What did Tao Yuanming think about while he was drinking? He thought about how "Prosperity and decline are impermanent, each reciprocating the other, " and "Were it not for those individuals who chose poverty so as to preserve their integrity, / What in history would be worth passing down to future generations? " He reflected upon the moral integrity of "a superior person who chooses poverty." Would those drunkards passed out on the street think of these matters? Why was Tao Yuanming able to contemplate so many of life's problems? Was it not his drinking that evoked his meditations on life?
Thus, the word "wine" in his line, "They have wine, yet do not drink, " does not refer to the alcoholic beverage itself, but rather to an agent that inspired his thinking process. I quoted Su Shi's comments on this series of poems "On Drinking" before. He said: Why was Tao Yuanming able to consider so many of life's issues while he was drinking? In fact, the wine served as the medium, the agent, for his contemplations. Furthermore, we discussed earlier the intentions of those people who gave him the wine.
Other than these reasons, I believe that Tao Yuanming used wine as a means of self-relaxation and self-liberation. His drinking suppressed his inhibitions and allowed his wishes and thoughts to emerge freely, so that he was able to discover something in his own mind and soul.
As we know, life is short. As a result, people are always stressed out. Worldly success, failure, gain, loss, merit, demerit, favor, and disfavor are constant afflictions in our life; they exhaust us and wear us out. However, drinking helps one to release the tension and drop one's mental burdens, providing a sense of liberation and relaxation. I believe that's the reason Tao Yuanming drank. That's why he said: "They have wine, yet do not drink, caring only about their worldly reputation. "
It was through drinking that Tao gained a sense of freedom and happiness, and within that he gained a kind of awareness and consolation. Wine had that kind of effect on Tao Yuanming, and so he wrote about wine and drinking. There are people, however, who cannot make their will free and feel a sense of liberation. This is the meaning behind the line, “They have wine, yet do not drink, caring only about their worldly reputation.”
Next, he said, "We cherish the body, because we possess it for a lifetime. " Tao comments that everyone prizes his own body, and it is precisely this body that generates so many influences, questions, and relationships in the world. "We cherish the body, because we possess it for a lifetime." He said why do we prize our body so? Is it not because we possess this physical form for a lifetime? How long can we keep it?
"But how long can a lifetime last? It passes as swiftly as a lightning flash. " 'Swift' means rapid, very fast. Our body has value for the several decades of our life. There is an old saying: "Since ancient times, few have lived to be seventy. " Life passes quickly, disappearing as rapidly as lightning in the sky. There are two levels of meaning in the line: "But how long can a lifetime last? It passes as swiftly as a lightning flash. " First of all, the value of our life is that we are alive. But there's also a hopeless, even sorrowful, aspect—our life is so ephemeral, as empty and futile as a lightning flash. Each of us should be aware of and ponder this point.
According to the Buddhist teachings, whatever you have done in your lifetime, whatever you leave behind, whatever influences you have had on the world and the relationships you have had are subject to the law of cause and effect. You should not concentrate on the gain, loss, fame, wealth, honor, or disgrace--all of which are void and worthless.
At the same time, you should also recognize the value of your life. Every single thought, every single consideration and action generates ceaseless influences in the universe. As the Flower Adornment Sutra says: "Multiple reflections appear in multiple mirrors. " It is as if our images are mutually reflected in mirrors all around us. We should not think that as an individual, a single sentence or a single thought of ours is of no consequence. It might just cause a chain reaction of mutual influence. Thus, what we do in our life can have great significance and is very worthy of our attention. We should not casually idle our lives away. On the other hand, we should not place too much importance on temporary gains or losses with regard to fame, wealth, and status.
To be continued