Layman Yuan Liao Fan’s first name was Huang, his literary name was Kun Yi, and he was also known as Xue Hai. A native of Wujiang in Jiangsu of Ming Dynasty, he was erudite and talented, with high attainments in the fields of music, mathematics and sciences, irrigation works, military affairs and the like. At a young age, he imprudently believed in the words of a physiognomist that his fate was predestined. He thus let fate run its course. Accordingly he roamed about the mountains and rivers to enjoy the landscape, and he did not contend with anyone. When he traveled to Qi Xia Mountain, he came across Dhyana Master Yun Gu who gave him an instructional talk on principles and the import of pursuing good fortune and avoiding that which brings calamity. He subsequently renounced his wrong ideas and returned to the truth, and sincerely did good deeds to transform his destiny. The physiognomist’s former predictions—that he would pass away on the 14th day of the 8th month at the period of
Chou (the period from 1 to 3 a.m.) at the age of 53, that it would be difficult for him to succeed in the imperial examinations, and that he would have no descendants—did not come true. He requested the greatly virtuous ones of that time to transfer the merit of his good deeds. Later he became a
jin shi—a successful candidate in the highest imperial examinations, and further begot two sons,
Tian Ci (Bestowment of Heaven) and
Tian Qi (Inspiration of Heaven) respectively. He died at the age of seventy four, leaving behind a work called
The Four Teachings that was circulated in the country.
The Four Teachings consist of the study of creating one’s own life, the method of correcting one’s faults, the way of accruing goodness, and the efficacy of modesty. From then on it became the family instruction through the ages.
Today we talk about Layman Yuan Liao Fan. This layman was very foolish. Why? He believed in and resigned himself to fate. Why did he believe in and resign himself to fate? He was confused by an itinerant physiognomist and thus resigned himself to his fate. Since his father died an early death, his mother asked him to study and practice medicine, saying that doctors could make a living and further help the world and save lives. Being able to support oneself and save the lives of those around one was indeed a very good thing. Therefore, he studied medicine.
He lived during the Ming Dynasty and was from Wujiang of the Jiangsu Province. His name was Yuan Huang. Presumably when he was to be given a name, his mother was worried that he would become Huang Yuan doctor—a quack doctor. Therefore she gave him the name Yuan Huang, hoping that he would become a good doctor. His literary name was Kun Yi—kun being the earth and yi being deportment, meaning he could become a role model of heaven and earth. His alias was Xue Hai—to Emulate the Sea, meaning he would emulate the vastness of the sea. When he was young, he was very intelligent and yet very foolish. Why so? Once he studied the books he learned very fast and grasped [the principles] immediately; thus he was very intelligent. Nevertheless he did not have genuine wisdom and proper views. When he met an itinerant physiognomist, he came to believe in his fate. This itinerant physiognomist had the surname Kong. He had a ruddy, child-like complexion but white hair, which gave him the ethereal appearance of an immortal. His beard was also particularly long. When he saw Yuan Liao Fan, he told him, “You are someone on the path to becoming an official. You are meant to be an official. But you will not be a great official; you will only be a county magistrate. You should study the classics.” He thus abandoned his studies of medicine and instead studied the Confucian classics. “You will become a
xiu cai (one who passed the imperial examination at the county level) on a certain day of a certain month in a certain year, and your rank will be the 14th.” He could even foretell his rank as a
xiu cai. He continued telling him, “You will live to the age of 53, and on the 14th day of the 8th month, your life will come to an end. However, you will have no son. You can only be a county magistrate and cannot accomplish anything greater than that. This is the destiny of your entire life.”
His later experience validated the predictions as not being off by the slightest bit. He was predicted to attain the rank of
xiu cai on a certain date—and it turned out to be true. The predictions were fulfilled. Accordingly he took things calmly and remained unruffled; he had no more greed. At this time, he thought, “Oh, my fate has been predestined so I don’t have to seek for anything.” He truly had no greed, did not seek, did not pursue personal advantage and was not selfish. He also did not lie. He truly practiced the six guiding principles.
What did he do then? He still had to do something. Therefore, he traveled everywhere and roamed about the mountains and rivers for fun. He went to all the famous mountains and great rivers. In the end he wandered to Qi Xia Mountain in Nanjing. At that time, Dhyana Master Yun Gu, a highly reputed monk of that time, lived there. When he went there, Dhyana Master Yun Gu gave him a cushion. The two of them sat facing each other in meditation.
