Mr. Zhang Liang’s surname was Zhang and his real name was Zifang. He was a native of the country of Han in the Qin Dynasty. His forefathers had for five generations served as Prime Ministers to Han. In his youth, he practiced martial arts and his character was heroic, bold and magnanimous. He studied in literature and military strategies and was extremely well-versed in them. When the country of Qin conquered the six countries, Zhang Liang, in his desire to avenge his country and family, plotted to assassinate the ruler of Qin. However the wrong carriage was ambushed and Zhang Liang, in order to escape impending disaster, fled and led a wandering life. At a bridge, he respectfully returned the shoes and hence obtained the teachings of the Venerable Yellow Stone. He was wise and resourceful, devising his battle strategies within a command tent and defeating his opponents for hundreds of miles, and was one of the three men of talent. He assisted Gao Zu in vanquishing Qin and restoring peace to Chu and established the Han Dynasty. When his great task was accomplished and fame won, he retired, untempted by wealth and honor. He went off to cultivate the Way, purifying his heart and emptying his desires. He is recognized from the past to the present within and beyond China to be a wise man who could adapt his actions to suit the circumstances.
“In memory” means to recollect, to contemplate the great and wise men of old and present, within and beyond China, be they sages or treacherous ministers who brought disaster upon the country and the masses. Zhang Liang was an exceptional figure of the Period of Warring States. At that time, there were five Overlords - the Lord Huan of Qi, Lord Wen of Jin, Lord Mu of Qin, Lord Xiang of Song and Lord Zhuang of Chu – and seven states– the countries of Qi, Chu, Qin, Yan, Han, Zhao and Wei. The seven states were at war with one another. Originally, six states had allied to stand up to Qin, but as the saying went, “The six states would be vanquished of themselves; Qin would be defeated of itself, and not by the six states.” There were a few men in the Qin Dynasty who excelled at using military troops, and one of them was Zhang Liang.
Zhang Liang lived during the Period of Warring States. In his youth, he practiced martial arts and studied the art of war and military strategies. His essays were especially well-written, and he was a man of letters as well as swordplay, being well-versed in both literature and battle strategies. At that time, Han had been vanquished by the stronger Qin. In order to seek revenge for his country and family, he hired a man of great strength to assassinate the ruler of Qin. However the ruler of Qin was very crafty and whenever he went out, he would call for a dozen similar carriages. Sometimes, he sat in the middle, sometimes in the front carriages, and sometimes in the back carriages. With his game of hide-and-seek, it was difficult for anyone to fathom which carriage he was actually in. As a result, the assassin did not manage to kill the ruler of Qin but instead was apprehended and under interrogation confessed that Zhang Liang was the mastermind. Hence Zhang Liang was forced to flee to a faraway place, where he assumed a false name and led a wandering life.
He went to many places to learn from exceptional men in order to study the art of war and military strategies. One night, at a bridge, there was an old man with bright piercing eyes, snowy-white hair and the countenance of a child. He made obeisance to the old man and requested that he transmit his abilities to him. The old man threw his shoes over the bridge and told Zhang Liang to retrieve them for him. He repeated the action three or four times, and each time Zhang Liang would kneel to return the shoes to him. Later the old man agreed to transmit three volumes of divine texts and instructed him to come back the next morning for them.
The second morning, Zhang Liang arrived even before the cock crowed, but the old man was already seated on the bridge. He said to Zhang Liang, “You had an appointment with an elder, but you were insincere.” He meant that Zhang Liang had sought something from him, an elder, and yet he reached the meeting place later than him, and hence showed that he was not sincere enough in his request. The following day, Zhang Liang arrived in the early morning between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., but found that the old man was earlier than him again. This time the old man reproached him for being lazy.
The third day, Zhang Liang remained kneeling the whole night and did not go home. The old man saw that he was truly sincere and transmitted the Dharma of the mind to him. He gave him the three volumes of divine texts. The first volume expounded on cultivating oneself to attain the Way, the second taught governing the country and establishing a peaceful reign and the third volume discussed military formations and positioning of armies.
Later Zhang Liang established the Han Dynasty, vanquished Qin and defeated the Overlord of Chu. When his great task was completed and his fame established, he receded from the public eye. He was a person who knew when to advance and when to retreat, and he was not deluded by wealth and honor. Hence from the past to the present, within and beyond China, he is recognized as a wise man who knows how to adapt his actions to suit the circumstances.
To be continued