He had never willingly eradicated his desires in order to understand how things really were.
How could he have known the wonderful method of
"staying in the shade to rest one's shadow, and staying still to avoid leaving tracks"?
Having entered the mountains without realizing it, the general stopped in his tracks. Peering forward, he saw that he was surrounded by misty, cloud-covered peaks. Aside from the hardy, upright old trees, there was a solitary path up ahead. He reflected on the first half of his life spent in the military, where he had been accustomed to seeing the flying dust and hearing hoarse yelling. Did he ever enjoy such scenes? In his later years, he had been transferred back to the capital and appointed to a civilian post. By imperial order, he was required to converse and socialize with others every day. During those social gatherings, malicious schemes were plotted and crude or flattering words were spoken. On the battlefield, he had always taken the lead, and unwilling to fall behind in the civilian world, he eagerly demonstrated his capabilities. After a few short years, he was simultaneously appointed Secretary of Defense and Prime Minister. Only the Emperor was above him; everyone else was below him. He held the control of the military entirely in his hands. Although his prestige was brilliant and exalted, his pursuit of fame and material pleasures gradually grew out of control. As day after day passed, he no longer seemed to know the meaning of life. He seemed to live only for the sake of pursuit and fighting. The burden of life weighed upon him more and more, and his impatience mounted. That day, unable to take it anymore, he changed into civilian clothes and silently crept out of the brightly glittering Prime Minister's residence.
Just as the general was wondering where the path led, the sound of a distant bell tolling reached his ears. "How could there be a bell tolling deep in the mountains? Is there a temple on this mountain?" The general started walking in the direction of the sound. The water which had been swift and roaring at the foot of the mountain, after swirling around the rocks, subsided and made soft sobbing sounds. Above the mountains, the sun was shining gloriously, but the parched air in the verdant pine forest was cool and clear. All the fighting and disturbances of the mundane world were quelled here, and all the afflictions of love and hate among people were cleansed away. The source of the water was a deep pool, and in front of the pool was a temple hidden among the pine trees. The general sat down to rest facing the tranquil pool. For a long while, he didn't see anyone going in or out of the temple. There was only a fat monk carrying a big bucket of clothes to wash, followed by a young novice who was jumping up and down, and didn't look more than five years old. The fat monk rhythmically pounded the clothes with a stick. Dong! Dong! Dong! Each whack sounded like the recitation of "Namo Amita Buddha." The little novice was running back and forth on the sandy ground alone, and the general smiled inadvertently.
All of a sudden--"Dharma-brother Plump! Dharma-brother Plump!" the startled little novice was yelling and jumping. "Look, look! This thing keeps following me!" The little novice was pointing to his own shadow. The fat monk held his belly and laughed, looking like Maitreya Buddha as he said, "That's your shadow! As long as you're under the sun, it's going to follow you!" "Wow! How terrible! Shadow, shadow! Don't follow me!" The little novice was running in circles, but he couldn't get rid of his shadow, and he left many footprints on the ground. "Oh! It's hideous! How come there are so many footprints?" The little novice forgot about his fear, and was remorsefully trying to stamp out the footprints, but they only became more and more as he was circling. The fat monk laughed and said, "Come! I'll show you a wonderful way! If you go into a tree's shade, the shadow will disappear. If you sit properly and don't move recklessly, the footprints won't appear anymore! Why don't you try it?" The little novice ran to sit motionless beneath a tree. Hey! Indeed, the shadow was gone and so were his footprints. Happily, he clapped his hands and sang, "Dharma-brother Plump! Big belly round! Many wonderful ways! All are great!"
The general suddenly awakened to the fact that for so many years, he had been afraid of all those petty people who surrounded him like shadows; yet he had continued to struggle and strive in the world of officials, which was as hot as the summer sun. Although he detested the weary affairs of the vain world, which rose and fell like the tide, he had never willingly eradicated his desires in order to understand how things really were. How could he have known the wonderful method of "staying in the shade to rest one's shadow, and staying still to avoid leaving tracks"? Instead, he had been so ignorant and upside-down. Wasn't he just like the fool described in the book of Zhuangzi who feared his shadow and detested his own footprints?