Although Tao Yuanming did not formally take refuge with Buddhism, in his poems, we can tell that he was obviously influenced by Buddhism. When I was teaching at UBC (University of British Columbia) this morning, a student told me that UBC had played a film introducing Chinese people's thoughts, beliefs, customs, and habits few days ago. He said that in the movies, the Chinese usually combine the ideas of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Tao Yuanming also combined the best parts of these three teachings in his own ideas.
For example, I referred two lines of the sixteenth poem in Tao Yuanming's
Drinking Poems: "Hardly involved with worldly affairs as a youth, I enjoyed studying the
Six Classics." He said, "When I was young, there were no defiled, troublesome things bothering me, so I could concentrate on my studies." What did he study? He said: "I enjoyed studying the Six Classics." ‘Enjoy’ means ‘like’ and ‘favor’. What did he like and favor? The
The Six Classics are the classic books of Confucianism. They are the
Book of Poetry, the Book of History, the
Book of Rites, the Book of Music, the Book of Change, and the
Spring and Autumn Annals. The Book of Music is no longer in existence now. Someone said that the
Book of Music should be combined with the Book of Poetry and the
Book of Rites. In general, the Six Classics are the classic books of Confucianism.
He said that when he was young, he was not distracted by troublesome worldly things. He enjoyed reading the Confucian classics. What does it mean to ‘enjoy’? Do you think that you enjoy only when you play? You think studying is hard, but you should know that to those who like to study, it is as fun as playing games. From this, we can tell that Tao Yuanming was indeed influenced by Confucianism.
He was also influenced by Taoist thought. A line in his poem says: ‘Having stayed in a cage for a long time, I long to return to Nature.’ (from: "Returning to Country and Farming") That is to say, when he was an official, he was under a lot of restrictions, so he felt like a bird that had been caged up for a long time. Therefore he resigned his post and returned home to take up fanning again. He said, "When I return to a life close to Nature, I’m like a caged bird regaining the freedom to fly where it pleases."
Last time, Venerable Master Hsuan Hua recited a famous es say of Tao Yuanming’s, "Return." In that essay, Tao Yuanming expresses his innate love of Nature, which is basically a Taoist attitude. Taoists believe that there should not be any artificial limits or restrictions among people; we should return to a simple life and let things take their natural course. From this, we can see that Tao Yuanming's thinking contained the profound ideas of Taoism.
In addition, he was also influenced by Buddhism. A line in his "Returning to Country and Farming" says: "Life is like an illusion; everything returns to emptiness." He said that life was just like an illusory shadow. As a Buddhist Sutra says, "like dreams, like illusions," which means all worldly phenomena are like dreams, empty and illusory, vanishing in an instant. Thus, "life is like an illusion." "Everything returns to emptiness" means that in the end, everything is empty. As we say, "The four elements are all empty." From this, we can see that he adopted the ideas of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
However, no matter what kind of influence Tao Yuanming encountered, he could immediately integrate it into his own thinking. In his mind, there was a power of calm concentration and perseverance—that is, integrity. Many people lack the ability to remain steadfast; they can’t stand their own ground, so they follow the crowd and are tempted and influenced by their surroundings.
Among the Chinese poets, Tao Yuanming had the greatest perseverance and integrity. His power to persevere was based upon his acceptance and absorption of the essentials of various philosophies, such as Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. He mastered not only the external words, doctrines, and rituals, but also had a thorough internal understanding and acceptance of the best and most valuable parts of those schools of thought.
Therefore, Tao Yuanming was not confused. He didn’t get
lost in that dark and chaotic time filled with wars and sufferings.
This is what made Tao Yuanming outstanding. Later, we will
gradually verify this point bit by bit in his poems. But for today,
we will stop here.
To be continued