Stories of Resisting Lust from Ancient China
(Minghui.org) In the Book of Rites, an ancient Confucianism doctrine, it says, “Food and sex are the two biggest temptations for human beings.” Confucianism therefore held the view that one should resist such temptations by observing proper behavior. Sages since ancient times have also worked hard to let go of such temptations.
According to Taoism, if a person can relinquish his cravings for food and sex, he will enjoy a long life. Giving in to lust not only causes one to lose one’s essence, but also shortens one's life span and weakens the brain. Without letting go of sexual desire, a Taoist practitioner would be bogged down with bad karma, unable to return to heaven.
People in ancient China with traditional values were honest and strict when it came to self-discipline. Long Zun, a lay Buddhist in the Ming Dynasty, wrote in his book Shi Se Shen Yan about how ancient people viewed cravings for food and sex and how they conducted themselves. He also encouraged people not to kill and to guard against sexual temptations. The following are a few examples from the book.
Emperors and Kings
Xiao Yan, Emperor Wu of Liang, was a devout Buddhist. He once said to He Chen, Assistant to the Imperial Counselor, “I have not engaged in any sexual activity or slept with a woman for over 30 years.” He lived to the ripe old age of 85.
Ashabuhua, Chancellor in the Yuan Dynasty, advised Emperor Wuzong (Qayisang, the third emperor of Yuan) when he noticed the emperor looked unhealthy: “You do not eat the eight rare nutritious foods, such as bear's paw, nor do you take care of your precious body. Instead, you indulge in drinking and lustful pursuits. It is like using two axes on a slender tree, which would surely fall.” The following year, Emperor Wuzong indeed passed away, at the age of 30.
There was a king who frequently gave in to his sexual desires. A monk tried to help him by chanting, “Our Majesty has neglected state affairs because he does not have eyes of wisdom and indulges in the pleasures of the flesh.”
Xue Wenqing, a Minister of Rites in the Ming Dynasty, said, “Drinking and sex can sap a person's will, damaging his health and corrupting his morals. Nothing can be worse than these two things. Most people regard them as pleasures, but I don't know what joy they can get from such things. Only by being abstinent can one be calm and physically fit. This is what brings people pleasure!”
Philosopher Cheng Yi in the Northern Song Dynasty said, “When one is visited by sexual desire, one should overcome it by thinking about rites and righteousness.”
Zhu Xi in the Southern Song Dynasty used the word “swamp” to describe lust and desire: “To overcome lust and desire, just look at a swamp. Both are filthy sludge that can easily contaminate a person. These ‘swamps’ should be filled in and leveled.”
Well-known scholar Fang Xiaoru in the early Ming Dynasty once sighed, “Cravings are much more dangerous than the edge of a sword. People are only worried about protecting themselves from cold or heat while ignoring the damage caused by their cravings for food and sex.”
Liu Yuancheng, an imperial scholar in the later years of the Northern Song Dynasty, said, “Since I stopped sexual activities with women 30 years ago, I feel as strong and as sharp as when I was young.” People at that time said of him, “We can see an element of 'honesty' in his knowledge. This is also because he stays away from lust.”
Poet Yang Wanli once mocked those who indulged in lust: “The King of Hell has not summoned you and yet you have escorted yourselves to him. What's it for?”
Xie Liangzuo, a renowned scholar in the Song Dynasty said, “I have let go of lust for over 20 years now. To achieve anything, a person must have a healthy body. That's why I have relinquished my lust and desires.”
Court official Li Hao in the Later Shu during the period of the Five Dynasties said, “Chen Shugu's sexual indulgences invited insults from demons. I have rejected lust and desire for a long time and demons therefore dare not meddle with me. It is not because I have other magic tricks.”
In the ancient book of Chinese medicine Huangdi Neijing (Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor) it says:
“Retaining quiet peacefulness, absolute emptiness, the true qi follows [these states]. When essence and spirit are guarded internally, where could a disease come from?“Hence, the mind is relaxed and one has few desires. The heart is at peace and one is not in fear.“Cravings and desires could not tax their eyes. The lustrous viciousness could not confuse their hearts.“Those who were able to exceed a lifespan of one hundred years, while their movements and activities did not weaken, achieved so because their virtue was perfect and they did not meet with danger.”
