upheld existing laws and was an honest public servant. After he returned to seclusion, he enlightened to the true meaning of life. He seized the opportunity to walk away from political life and chose another path in life. He was truly able to accomplish his aspirations while taking things lightly and attaining tranquility.