(Clearwisdom.net) Yuan Liaofan was the author of a well known book of Chinese proverbs called Four Admonishing Statements to Take Worldly Things Lightly. He was a native of Wujiang County, Jiangsu Province. He lived between 1533 and 1606, during the Ming Dynasty. When he was young, an accomplished fortune-teller accurately predicted his life, however he was able to change his fate in his later years.
Yuan's father passed away when he was a child. As a teenager, his mother asked him to give up the traditional study of Confucius' classics and instead study medicine so that he would be able to earn money to support himself, as well as to offer help to others.
One day, he went to Ciyun Temple. While there he met an elderly man who had the appearance of a Taoist deity. The old man told him: “You belong to the officialdom. Next year, you will be able to go to the exam and enter the 'Scholar's Palace.' Why did you give up your study?”
The elderly man introduced himself as surnamed Kong and a native of Yunnan Province. Yuan invited the elderly man to his home. His mother said: “This gentleman is an expert on fortune-telling. Why don't we ask him to do fortune-telling for you? We will see whether the predictions are accurate or not.” As a result, the elderly man was able to tell Yuan's past life with great accuracy, even for minor experiences. He then made predictions for Yuan's future life, such as in which year he would pass the official exam and that his ranking would be such and such; in which year he would become a Lin scholar (translator's note: a Lin Scholar has passed the initial exam and has started to receive a specific subsidy from the government); in which year he would become a Gong scholar (translator's note: a Gong Scholar is a scholar of good qualification and is selected to attend the Imperial Academy, the highest academy in ancient China); and that after Yuan graduates from the Imperial Academy, he would become a mayor in a certain province. Yuan would quit his job after three-and-a-half years and come back to his hometown; he would pass away after midnight between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. on August 14, when he is 53. One pitiful thing in Yuan's life, per the elderly man's prediction, was that Yuan would not have a son.
Yuan Liaofan recorded Mr. Kong's words in great detail. Then he resumed his study of Confucius' classics. In all the following exams, his rankings were always the same as Mr. Kong had predicted. After he became a Lin scholar, according to Mr. Kong's prediction, he would not be selected as a Gong scholar until he had received 91 Dan and Five Dou of rice as subsidy from government (translator's note: Dan and Dou are both Chinese units of dry measure. Ten Dou is equal to one Dan.) However, the head of the Education Division, Mr. Tu, approved to have Yuan become a Gong scholar when he had received 71 Dan of rice. So Yuan started to suspect that Mr. Kong's predictions may have become inaccurate after this point.
Later, another supervisor (Mr. Yang) denied Yuan's promotion from Lin scholar to Gong scholar. It was not until he indeed received 91 Dan and 5 Dou of rice that Yuan become a Gong scholar. Since then, Yuan further believed that one's ranking and fortune are all determined by heaven; in addition, the timing of each fortune and promotion was also pre-determined. So he took everything lightly, and no longer pursued this or that.
As Yuan was selected as a Gong scholar, he would go to the Imperial Academy in the Capital Nanjing to advance his study. Before he went to the academy, he went to the Qixia Mountain in the suburb of Nanjing to visit Monk Yun Gu, a highly accomplished Buddhist monk.
They met and had a conversation at Monk Yun Gu's meditation room. Monk Yun Gu was very surprised and asked him: “Ever since you came in, I have not seen you develop a single greedy thought. Why is it so?” Yuan Liaofan told him: “My whole life has been accurately predicted by Mr. Kong. There is no way I can change it. If I had a greedy thought, trying to pursue something, it would end up in vain. Therefore, I would rather maintain being simple-minded and not think of anything. That is why I do not have any greedy thoughts.”
Monk Yun Gu laughed. He said: “I thought you were an outstanding person. Unexpectedly, you are simply a mundane secular being.”
Yuan Liaofan asked him: “Why is that so?”
Monk Yun Gu said: “Only ordinary people will be restricted by a pre-determined life and predictions. A person of ultimate kindness will no longer be restricted by a pre-arranged fate. In the first chapter of I Ching, it says: 'A family that keeps accumulating kindness and virtues will have more fortunes than the previous arrangement.' Therefore, one's fate can be changed. I can control my own fate and create my own fortune. If I do evil, I will decrease the fortune I originally have; if I do good deeds, I will obtain fortune. In Buddhist scriptures, we learned that a person can be wealthy if he wants to; a person can have sons and daughters if he wants to; a person can live long if he wants to!”
These words awakened Yuan Liaofan who had lived in illusion for years. He started to follow these words to change his life. Since then, he was very careful about his conduct. Even in places where no one else was around, he would do well so as not to offend heaven and earth. When he encountered people who disliked him and slandered him, he would take it calmly, and would not try to debate it with others.
One year after he met Monk Yun Gu, he attended the Imperial exam. According to Mr. Kong's prediction, he would rank third in this exam; however, he was number one when the results came out. Mr. Kong did not say that Yuan would pass another, higher exam and become a scholar candidate for officials. These things did not belong to him in his pre-arranged life destiny.
Yuan Liaofan then vowed to do three thousand good deeds. With over ten years' effort, he finished doing the three thousand good deeds. He even had a son thereafter. He asked his wife to record the good deeds he had done. His wife didn't know how to write, so she drew a red circle on the calendar every time Yuan did a good deed, for example, when Yun gave away food to the poor. Sometimes, there were over 10 red circles in one day! A few years later, he passed the final Imperial exam and became a Jinshi, the highest level for scholars. He was appointed to be a Mayor in Baodi County. At this point, he wished to do 10,000 good deeds.
At Baodi County he prepared a booklet, which he called “Writings on Restraining the Heart.” That is, he was very strict with himself, and tried to discipline himself to not develop evil thoughts. Every morning when he handled civil lawsuits in the courtroom, he would ask his servants to deliver the booklet to his office desk. Everyday, he would also record all the good deeds and bad deeds he had done on that day in the booklet. When dusk came, he set the table in the backyard at home, changed into official clothes, and burned incense to pray to gods in heaven. He did this every day.
His wife was concerned that he had too many official duties to take care of and that he would not have enough time to do 10,000 good deeds. She said: “Now you have vowed to do 10,000 good deeds, but there are not many good deeds to do in the courtroom. I really don't know if we can finish 10,000 good deeds!”
Yuan had a dream after the couple had this conversation. He met a god in his dream, and he told the god he might not have enough time to do 10,000 good deeds and explained the reason behind it. The god replied: “Within your term as the Mayor, you reduced the tax money and tax crops for civilians. You have reached your goal of doing 10,000 good deeds.”
Indeed, Yuan thought that the taxation for farmers in Baodi County was too heavy, and he reduced it by almost 50%. He therefore had done a good deed for all the farmers in the county.
Hence, Yuan continued to do good deeds during the remainder of his life. Mr. Kong predicted that he would pass away at the age of 53, but he remained healthy until the age of 69. He wrote about his experience of changing his fate in the booklet Four Admonishments to Take Worldly Things Lightly, and he passed this book to his son and the later generations.
Yuan's story is quite thought-provoking. In traditional Chinese culture, the key theme of many stories is “kindness will be repaid with kindness, and evil will be repaid with evil.” Yuan Liaofan's personal experience, about which he made the effort to document, is just one such example.
Yuan Liaofan followed Monk Yun Gu's advice, respecting and worshiping heaven and gods, correcting his mistakes, and pursuing kindness. It can be said that he is a cultivator. Master Li Hongzhi pointed out in Zhuan Falun: “There is another way to change one’s life, and this is the only way: It is that this person takes the path of cultivation practice from now on.” (“Lecture Two”)