The Merits of Fan Zhongyan: Always Calm Regardless of Personal Gain and Loss
(Minghui.org) Fan Zhongyan, a well-known official in the Northern Song Dynasty, was hardworking since childhood. He studied the Confucian classics, such as Shi Jing (The Book of Songs), Shang Shu (The Book of History) and The Spring and Autumn Annals. Later, he also turned to Buddhism.
Fan was a court official for decades yet lived a simple life. Even when he held the high-ranking position of chancellor, he did not have a decent residence. People proposed to build a new mansion for him, but he kindly refused, saying, “What we should pursue is morality. If a person always keeps high moral values in his heart, he will be happy wherever he is.”
Fan did not purchase any land or property for his children and grandchildren either. Instead, he used his own money to establish schools and purchase land to help others. He was demoted a number of times for speaking out for justice, but he never felt regret or sadness. Fan Zhongyan was promoted to high-ranking positions in the capital city three times, and, each time he was eventually demoted and forced into exile.
The first time was in the 7th year of the Tiansheng Period (1029 AD), under the reign of Emperor Renzong of the Northern Song Dynasty. Fan had just been appointed as Official in Charge of Documents in the Mige (Palace Library). However, he was soon demoted and expelled from the capital for submitting a memorial against the extravagance of the empress dowager (emperor’s mother).
The second demotion was in the second year of the Mingdao Period (1033 AD) when he was serving as a yousijian, a counseling position. Again, he was demoted and relegated to Muzhou for seeking justice for others.
In the second year of the Jingyou Period (1035 AD), Fan was promoted by Emperor Renzong to be an officer in the Ritual Department. To prevent Fan from making direct criticisms, then-Chancellor Lv Yijian submitted a memorial to the emperor to appoint him as the magistrate of Raozhou. Lv also told others to tell Fan “not to comment on state affairs unless one is a counselor.” That was the third time Fan was exiled from the capital city.
Such ups and downs would have been unbearable for many, who would have developed complaints and resentment, but Fan always remained calm.
It is not easy to reach such a state of mind. As renowned historian Sima Qian pointed out in Shi Ji (The Records of the Grand Historian) about the world, “Bustling and joyous, everyone goes after profit.” That is, in the human world, most people are busy going after their own interests, and few can let go of their self-interest for the sake of others.
In ancient times, the term junzi (gentleman) referred to someone who had reached a noble and hard-to-achieve state of mind. He would not be overly happy when he got what he desired, nor would he feel heartbroken when he lost something he dearly treasured.
“Joy” or “sorrow” are both attachments a cultivator needs to let go of. However, these attachments tend to be hidden and hard to detect, especially “joy.” Yet, such attachments must be relinquished for practitioners of cultivation.
The well-known lines in Memorial to Yueyang Tower by Fan, “not pleased by external gains, not saddened by personal losses,” describe exactly such a realm of mind. When we look at another one of his lines, “always be considerate of others and always put others ahead of ourselves,” we grasp the realm of Fan Zhongyan's mindset.