Wen Tianxiang's surname was Wen and his written name was Song Rui. He was also called Wen Shan. He was a native of Jishui, in the province of Jiangxi in Southern Song. During the reign of Emperor Li of the Song dynasty, he was the top scholar to take the highest imperial examinations. He later became governor of Ganzhou. When the Yuan soldiers invaded the country from the North, he liquidated his family assets and recruited men of talent to resist the Yuan army. Acting upon imperial orders, he entered the Yuan barracks to negotiate peace, but was unreasonably detained and held in custody. When they were passing through Zhenjiang, he escaped from captivity in the night, and passed through many places before reaching Wenzhou. King Yi summoned him to Fuzhou to be the Prime Minister. When King Wei came to power, he was appointed Trusted Minister to the Nation. He launched a counterattack against the Yuan soldiers, but unfortunately was captured and held in a dungeon at Yanjing. He did not yield to force, nor was he tempted by fame and wealth. He faced death with an unflinching mind, looking upon it as going home. Three years later, in a spirit of benevolence born of magnanimity, before his execution, he wrote ‘The Song of Proper Energy' to express his noble ideals and Emperor Shi of the Yuan dynasty praised him as a true hero. He once said, “What man was ever immune from death? Let me but leave a loyal heart shining in the pages of history.” These are magnificent verses indeed! His legacy is passed down through the generations. He is China's paragon, a model for us to learn from.
Reflections in the Water-Mirror, besides recording the lives and deeds of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, also includes the lives of different kinds of people such as monastics, laypeople, and good and evil people of the past and present. Most of them are people of the past, but there are also a few contemporary figures. Since people might have forgotten about the ancients who lived long ago, we have mentioned some of them so everyone can apply their lessons to the present. Also, since people may not be familiar with all the contemporary figures, we will also introduce some of them. Furthermore, since there are more laypeople in society, we will also mention the deeds of some laypeople, that we might learn from their life stories.
This book is written in the style of the Spring and Autumn Annals. In critiquing these individuals, we differentiate between good and evil. It is hoped that, in reviewing the different appearances, ideologies and actions of these people, we can learn from the good examples and take a warning from the bad examples, thereby gaining some benefit.
Prime Minister Wen's surname was Wen, and his name was Tianxiang. His written name was Song Rui and he was also called Wen Shan. He was a native of Jishui, in the province of Jiangxi in Southern Song. He was a handsome man with a striking appearance who had all the looks of a talented man. At the age of twenty, he entered the academy of classical learning at Bai Lu Zhou to study and was highly regarded by Jiang Wanli. During the time of Emperor Li of the Song dynasty, he placed first in the entry to the highest level of the imperial examinations and for the final round of examinations, he was pronounced the top scholar by the emperor himself. Unfortunately, his father passed away from illness, and he applied for leave to observe the three-year mourning period for his father. After the mourning period was up, he took up the post of Governor of Ganzhou.
At that time, the Yuan soldiers from the North launched an invasion against Southern Song. Soon, they had taken over several important garrison posts upstream of the Yangzi River. The capital at Lin'an was in danger of being vanquished and the situation was extremely critical. The imperial court appealed to all regions to send soldiers to defend the country. Upon receiving the summons, Wen Tianxiang immediately liquidated all his family assets and used them as military funds to recruit twenty thousand men of talent and integrity to form an army to resist the Yuan invaders.
However, the Prime Minister in power at that time was totally lacking in courage and foresight and only had his heart set on academic learning. As a result, he did not value or put Wen Tianxiang in an important position. It was not until the Yuan troops approached the capital that he became flustered and hastily deployed Wen Tianxiang to the capital. By that time, the imperial court was already in massive turmoil and the officials and generals were abandoning their posts in large numbers and fleeing for their lives. Although Wen Tianxiang strongly favored resisting the Yuan soldiers, the Prime Minister, the Emperor's father, and the Empress all wanted to negotiate for peace, and had already decided to surrender and sign the treaty of defeat.
At that crucial moment, the Prime Minister secretly sneaked away, leaving Wen Tianxiang to clear up the messy situation. In the face of danger, he obeyed imperial orders to assume the post of Prime Minister and to go to the barracks of the Yuan soldiers to negotiate the terms of surrender. However, the moment he stepped foot into the territory occupied by the Yuan troops, he was detained without reason and held in custody by them.
