(Continued from Part 1)
Sun Simiao was one of China’s finest physicians. He lived from the sixth century to the seventh century, during the Tang Dynasty, and was given the moniker “King of Medicine” for his many contributions to the medical field.
One of his seminal works is Qianjin Yaofang, which can be roughly translated as“Essential Formulas [Worth] a Thousand Pieces of Gold”
In this book, Sun states that, “if one is lacking in morality, even a panacea would not cure his ills.”
It also opined: “If one is perennially virtuous, one would be blessed without prayer and would live long without worship.”
So, how did the ancients cultivate virtue?
Avoiding the Crests and Thoughts of Intense Emotion
Chinese history is filled with stories teaching people that fame and wealth are only transient things, detached from one’s existence. Therefore, one should not become emotionally attached to momentary gains or losses, as in the long run, they are hardly more than fleeting clouds.
However, some people still pursued fame and wealth to satisfy their own desires and, in some cases, even to the point of losing their sanity. One such incident was described in Rulin Waishi, or the Unofficial History of the Scholars, a novel written by Wu Jingzi, a Qing dynasty scholar.
The story “Fan Jin Zhongju” told of a man who did not pass the provincial civil service exam until his 50s. He was so overwhelmed by the news that he lost his mind. In the end, his father-in-law, a butcher, had to give him a hard slap in the face to bring him back to sanity.
Just as extreme joy begets sorrow, competition and jealous in excess can be detrimental to one’s health as well. Wang Xizhi (303-361) was one of the most accomplished Chinese calligraphers in Chinese history. He was also a politician, a general, and a writer during the Jin dynasty. He died at the age of 59, and many people felt deeply sorry over his untimely death. Some believe that his strong resentment and competitive jealousy toward Wang Shu, a fellow official, had contributed to his early demise.
There is such a couplet in You Chuang Xiao Ji compiled by Chen Jiru in the Ming dynasty: “Remaining unmoved either by favor or humiliation, I leisurely watch the flowers bloom and fall in the courtyard; with no attachment to leaving or staying , I float freely like clouds in the sky.”
The couplet became very popular for the let-it-be attitude it holds towards loss and gain, fame and status.
“You’re a Truly Rare Official!”
During the era of Emperor Taizong of Tang, Lu Chengqing was appointed by the emperor as the “examiner of meritocracy” due to his integrity and impartiality. Once, while Lu was assessing officials, a grain vessel sank in the river, and the official in charge was deemed guilty of dereliction of duty. So Lu wrote such a comment on the official: “Lost a grain vessel; awarded a low grade in assessment.”
To his great surprise, the official did not defend himself with excuses, nor did he show any unhappiness. He simply calmly accepted Lu’s unfavorable comment.
Later, Lu thought that it was not entirely the official’s fault for the grain vessel to sink in the river, and the situation was outside of this official’s control. So Lu upgraded his assessment to a “lower-middle” grade. Still, the official did not say anything—not even a word of gratitude. He just carried on with a smile.
Lu admired the official’s composure in handling the situation, and praised him, “Unmoved at all in the face of favor or disgrace, you’re a truly rare official!” Then Lu changed the comment a final time and wrote “Remained unmoved either by favor or humiliation. Awarded an upper-middle grade in assessment.”
Being Considerate of Others Rather Than Oneself
Fan Zhongyan was a prominent chancellor in the Northern Song period. To strengthen government administration and discourage corruption, he and some other officials persuaded Emperor Renzong to carry out changes known as the Qingli Reforms. However, their reforms met with strong resistance from some officials who were worried that these changes might impact their own careers and vested interest. As a result, the reforms were put to an end and Fan was demoted and exiled to Dengzhou.
Despite his misfortune, Fan remained calm and positive as usual. He was relaxed and happy, unfazed by both the honor he used to enjoy in court and the disgrace he experienced as an exile. He “drank merrily in the gentle breeze and felt joyful,” “neither pleased by external gains, nor saddened by personal grief.”
Fan had explained his thoughts in the renowned article, “Yueyang Lou Ji”— or Renovation of the Yueyang Building—“Be the first to bear hardships for the country, and the last to enjoy comfort and happiness.” This thinking enabled him to remain calm through all his setbacks.
(To be continued)
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