Once he sat down, he did not move at all. He was able to enter Samadhi. Since he had no false thoughts, he sat there unperturbed. He neither swayed nor opened his eyes to look around. He sat there like an old monk who had entered Samadhi. They sat for three days straight. Dhyana Master Yun Gu suddenly rose and looked at him with surprise, saying, “Oh! You are really great! Where did you learn such good skill? I have sat with you face to face for three days, and you haven’t even had a single false thought. You truly stand out above the common lot. You are truly remarkable. Whom did you learn from?” He said, “I know that one’s fate is set. Therefore I’m not greedy for anything. Everything has been prearranged and predestined.” Once Dhyana Master Yun Gu heard his words, he said, “Oh! I thought you were an extraordinary person who was above the common lot, a great hero. But actually you are just an ordinary person.”
This time Yuan Liao Fan’s curiosity was aroused. “Ah! Isn’t one’s fate predetermined? Isn’t fate inevitable?” Dhyana Master Yun Gu said, “Do you really think that one’s fate is inevitable? I see that you have been bound tightly by your own fate for the past few decades. You have not transcended your own fate in the least bit. If you are not an ordinary person, then what are you?” He continued, “You are an educated person; you should know the principle of pursuing good fortune and avoiding that which brings calamity in
The Book of Changes. Furthermore, Confucianism teaches that families that accrue goodness will definitely enjoy abundant blessings; families that accrue evil will definitely suffer excessive disasters. If one’s fate is inevitable, what need is there to pursue good fortune and avoid that which brings calamity?” At that, Yuan Liao Fan suddenly understood. He asked, “Then what should I do?” Master Yun Gu answered, “Do no evil and practice all good.” From that moment on, Yuan was transformed into a new man. Not only did his appearance change, even his five internal organs—his heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidney—were transformed and cleansed. From then on, he did no evil but practiced all good deeds.
What happened after he did these things? Ah! Master Kong’s previous predictions of Yuan’s destiny based on his facial features were no longer accurate. He realized that one could actually create one’s life. Ordinary people all believe in fate, but fate is not fixed. Mao Zedong supposedly was destined a very good chairman, but later he became confused and ruined his own fortune. Humans possess the knowledge of determining their own destinies. One establishes one’s own life and seeks one’s own blessings. Misfortunes and blessings do not come unless one brings them on. Everything is brought about by oneself. An exceptionally kind person can transcend his fate; an exceptionally evil person is also not bound by his fate. This is because from the time of birth, you should know your place and do your duty. If you do not do what is expected but instead do a tremendous amount of good deeds, you can transcend your own fate; likewise, if you do profoundly evil deeds, you transcend your own fate as well. Therefore, it is said: “There are two paths: the path of goodness and the path of evil. Each of us goes his own way; some cultivate goodness and some commit evil.”
From then on, Yuan wanted to create his own destiny. He first rendered meritorious service. He had to do three thousand meritorious deeds in order to earn a promotion. To do this, he kept a record of merits and faults. He recorded all his good and evil deeds throughout the day. In the evening, he burnt incense and reported all his good and bad deeds to the Jade Emperor. Hence, the predictions of his destiny were no longer accurate. Originally he was not meant to become a
jin shi [a successful candidate in the imperial examinations], and would not become an official of rank higher than that of a county magistrate. Later he became a
jin shi and a great official.
Since the predictions were no longer accurate, he now wanted to request a son. This was a rather big request. Therefore he had to do ten thousand good deeds, instead of three thousand. To do ten thousand good deeds was indeed very toilsome, and it would take a very long time to accomplish. He did not know when he could possibly finish his task. Although his wife also helped him out, he was still unable to finish the task. It so happened that the county that he governed had a lean harvest that year. Still, the people had to pay high taxes to the government. For example, they had to pay two taels of silver—which was worth a great deal at that time—for each piece of land. Faced with the poor harvest and high taxes that the government would not exempt the people from, Yuan decided to exempt the people from taxes himself. How did he do that? He reduced the amount of tax imposed on the people by half. Originally he was supposed to levy two taels of silver, now he only received one tael. In this way, tens of thousands of people benefited. As a result, he accomplished ten thousand meritorious deeds.
To be continued