(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 difficulties and adverse events, one should remain determined to pursue the truth and thereby attain enlightenment by following the path of returning to one’s origin.
Experience at Mount Lu
In 1084, Su Shi was again demoted, so he traveled from Huangzhou (in today’s Hubei Province in China) to Ruzhou (in today’s Henan Province). On the way, he passed Jiujiang and visited the renowned Mount Lu (Lushan), where he wrote the following poem:
Writing on the Wall of Xilin Temple
Appearing like a ridge from one angle and a peak from another,
this place seems all different high and low, near and far;
Our view of Mount Lu is just a sliver,
simply because we only look at it from within.
This poem is short but very rich in meaning. When facing uncertainties in life, one’s perspective differs depending on one’s viewpoint. In fact, if one only considers things from a limited perspective, it is hard to see the entire picture. Only by letting go of such an internal bias could one overcome the obstruction and have a more comprehensive understanding.
In “On the Aloof Plateau,” Su wrote, “Some people view things from inside [a situation] instead of outside of it. There could be no difference in size per se, but when looking from inside, one may find it tall and big. When someone who considers himself tall and big looks at me, he may find me chaotic and untrustworthy. In this case, it is hard to tell which side is better.”
After experiencing hardship in Huangzhou, Su’s spiritual world reached a new level. He found things in this world, whether high or low, are all precious.
In “First Ode on the Red Cliffs,” Su wrote, “Between heaven and earth, everything has a place where it belongs. If something is not mine, I would not take even a little bit of it. But listening to the sound of the wind on the river or looking at the moon above the mountain, we would know it is endless and will not disappear. This is a boundless gift from the creator, and both you and I can enjoy it.”
His words demonstrate humility in front of the divine and an appreciation of what we have. It is consistent with the themes of traditional Chinese paintings in which a gigantic mountain and river are the main objects, while human beings are shown as small and less significant. This again reflects deep respect for the divine shown in ancient times. After all, mankind is not the main focus. Only the creator of heaven and earth should be respected in such a way.
In Collection of Su Shi, the word “creator” appeared 59 times. In one poem, he wrote, “The creator knows I have been longing to return [to the origin] / as if the arrangement includes the illness and churn.”
Another Demotion in Later Years
After his first exile ended, Su returned to Huangzhou and was promoted to the position of Minister of Rites at age 57. This was also the highest position he achieved in his career. Two years later, however, his peers excluded him again, and he was sent to Huizhou (in today’s Guangdong Province).
To make things worse, Su was exiled yet again when he was 63. He was sent to Danzhou, a more remote rural area (in today’s Hainan Province). A mandate also accompanied this third exile that prohibited Su from staying at the residence of government officials. With no other choice, he had to rent a place to live from ordinary residents.
In “A Letter to Scholar Cheng,” Su wrote, “Here has no meat to eat, no medicine for illness, no place to stay, no friend to visit, no coal for winter, and no cold spring for summer.” Nonetheless, his positive attitude shone through in the same letter, “With a physical body from the creator, I will follow my fate and go wherever it takes me. This is my understanding, and please do not worry about me.”
Su even taught students in a thatched hut. One student was the first person from the island to pass an imperial exam. To help people get fresh water, he showed the village residents how to dig a well. Other people followed suit and dug more wells for fresh water. Hence, the instances of illness were reduced. The first well was named “Dongpo Well” to commemorate him since Su was also known as Su Dongpo.
During the seven years Su was exiled to Huizhou, nine people in Su’s family died. But he still maintained an open mind. For example, he also visited other villagers, chatted with them, and helped them with their medicine.
In traditional Confucianism there is a saying, “A gentleman remains calm in poverty, understands others, and knows his fate.” As this continues, one would attain a higher moral level. Other belief systems in traditional Chinese culture are similar: Buddhism focuses on cultivation practice to become an enlightened being, while Taoism emphasises returning to the origin.
Since ancient times, the human world has been considered a place of illusion, regardless of the culture. It is believed that beings descended here as humans after their moral degeneration. By restoring traditional values, cherishing virtue, and respecting the divine, there is hope for a better future for mankind.
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