Some people seek the "shade" of influence. They want fame and honor. I said earlier that life is very short. Many philosophies and religions have attempted to answer and resolve these problems about life. Thus, Christianity claims that there is eternal life. Buddhism says that there are future lives. However, Chinese Confucianism, not being a religion, does not talk about eternal life or future lives.
What then is the aim of Chinese Confucianism? Immortality. The Zuozhuan [Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals] says that our physical life is short, but our spirit and achievements can last for generations and bring tremendous benefit to posterity.
Therefore it is said, "The superior man cultivates virtue." 'Virtue' refers to good character. Next, one should cultivate and leave behind merit, and finally, cultivate and leave behind worthy words, that is, wholesome teachings and ideas. Therefore, the word "shade" refers to posthumous fame in Confucianism.
In memory of Li Bai, Du Fu wrote a poem "Dreaming of Li Bai," which says: "Fame that lasts for thousands of autumns and millions of years comes only after a lonely life." Even if you achieve renown that lasts for millions of years, where will you be then? Isn't it the result of a lonely life? So, 'shade' is also an illusion.
Tao Yuanming's "Exposition of the Spirit" says: "I always feel joyful in doing good deeds, but who will admire me?" This means it is certainly good to cultivate virtue, merit, and worthy words, for these things bring joy. But who will bestow praise and renown upon you? Therefore, isn't the fame, the "shade," which you seek nothing but an illusion?
We shall only introduce his ideas now, but we will discuss them in detail when we talk about his "Drinking Poems." In general, his point was that the purpose of our lives should be spiritual freedom, not the indulgence of physical desires or the pursuit of posthumous fame or others' praise.
Ordinary people either seek material and physical benefits, or else they seek fame. They want either 'shape' or 'shade'. If you are tied up by the "reins of fame and the rope of wealth," you are a slave to fame and wealth. Fame ties you up the way reins restrain a horse. If you pursue wealth, which is like a rope, you will be bound up and lose your spiritual freedom.
Thus, Tao Yuanming said in the end: "What you acquire should not be shape or shade, but spirit, that is, spiritual freedom." Once you attain the spiritual freedom, you won't be tied up by fame or wealth. You won't be restrained by fame or wealth, nor by birth and death.lt is just as his poem "Return" says, "I enjoy being what I am without any doubts."
Also, in "Exposition of the Spirit," he said, "Whatever is meant to end must end. Don't even give it a thought.." Whenever your life comes to its end, you simply let it go. You do not hanker after fame and wealth, nor do you cling to birth and death. You "don't even give it a thought"; don't be worried and anxious all by yourself. That was the meaning that Tao Yuanming pursued in life.
What I just said was to elaborate on what I said about Tao Yuanming's ideas in my last lecture. In general, Tao Yuanming's thinking was based on Chinese Confucianism, although he was also influenced by Taoism and Buddhism. We should know that Buddhism was very popular in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, especially in the area around Tao Yuanming's hometown.
Was Tao Yuanming ever a government official in his life? Here are few lines from his poem: "When I was young, I was strong and brave. I carried my sword and traveled alone. Who says that I have only been to nearby places? I have traveled from Zhangyi to Youzhou." He said that he was strong and brave when he was young. The word 'strong' implies both physical and spiritual strength. 'Brave' means he was courageous and gallant.
"I carried my sword and traveled alone." I always held my sword while I was traveling. "Who says that I have only been to nearby places? I have traveled from Zhangyi to Youzhou." He said that he had roamed far and wide, from Zhangyi (present-day Gansu Province, in northwest China) to Youzhou (present-day Hebei Province).
Do you think Tao Yuanming had actually been to the provinces of Gansu and Hebei? No. He never traveled that far. When we talked about the background of the Eastern Jin Dynasty last time, we learned that northern China was occupied by foreigners who set up sixteen little countries at that time. In other words, northern China was in the hands of foreigners. So Tao Yuanming had never been to the north side of the Yellow River.
To be continued