Confined in the Yuan barracks, Wen Tianxiang was not in the least bit intimidated by their force and power, and from the start to the end, he stood up to their arguments and was not swayed. The marshal of the Yuan troops greatly respected his awe-inspiring integrity and moral courage and very much wished that Wen Tianxiang would defect and serve him. As a result, Wen Tianxiang was taken up North and put in detention. When they reached Zhenjiang, he received the help of a few righteous men and escaped in the dark of the night. He then started an arduous and difficult two-year-long campaign to resist the Yuan invaders. He passed through many places, finally reaching Wen Zhou.
King Yi, the king at that time, summoned Wen Tianxiang to Fuzhou to serve as Prime Minister. When King Wei later ascended the throne, he appointed him as Trusted Minister to the Nation. This time, during a counteroffensive campaign against the Yuan forces, he was unfortunately captured by them once again.
Emperor Shi of the Yuan dynasty highly esteemed Wen Tianxiang for his integrity and moral courage and tried various means to coerce him into defecting and serving him. He had him locked up in a foul-smelling dark and damp dungeon in Yanjing in the hope that the adverse environment would erode his resistance. At the same time, he tried forcefully to persuade him into capitulating with offers of a high position and a handsome salary. But Wen Tianxiang remained unmoved by his show of power and force and was not tempted by his offers of fame and wealth. He faced death fearlessly, looking upon it as going home.
Three years later, Emperor Shi of Yuan again summoned Wen Tianxiang into his presence and tried to persuade him for the last time. On the strength of his rock-solid love and loyalty to his country, Wen Tianxiang remained steadfast and refused to give in. Filled with overwhelming regret, Emperor Shi had no choice but to order his death since he refused to surrender.
Facing death, Wen Tianxiang gave rise to a spirit of benevolence and calmly wrote out ‘The Song of Proper Energy' which has been lauded for generations, to express his heart's resolve. Upon reading it, Emperor Shi praised him unremittingly for being a true hero.
The last two phrases of ‘The Song of Proper Energy' have become very familiar to us all: “What man was ever immune from death? Let me but leave a loyal heart shining in the pages of history.” These are magnificent verses indeed! His spirit will last forever, passed down through the generations. He is China's paragon and an exemplary model for us.
Wen Tianxiang embodies the spirit of China. If everyone can emulate his example, no one would dare to invade China. Because modern Chinese cannot compare to the example of Wen Tianxiang, the world has become topsy-turvy; a nation no longer resembles a nation, families are no longer like families and people are not people anymore. Modern people resemble ghosts; they only want to benefit themselves, have insatiable greed, and do not know how to help others.
At the time when the Southern Song was facing its end, such a man of talent could appear. Now that it is the Age of the Dharma's Decline, as Buddhist disciples, we should pause to reflect: “Can I resolve to be an outstanding Buddhist disciple and raise the Banner of Proper Dharma in this Age of the Dharma's Decline?” If you can be sincere and determined, you can raise the Banner of Proper Dharma. And I can do likewise and so can others. But followers of Buddhism are all at different levels and are overly dependent on others. You think, “This is not my business.” And someone else also thinks, “This is none of my business.” Each person shifts the responsibility to someone else, just like the saying, “When lots of dragons are around, each relies on the others, and there's either a drought or a flood.” As a result, Buddhism declines day by day.
Wen Tianxiang is a good role model from whom we can learn many lessons. At the time when the Southern Song was facing imminent annihilation, he could remain steadfast in his righteousness and integrity. Why can't we be great loyal ministers, great supporters, or great Dharma protectors in Buddhism? Every good example that we see, not only the example of Wen Tianxiang, should cause us to reflect upon ourselves: “Can I follow the example of this person? Can I do something great for Buddhism?”
Someone might ask, “He wished to protect the Southern Song from annihilation, but he was unsuccessful in his attempt. What's there to learn from him?” Regardless of whether he was successful or not in the great task of protecting his country, there are many other things that we should take note of. Although he did not manage to save the Southern Song, his love for his country and his awe-inspiring righteousness remain forever. Furthermore, how do you know that we cannot turn the Age of the Dharma's Decline into the Proper Dharma Age?
As the saying goes, “If it's the Way go forward; if it's not the Way retreat. If it's right, follow it, and if it's evil correct it.” We are all Buddhist disciples; why can't we work hard for Buddhism with true and upright spirit, integrity and righteousness? After reading the life story of Wen Tianxiang, let us resolve to work hard and be unwavering Buddhist disciples, and do our best to propagate the Buddhadharma. Then we will not have been disciples of the Buddha in vain.
To be continued