In this world, "The poor live on the streets, but no one asks after them; the rich may live deep in the mountains, but they have relatives even from afar." There is another saying: "The white horse and the red eagle, wealth and fame evoke relatives; people who are not related seize the position of relatives." "The white horse and red eagle, wealth and fame evoke relatives" means that when someone is rich, "those who are not relatives will insist on being relatives," that is, even though they aren't related to you, they still claim to be your relatives. That's how the minds of worldly people are, but this situation is just a test to see whether or not you can stand firmly. If you follow the ways of the world, "adding flowers to brocade" (doing superfluous things) but not "sending charcoal during a snowfall" (helping those in need), then you are only flowing with the defiled current. During this time when human relationships are all messed up, intellectual culture trails in the dust, the minds of the people are not what they used to be, and morality is totally ruined, you should hold to your principles like a steady candle in the gale and like real gold which is not destroyed in a blazing fire. There is a saying in Manchuria: "Freezing to death, we stand firmly against the wind; / Starving to death, we walk steadily holding our bellies." This is an awe-inspiring righteousness which cannot be encroached upon. If one can live in this turbid world without wallowing in the mire and going along with the corrupted trends, then one is favored by the proper energy of heaven and earth and unmoved by wealth, sex, fame, food, and sleep.
In Jilin province (in Manchuria), there was a man named Ming Laowu who lived in Duohuanzhan (Station of Much Pleasure) in Shuang Cheng County. Duohuanzhan was a village to the southwest of Xihuangchi (West Yellow Flag) about eighteen li away from Lalin County where I lived. One can tell from the name of this village, "Station of Much Pleasure," that most of the people there did not like to follow the rules; there were many who loitered about in idleness and many young men from wealthy families who were good for nothing. It was probably also because of Ming Laowu, who had come into sudden wealth and later flaunted his luxurious lifestyle, that the place was so full of pleasure. If there is a lot of entertainment at a place, then the people there will tend not to follow the rules. Therefore, another meaning of Duohuanzhan (literally "much pleasure stand") is that if people just go there and stand for a while, they will probably forget to go home because of the enjoyable experience.
Ming Laowu lived during the Qing dynasty, so he was a person of the recent past. He was an opportunist. How do we know that he was an opportunist? First of all, he wanted to obtain treasures empty-handed, that is, to use only a small amount of capital to do big business. Big business usually requires a large amount of capital; what kind of big business did he do with small capital? He went into the mountains to hunt for treasures. It is dangerous to go treasure hunting alone in the mountains, for there are many wolves, bears, tigers, leopards, poisonous snakes, and other fierce animals; one must have a partner. So he found someone with whom he pledged an oath of brotherhood, and the two of them went into the mountains to dig for ginseng. Ginseng has its own kind of intelligence, and it usually grows on overhanging precipices and steep cliffs--places that people cannot reach, animals cannot climb to, and even birds cannot perch on because of the sparse trees. Ginseng grows in these places where people rarely go and animals don't travel because it has its own kind of efficacious nature and knows how to protect itself. That's why it grows in such dangerous places.
When Ming Laowu and his friend went looking for treasures in the mountains, probably they were fated to find a treasure, and so they finally obtained one. Before they found the treasure, they had been sworn brothers who helped each other out; but they came upon the treasure, Ming Laowu began having thoughts of contention and greed. It is said that if a piece of mountain-grown ginseng weighs seven ounces, it is called "ginseng" (ren seng); if it weighs eight ounces, it is called a "human treasure" (ren bao). Why is it called a "human treasure"? Because when people eat that kind of ginseng, it can prolong their life and make them immortal. Although everyone has to die, no one wants to. Everyone is afraid of death, and if there is some way to prolong our lives, we all have the desire to live. There is a saying: "To live in misery is better than to die in the best of conditions." We all have this kind of attached view in our eighth consciousness. Because of this, people regard eight ounces of ginseng as something precious. The ginseng that Ming Laowu found was probably not merely seven or eight ounces; it may have weighed more than sixteen ounces, so it really was a rare treasure and a precious commodity.
At the time, he thought: "Oh! This treasure must be worth a great deal of money, but if we have to divide it between the two of us, the money will be less; if one person takes the whole thing, the money it brings in will never run out." Therefore he schemed to murder his sworn brother. How did he do it? Very simple. The mountain paths were rugged and overgrown with bushes and trees as sharp as swords. They were really difficult to travel. Seeing the crooked paths, as well as the overhanging precipices and steep cliffs, he thought, "Ha! Okay, sworn brother, I'll let you walk in front of me, and when we reach a dangerous place, I'll just give you a push, and then you will fall to your death--all the bones in your body will be smashed! Then the treasure will be all mine!" Thinking in this way, he pushed his sworn brother into a mountain torrent.
Now that all the wealth was his, he went to the capital to present the treasure. At the time, inside the Manchu Li Pass there was a custom-house which prohibited valuable objects outside the Pass from being transported inside, and valuable objects inside the Pass from being transported outside. It was just like the maritime customs we have nowadays. Ming Laowu thought, "This treasure is so valuable. If the customs officials discover my treasure and confiscate it, I won't be able to do anything about it." So he bought a coffin and placed the ginseng in it, and then had it transported to the pass. The customs official asked him, "Who is the deceased person in the coffin?" He said it was his father. "We have to open it and take a look," the official said. Hearing that they wanted to open it, he broke out in a cold sweat, but still insisted that it was his father. When the coffin was opened, the ginseng had indeed turned into a corpse of an old man with gray hair and a gray beard. The officials didn't find out the truth, and so he made it through customs. After he had taken the coffin inside the pass, he took out the ginseng and gave the coffin away.
Then Ming Laowu went to present the offering to the Emperor. The Emperor had never seen such an efficacious medicine, such a rare treasure. Not knowing its actual value, the Emperor rewarded him with a great deal of gold and silver. Then Ming Laowu took all of the gold and silver and went home. Transportation in those days was not as convenient as it is now. Even the richest people could only take a horse carriage or ride in a sedan chair. Ming Laowu hired a few sedan chairs, not for people to ride in, but for carrying the gold. When he was tired out from walking, he would ride in a sedan chair. When he wasn't tired, he walked along beside the sedan chairs. On the way home, because he had too much gold, he started making purchases. What did he buy? Land. Property. He didn't buy property the way ordinary people did. He bought entire villages at a time. He would tell the people in each village to count up how much land and how many wells their village had and calculate the price, and then he would buy the whole village.
To be continued