第 二 講
Last time, we briefly talked about Tao Yuanming's background in Chinese history. Now we continue to look into his philosophy and life experience. As I mentioned last time, there are many legends about Tao Yuanming; and there are a few different names for him. Some say his first name was Qian and his other name Yuanming. Others say his first name was Yuanming and his other name was Yuanliang.
It is more generally accepted that originally his first name was Yuanming and his other name was Yuanliang. This conclusion is based on his own article and some research which confirms it. He changed his name to "Taoqian" after the Liu Song Dynasty.
It is said that he also had the name Shengming, for people in the Tang Dynasty had to avoid using the characters of the first emperor's name, Liyuan. There was an old Chinese custom which made it taboo for people to casually say or write the emperor's name. Therefore, when people in the Tang Dynasty wrote Tao Yuanming's name, they changed Yuanming to Shengming. 'Yuan' (deep waters) basically means the same thing as 'Sheng' (deep). Some people changed his name to another name, Quanming. At any rate, neither Shengming nor Quanming were his original name.
I have mentioned some important events that happened during Tao Yuanming's lifetime. He was born in the third year of Emperor An's Xingning reign period in the Eastern Jin Dynasty. When he was eight, his father died. When he was eighteen, the Eastern Jin dynasty and the Qian Qin, a kingdom built by foreigners from the north, had a great battle at Feishui. When he was about twenty-one, a famous monk, Great Master Hui Yuan, came to dwell at Lu Mountain in Jiangxi Province. In the fifteenth year of Emperor Jinwu's Taiyuan reign period, Great Master Hui Yuan set up the White Lotus (Buddhist-Recitation) Society at Donglin Monastery. At that time, not only monks at that temple, but many scholars and poets joined the Society.
I also mentioned a book, Stories of Worthies in the Lotus Society, which lists some of the eminent members of the Society. The book includes Tao Yuanming, as well as other famous poets such as Xie Lingyun. There was also another very famous man, whom everyone should know, the renowned calligrapher, Wang Xizhu. Wang Xizhi's son, Wang Ningzhi, was the governor of Jiangzhou.
Last time, I said that Tao Yuanming's hometown was Caisang, in Xunyang, Jiangzhou Province. At that time, the governor of Jiangzhou was Wang Ningzhi, who was a Buddhist. Under him, more than eighty people, including foreign and domestic monks, were brought together to translate the Buddhist Sutras. Tao Yuanming joined their gatherings and was a good friend of Great Master Hui Yuan, but he did not formally take refuge in Buddhism. He merely conversed with those high monks and literati and discussed points of Buddhist doctrine and metaphysics with them. In fact, in the historical development of Chinese Buddhism, the Eastern Jin Dynasty was the time when Buddhism, a religion from India, and Chinese traditional metaphysical studies, blended together.
Although Tao Yuanming did not formally become a Buddhist, he expressed the profound Buddhist doctrine of emptiness in his poems. Last time, I quoted two lines of his: "Life is like an illusion; all returns to emptiness." Now I want to cite another collection of poems, "Shape, Shadow, and Spirit," which contains three poems.
I mentioned last time that Tao Yuanming is the most influential of Chinese poets. Most poets, being inspired by sights, write down their feelings when they see certain things. For example, when Lord Li of the Kingdom of Southern Tang read the words, "When will the spring flowers and autumn moon come to an end?" he thought, "How much do we know about the events of the past?" In fact, Lord Li was a Buddhist as well. From this we can see that most poems express feelings triggered by what the poets see and experience. They convey the joys of reunion and the sorrows of separation, the inspirations of spring and the gloom of autumn, and so on. But Tao Yuanming's poems, for the most part, are not like ordinary poems that simply express the emotions of the moment.
Tao Yuanming was a most thoughtful poet. In "Shape, Shade and Spirit," he reflects on many critical issues of life. Life is so short; what is the purpose, value, and meaning of our brief existence? For some people, the meaning of life is limited to their physical existence. Such people are merely walking corpses; their bodies are nothing but bags for holding wine and rice. Their goal in life is to pursue sensual pleasures.
To be continued