Viewed from this perspective, Buddhism and Confucianism are quite different. However, at the end of this poem, you will find that there is something similar between Buddhism and Confucianism, which is that whether retribution and causes and effect exist in this life or future lives, you should uphold a kind of virtue. Now, let's see how Tao Yuanming moved from the topic of retribution for good and evil deeds to that of maintaining intrin¬sic values. He said, "It is said that accumulated good brings a reward." He bluntly began this poem by raising the issue of retri¬bution for good or evil deeds. He said: "People always say that you will receive good retributions for your good deeds." Who said so? The people and books of ancient times. This ancient saying has been widely circulated: "A family that does many good deeds will have blessings to spare; a family that does many evil deeds will undergo plenty of misfortunes." If a family constantly does good deeds, it will enjoy abundant fortune; and one that does evil deeds often will suffer misfortunes.
This idea has been around for a long time in Chinese society. Not only was known among the people of old, it was recorded in ancient texts. Thus Tao Yuanming begins by bringing up a reputable, age-old saying based on ancient books and folk wisdom: "It is said that accumulated good brings a reward." In the next line, Tao questions this statement: If good deeds do reap rewards, how come "Yi and Shu starved at West Mountain?"
Who were Yi and Shu? This is an allusion to a story from Chi¬nese history. Yi refers to a man named Boyi. Shu refers to a man named Shuqi. Boyi and Shuqi were the first and third sons of the king of Guzhu (Lonely Bamboo), a feudal state in ancient China near the end of the Shang dynasty. The king of Guzhu favored his youngest son, Shuqi, and wanted him to inherit the throne. However, according to ancient Chinese feudal customs, he was expected to pass the royal throne to his first son, Boyi.
At that time, Boyi reflected, "Father wants my younger brother to inherit the throne, but he will be torn between propriety and his true wishes if I stay here. If Father follows the rules of propriety and makes me his heir, I will feel guilty for having gone against
his wishes." Thus, out of deep concern for his father's feelings and wishes, and more importantly, out of loyalty to his father, Boyi fled the kingdom. He figured that, without his first son around, his father could officially make Shuqi heir to the throne.
However, Boyi's younger brother Shuqi was also a decent and righteous man. He also reckoned, "My older brother Boyi should inherit the throne, but now, he has departed so that Father's wish to grant the throne to me may be fulfilled. If I accept this situation and inherit the throne, I will not have been a righteous man." Shuqi also fled, so that he would not have to blame himself for being unrighteous. Thus, both Boyi, who did not want to be an unfilial son, and Shuqi, who did not want to be an unethical brother, ran away from home.
Where did they go? They heard that among the feudal lords in the west, there was a leader named Ji Chang who had good character, governed honestly, and made his people happy. Boyi and Shuqi went to that feudal lord, Ji Chang, who later became King Wen of the Zhou Dynasty. King Wen's son, Ji Fa, inherited the throne and was later given the title King Wu. The reigning King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty was notorious in Chinese history for his wickedness. King Wu reasoned that since King Zhou was so licentious and corrupt, he would be justified in attacking King Zhou on behalf of the people. He thereupon dispatched his troops.
Boyi and Shuqi were there. Upon hearing the news about King Wu attacking King Zhou, they went together to kneel before King Wu's horse and remonstrate with him. They said, "For a minister to assassinate his king is unprincipled and should not be done." King Wu did not accept their remonstration and went ahead to attack King Zhou. As expected, King Zhou was defeated and killed, and King Wu became the emperor.
After King Wu came to power, Boyi and Shuqi proclaimed, "King Wu, as a minister who assassinated his king, is an disloyal and unrighteous man. We cannot work as ministers for an emperor lacking in loyalty, righteousness, and virtue. We are ashamed to accepted an emolument from him." They decided not to consume the food of Zhou. Here "food" represents the benefits or emolument of a minister. Thus they both went into seclusion on West Mountain, which is also named Shouyang Mountain. The story of Boyi and Shuqi refusing to eat the food of Zhou and retreating to Mount Shouyang is recorded in "The Biography of Boyi" in the Book of History.
To be continued