Can the Wisdom of the Ancients Guide Us Today?
(Minghui.org) Many stories of ancient wisdom have been preserved and passed down over the centuries. To those with an open mind, these stories may be more than simple myths and legends.
Zhang Daoling, a renowned Taoist during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 BC–220 AD), had tens of thousands of disciples. Like other Taoists, he focused on character improvement and spiritual enlightenment. One story well known in Chinese history was called the 7 tests, a series of trials that Zhang set up to test his disciple Zhao Sheng. These included the tests of patience, lust, greed, fear, anger, sympathy, and faith. Zhao passed them all and he also became a renowned Taoist.
Besides teaching his disciples, Zhang also guided the public to strive for a higher moral standard and better conduct. One example was his unique way of dealing with plagues.
Treating Plagues with Repentance
Zhang asked those infected to write down all the wrongdoings they had ever done in their entire lives. Then they were to place the paper in water and vow to the divine not to do bad things again. They also had to promise that, were they to do wrong again, they would rather end their lives.
Many people followed this advice and recovered. More people heard about this, did as instructed, and were cured. As a result, Zhang and his disciples saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Emperors Repent Their Mistakes
He Xiu, a famous Confucian scholar who lived at the time of Zhang Daoling, believed that plagues were caused by vicious thoughts and actions. “When people are ill or infected with plagues, it is because of the vicious qi (or vicious energy) in them,” he wrote.
Throughout Chinese history, from emperors to ordinary citizens, people tended to look within when disasters hit and reflected on what they had done wrong that might have invited plagues or other misfortune. They would then correct their mistakes and improve themselves. Emperor Wu of the Western Han Dynasty (206-9 AD), for example, issued a decree reflecting on his political mistakes, known as the “Repenting Edict of Luntai:”
“I received a proposal, suggesting that every person pay an extra tax of 30 coins to defend the border. This would be a burden, especially on the elderly, weak, or those with no one to look after them,” wrote Emperor Wu. “... The most important task at the moment is to prohibit officials at all levels from being harsh or cruel to the people and to prevent them from increasing taxes without authorization. By doing so, it will be possible to greatly enhance agricultural production.”
Several emperors in later dynasties issued similar edicts of repentance. They included Emperor Ming of the Han, Emperor Taizong of the Tang, Emperor Lizong of the Song, Emperor Xizong of the Ming, and Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty.
Consequences of Religious Persecution
Measures taken by Zhang Daoling have also been seen in the Western world. After the Roman Emperor Nero started the persecution of Christians in 64 AD, at least 10 emperors who ruled after him continued to persecute those of the Christian faith. The empire was hit by several major plagues.
By 680, people had begun to reflect on the cruelty against Christians, as well as the general moral decay of society. In 680, Roman citizens carried the bones of Saint Sebastian (256 – 288, killed during the persecution by Diocletian) in a solemn procession through the streets. As people repented their wrongdoings, the plague miraculously vanished in Rome.
Hundreds, even thousands of years have passed, but might these ancient stories still hold value for us and for future generations?