Chen Meigong of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), published the following couplet in Notes by a Quiet Window.
"Not moved by official honor or disgrace,
watch the flowers as they bloom and droop outside your door;
pay no heed to whether you remain in or are removed from office,
observe the clouds fold and unfold in the sky."
The poem implies that when a person treats people and events around him as everyday occurrences like flowers blossoming and dying, he will not be surprised when treated favorably or humiliated. Only when he treats maintaining or losing a position as naturally as the clouds fold and unfold, will he not care about gains and losses.
In a few simple words the couplet presents the proper attitude one should have regarding people, events, fame, or fortune: If one is unconcerned about acquisitions and not worried about losses, not surprised when treated favorably or humiliated, and not concerned whether promoted or fired from an official position, then can one achieve inner calm, take things lightly, and assimilate to the natural order of daily life.
Xiang Minzhong (948 - 1019), a poet in the Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1127), was known for his integrity and not being swayed by fame or fortune. He served as Prime Minister under Emperor Zhenzong, who reigned from 997 - 1022.
One day Emperor Zhenzong issued the order to promote Prime Minister Xiang to Head of Officials, which put him in charge of all officials in the imperial court. Li Zong'e was on duty that day as the Emperor's academician. Emperor Zhenzong said to Li, "Since the beginning of my reign, I haven't established the position of Head of Officials. This is an extraordinary appointment. Minzhong should be pleased." Li replied, "I have been on duty here the whole day. I wasn't aware that Your Majesty had issued the order. I'm not sure how Minzhong reacted." Emperor Zhenzong said, "There must be a big crowd congratulating him at his home. Go for a visit and report back to me tomorrow. But don't reveal that I sent you there."
Li waited until Prime Minister Xiang had finished his official duties for the day and returned home before showing up at his door. Xiang had just said goodbye to some visitors and his courtyard was quiet. Li was on good terms with Xiang, and since there were no other visitors, he immediately entered and congratulated Xiang, "His Majesty appointed you as Head of Officials today. Everyone is pleased. The entire nation celebrates!" Xiang simply acknowledged that he heard the remarks, but made no comment. Li went on, "His Majesty has never appointed anyone to this prestigious position since the beginning of his reign. It is such a virtuous honor and imperial blessing for you." Xiang did not say much in response.
Li was not sure what was on Xiang's mind. He tried listing renowned officials throughout history who had held similar positions and were excellent in merit and morals. Xiang again stayed quiet, giving only simple responses. Li ended his visit and left. On his way out, he asked his followers to check with the staff in Xiang's kitchen to see if they were preparing a banquet to entertain family and friends and celebrate Xiang's new title. It turned out that Xiang was having a simple dinner as usual.
The following day, Li was again on duty. Emperor Zhenzong asked him about his visit to Xiang the previous evening. Li gave a full description of his visit. Emperor Zhenzong smiled, "Xiang Minzhong is really someone who attaches little importance to an official title. Neither favor or humiliation move him."
Since ancient times, people have considered rising in the ranks or accumulating wealth something to celebrate. However, Xiang took it lightly and stayed calm despite the prestige and honor the new position gave him. To achieve fame and be promoted cannot compare with giving one's life on the battlefield to defend a country. Only when one always puts his own interests after others can he take things lightly and expand his realm. It could be that Xiang cared little about his personal gains and losses so that he would not be burdened by fame and titles.
Many people live under stress nowadays. We tend to wonder why, as society progresses, we have become more burdened, less fulfilled, and easily frustrated. Indeed, society moves forward and it looks like civilization is advancing. However, man gets further separated from nature and development often comes at a cost of irreparable damage to the environment. The attraction of money, the struggle for power, and the ups and downs of one's career, are truly debilitating. Rights and wrongs, successes and failures, gains and losses bring joy, sadness, shock, surprise, worry, and fear. When one's wishes cannot be granted, he or she may become depressed or even pay the cost of life.
Fan Zhongyan (989 - 1052) a renowned prose master of the Northern Song Dynasty, wrote in Note on Yueyang Pavilion,
"One does not feel pleased about material gains, nor does he feel sorrow about his own fate. When he works in the imperial court, he worries about people in faraway places. When he sails in remote rivers and lakes, he worries about the Emperor. So he is worried when he is promoted, and he is still worried when he is demoted. Then when will he feel joy? The answer is he always worries before the entire world is worried, and he is only joyous when the entire world is joyous."
When a person thinks about the entire world, and when he or she shoulders the well-being of all sentient beings, personal gains and losses no longer matter. As we see among Falun Gong practitioners in today's China, when facing the extreme pressure of possible arrest, imprisonment, or even being used for live organ harvesting, they have continued to act based on the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance by spreading the truth to the public. What is in their minds is not their own safety, but the future of the people who have yet to learn the truth after having been deceived by the lies, propaganda, and manipulation by the communist regime.
October 26, 2009