(Minghui.org) There is a Chinese saying, “One’s fate is decided by the divine.” But the young are often anxious to change their fate. As things progress, however, they might wonder why life seems to be out of control. Throughout traditional Chinese culture, people believed in “Respecting the divine, knowing your fate, and following the Tao.” That is, amidst life’s difficulties and adverse events, one should remain determined to pursue truth and thereby attain enlightenment by following the path to return to one’s origin.
One of the people who enlightened to the Tao was Su Shi (1037 – 1101), a renowned poet in the Song Dynasty, also known as Su Dongpo. Born in Mei Zhou (in today’s Sichuan Province), Su passed the highest level of the imperial exam with a perfect score. He was later appointed as an imperial secretary, then Minister of Rites, and, later, to other positions.
During his tenure, Su was very candid when asked to give recommendations and often forged ahead to serve people. In addition, he could tolerate people whom he disliked and who sometimes became victims during political turmoil.
Demoted to Huangzhou
In 1079, someone reported to Emperor Shenzong that Su had criticised chancellor Wang Anshi’s reforms. Several officials added to the accusation, leading to Su being detained. Meanwhile, many officials stepped forward to defend Su’s innocence and save his life. Nevertheless, he was demoted to serve in Huangzhou (in today’s Hubei Province). The scarcity of material possessions gave him an opportunity to reflect on life.
According to Lengzhai Yehua, when Su Shi was on his way to Huangzhou after he was demoted, something happened as he was approaching Yunzhou. His younger brother, Su Zhe, dreamed of welcoming Monk Wujie, Monk Yunyan, and Monk Cong. When he talked about this with Monk Yunyan and Monk Cong the next day, the two said they’d had the same dream. “It is interesting that three people could have the same dream,” Su Zhe said.
When these three met Su Shi and asked about this, Su Shi said, “When I was eight or nine years old, I once dreamed of being a monk and traveling in the Shanyou area. When my mother was pregnant, she dreamed of a monk coming to stay. That monk was blind in one eye.”
“Monk Wujie was from the Shanyou area, and he was blind in one eye,” said Monk Yunyan. “In his later years, he went to Gao’an and eventually died in Dayu Temple. That was about 50 years ago.”
Interestingly, Su was 49 at the time. He documented this event in a poem:
I was once a monk in the temple,
cultivating diligently for three life cycles;
Because of a major mistake,
coming here this lifetime became my fate.
In ancient times, a person often had to cultivate for several lifetimes. There were many examples of this. It was while he was in Huangzhou that Su reflected on life and seriously studied Buddhism.
After arriving in Huangzhou, Su began a life of poverty, which was new to him.
Su was a good government official and never accepted bribes. This made it difficult for his family to make ends meet. As a result, he divided his monthly salary into 30 portions and hung them on a beam in the house. Every day, he used a fork to take down one portion as living expenses for that day and then put the fork away. Later on, Su found some wasteland covered in thorn bushes and rubble. His entire family cleared the rubble, removed the thorns, and turned it into a garden of 50 mu (or 8.2 acres). “All my neighbors came with their tools to help because they knew I was poor.”
Other than working the farmland, Su also “traveled in straw shoes or on a small boat.” He once wrote, “It could be that a person has a fate. Even getting fed does not come easily, just as obtaining fame or wealth is also difficult.”
The lack of material possessions, on the other hand, nurtured Su’s spiritual transformation. Even amidst hardship, he was able to maintain a positive attitude, as shown in the following poem:
Lin Jiang Xian
I kept drinking at night,
sometimes awake and sometimes drunk;
It was midnight when I returned,
hearing the servant snoring like thunder.
Knocking on the door and hearing no response,
I stood with a walking cane and listened to the water sounds.
Everything in this world is illusion,
but people are still busy for nothing.
The night was quiet, with no wind,
and the river water was still, still like a mirror;
I wish to go on a small boat,
and spend the rest of my life on the river as I pleased.
As teachings in the Buddha school see it, our body is just a carrier, and nurturing our soul is most important. It is critical to remain calm in the face of adversity so that we can come to a better understanding and achieve enlightenment.
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