Tao Yuanming once said: "My only regret is not having neighbors such as the two Zhong, nor a wife such as Lai's. I uphold a life of principle, but feel really lonely and guilty." In other words, "I am very sad that there are no people like Qiu Zhong and Yang Zhong among my neighbors, nor a woman like the wife of Lao Lai Zi in my home." Qiu Zhong and Yang Zhong were lofty-minded hermits in ancient China, who chose to lead a poor and pure life in solitude over working for the government. Lao Lai Zi's wife totally understood and supported her husband's virtues. It was said that Lao Lai Zi and his wife retreated to a very poor and pure life. Later on, the government invited Lao Lai Zi to be an official. While Lao Lai Zi was considering it, his wife immediately said, "Don't work for the government. I would rather live in poverty than have you work for that corrupt government."
Tao Yuanming lamented that he did not have a good wife like Lao Lai Zi's who could understand and support her husband's virtues. Even his relatives, good friends and neighbors could not understand him. All he could do was exclaim:
I uphold a life of principle, but feel really lonely and guilty.
'Uphold' indicates 'hold in one's heart.' "I chose this farming life with its profound ideals, but my friends and family don't understand me. 'Lonely' means all by oneself. He said, "I really feel alone and distressed."
I mentioned earlier that Tao Yuanming drank in his leisure time, but did not have a buddy with which to discuss the feelings and thoughts in his heart; therefore he could only write down his innermost sensations and thoughts. That's why his poems are so deeply thoughtful.
Now, what issue did he consider in the first poem? It was the most important issue, regarding his perspective on life. Most people in the world care about personal benefit and fame. Before they act, they always think: "What's in it for me?" Today, many people care little about righteousness and truth, but are concerned only about benefit, fame and wealth. They worry, "Will anyone admire me?" and "How can I become famous?"
Not too long ago, I met a few friends from Taiwan. They told me that there is a very popular saying in Taiwan now: "When a young man starts to work in the society, he should play a card." This is not a poker card or a mahjong card, but a name card-that is, they should make a name for themselves. They are eager to pursue fame. However, is such fame genuine? Tao Yuanming considered this issue: What is life ulti- mately about? Is it about winning and losing, about honor and disgrace?
Tao Yuanming said: "Decline and prosperity are imper manent, each reciprocating the other." Don't think that you are in good shape today; you should know that you cannot count on the current situation. It is analogous to the stock market: you may strike it rich one day and go bankrupt the next. Therefore Tao said:
Decline and prosperity are imper- manent.
'Decline' refers to deterioration; 'prosperity' indicates growth. Tao Yuanming chose adjectives usually used to describe plants to allude to human situations. As a matter of fact, not only do plants bloom, wither, flourish and decay at certain times, humans also have times of blossoming, withering, flourishing, and decaying. When do we fail? When do we succeed? Who succeeds and who fails? Tao Yuanming believed all such things to be ephemeral and unfixed.
For example, the Zhang family does not always prosper, nor is the Lee family doomed to fail. Things do not happen that way. No one prospers or declines forever. That is ex- pressed in the next line:
"each reciprocating the other." 'Each' here indicates decline and prosperity. 'Geng' (reciprocate) should pronounced in the fourth tone instead of the first, so that it means reciprocal exchange.
'Reciprocate' also connotes a mutual unity: not only do decline and prosperity alternate and replace each other, but the seed of prosperity may be sown during decline, and the cause of decay may be planted in times of glory.
An ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Zi, said, "Misfortune is the basis of fortune; fortune is the cause of misfortune." That is, fortune and misfortune are interdependent. There is another Chinese proverb, "The elder man at the frontier lost his horse. Who can know whether it is not his fortune?" Some seemingly unfortunate events may actually be the source of fortune; you might obtain blessings through bad luck. Some ostensibly fortunate events actually bear the cause of disaster.
The ancient Chinese often said, "One grows in anxiety and hardship; one dies in laxness and negligence." Don't worry about the anxieties and difficulties of the present; they can push you to work harder, until you eventually achieve prosperity. On other hand, a seemingly enjoyable life of fun and ease only encourages laziness, laxness, luxury, and lust, eventually leading one to failure.
To be continued