Cultivators Avoiding Lust
There was an eminent monk named Wei in the Jin Dynasty. Once he met a woman who came to seek lodging and claimed that she was a fairy from heaven. She also told the monk that she was sent to him as a reward. Monk Wei held steadfast and remained very calm. He said to the woman, “My heart is already as cold as ash, so stop testing me with your body.” The woman then rose up into the sky and said to Wei as she left, “The ocean can rise and the base of an arhat may crumble, yet the heart of that eminent monk cannot be moved.”
Yongjia was a famous eminent monk from Wenzhou during the Gaozong Period in the Tang Dynasty. He once said, “Sexual activities bring only pain—no joy. One's body may be covered with fragrant cream on the surface while there is only filth, where worms and maggots breed, inside. We should keep as far as we can from sexual temptation and avoid it as we would a thief or bandit. A wise person views sex as a poisonous snake and would rather deal with the snake than have sex with a woman.”
The well-known Taoist Shangyangzi (Chen Zhixu) in the Yuan Dynasty said, “Lewdness is the worst of all sins, and a cultivator must relinquish it first and foremost.” Changchunzhenren (also a famous Taoist) told the emperor that lewdness should be the first thing to relinquish, that, in Taoist classics, it was the worst example of degenerate behavior. He said, “Nothing is more fundamental in Taoist practice than truly giving up lust and desire—the rest is actually very easy.”
Shangyangzi also said, “People think it is very hard to give up lust, which is a very foolish point of view. Beginners in Taoist practice may try to find a secluded place so that they can do things alone and sleep alone and at the same time give up drinking. During the day, they can read books on alchemy and keep a calm mind at night. The quiet environment will dispel all kinds of imaginings, and any hurdles set up by external demons can further strengthen his faith.”
Shao Guizi, an imperial scholar, once said to a monk, “If a person who pursues religious practice cannot give up lust and desire, then he will not have a stable source of essence and will lack energy. The production of his primordial qi will also decrease day by day, until it is all used up and he is no longer able to produce qi.”
The monk replied, “To try to enlighten to the principles of Zen Buddhism without eliminating lust and desire is like cooking sand and expecting to end up with rice. Although the sand may be cooked almost to death, it will still be sand, not rice. To pursue a religious practice, one must work hard on eliminating lust and desire.”
Another imperial scholar, Wang Changshou in the Southern Song Dynasty, was able to restrain his lust and desire, but not for long. Lu Jiuyuan (a renowned philosopher and educator at that time) once said to him, “If you are only able to suppress your emotions by force instead of getting to the bottom of the issue within yourself, it means you have not cultivated well enough. If a person understands what proper behavior is, he does not need to restrain himself. If a beautiful woman suddenly appears while we are talking, you would not be distracted by lust and desire, and if you can maintain that state of mind, then there is no need to exert effort to control yourself. If you worship god with meticulous care, when god appears in front of you, you will regard god with reverence, with no thoughts of anything else.”
Lessons for People Today
It said in ancient books that those who indulge in lust and desire possess a kind of filthy qi in their bodies. If they came across someone who cultivated his mind and body, they should shy away from him so that they did not offend his vital qi and bring harm to themselves. It is said in Buddhist scriptures that if one has eliminated lust and desire, he will always be surrounded by an auspicious field.
To sail against the tide, diligence and effort are required to reach one’s destination. Otherwise, one will be pushed back. In today's society, lust and desire are touted as “fashionable.” Communism, evolutionary theory, and atheism have all contributed to making this acceptable. If people want to be honorable and healthy, they not only need to monitor their sexual activities, but also recognize the true nature of lust and desire and negate it. They should restore traditional values and respect proper behavior. Only by doing so can they rectify their mistakes and get to the bottom of things. As for cultivators, they should do even better in going against the tide. They should pay attention to the details in their daily lives and aim high. Although they live in a degenerate world, they should be able to remain pure and unsullied.