Xiyi Chen, whose name was Tuan (fl. 989), was a Taoist hermit who lived during the end of the Five Dynasties and the beginning of the Song Dynasty. His other names were Tu Nan and Fuyaozi. He was a native of Bo County of Anhui Province. After failing the imperial examinations as a youth, he resolved to transcend the world. His poem "Becoming a Hermit" reads, "For ten years I roamed in the world. But the green mountains were always in the back of my mind. The glory of holding a high position cannot compare to the pleasure of living in leisure. The noble life behind the 'red door' is not as comfortable as the simple life. In sorrow I behold those who guard their lord with spear and sword. In boredom I listen to the alluring songs that intoxicate. Carrying my old books, I return to my old retreat. With the wild flowers and the chirping of the birds, spring is just as charming." Thus he became a hermit at Mount Wudang, regulating his breath and eating natural foods for twenty years. Later he dwelled at Hua Mountain. He studied the Zhouyi (Book of Change of the Zhou Dynasty) intensively, and wrote the Diagram of the Absolute and the Diagram of the Beginning of Existence. His theories were further carried on and developed by Dunyi Zhou and Kangjie Zhao and had a great influence on the Neo-Confucianism of the Song Dynasty. Song Emperor Taizong thought highly of him and conferred upon him the title, Lord Xiyi.
The Essay on Mind and Appearance is his immortal work. It takes as its theme, "The mind is the source of the appearance. Examine the mind and you shall naturally see the good and evil. The mind expresses itself through activity. Observe a person's actions, and you will be able to know what disasters or blessings will befall him." The essay expounds the theory of mind and appearance and its practical application. It lists the omens of fortune and misfortune, and the signs of long and short life and nobility and lowly status. It is filled with mottos for how to live and get along with people, which are actually timeless laws. At the end, it exhorts people, "Recognize what is good and stick to it, and everything will become better and better; recognize what is bad and avoid doing it, and calamities will turn into blessings." Readers can use this essay to examine and cultivate their own minds, and to help them refrain from evil. It can also help them to select good friends, to know how to judge people, and to draw near virtuous people and stay away from immoral people. This book can definitely help us to cultivate our minds, amass virtue, and change our fates.
The Buddhadharma maintains that a person's body is brought into being by causes he planted in the past combined with the causal conditions of his parents in the present life. It is called a "retribution body" or "karmic retribution body", because it comes to undergo the retributions of good and evil karma. A person's looks, his life span, and his social status and level of wealth are part of his retribution proper. The society around him, his family environment, his relatives and children, and the comforts that he enjoys are part of his dependent retribution. The dependent retribution accords with the retribution proper. If his retribution proper is to be blessed, his dependent retribution will also be blessed and full. If his retribution proper is to lack blessings, his dependent retribution will also be poor and inferior. From this we know that appearance depends on the mind. A good heart engenders an attractive appearance. If you wish to have a handsome appearance, you must cultivate a wholesome mind. As it is said in Confucianism, "What is inside will certainly be revealed outside." "If one is full (of virtue) within, there will be radiance without." "If one's heart is righteous, one's eyes will be bright. If one's heart is not righteous, one's eyes will be dim." These testify to the principle that appearance depends on the mind.
The Buddhist outlook differs, however, from the popular idea of fatalism, which says that people's looks, social status, and life span are cast in iron and cannot be changed. Buddhism teaches that the retribution proper and dependent retribution that we receive in this life are not conferred by Heaven or God; rather, they are the fruit of the causes we ourselves have planted. We create good and evil karma with our own minds, and we bring the retributions of blessings and calamities upon ourselves. As a Sutra says, "If you want to know the (karmic) seeds you planted in past lives, you are reaping the fruits of them in this life. If you want to know what fruits you will reap in lives to come, you are planting the seeds for them now." Thus we are constantly receiving retributions and constantly planting karmic causes. All we have to do is change the seeds we plant, and our retributions will be changed. The place to effect the change is right in our minds, for our minds can turn karma around. Thus, our appearance changes according to our minds.
Buddhism explains the source of our physical appearance and our fate, but does not advocate that we visit physiognomists, diviners, or fortune tellers, for that would be to work on the branches and overlook the root and would be a futile effort. Nowadays many people believe in what physiognomists and fortune tellers tell them about their future and their fate. They don't realize that they should examine, correct, and cultivate themselves. If they are told that they have blessed features, they consider themselves lucky and indulge their desires. If they are told that they have unlucky features, they become panicked and disheartened. Actually, they only make themselves upset and nothing good comes out of it.
To be continued