Saturday, 23 December 2017

WTY-6: Yuan Liaofan and His Altered Destiny

23 December 2017

In practice, there have been numerous stories about how people have changed/improved their fate mainly through their self-reforms. The most famous example in Chinese history is Yuan Liaofan (1533-1606), who proved himself to be a great accomplished yangsheng practitioner by living a much healthier, happier and longer life than his fate had believedly predestined.

This is the story, as retold in Zhang Xinyue's Creating Abundance (Vancouver: Poetry Pacific Press, 2015, translated by Yuan Changming)::

Yuan Liaofan (1533 – 1606), originally named Biao, then renamed Huang, styled Qingyuan, also Kunyi, or Yifu, first known as Xuehai, then as Liaofan, was born to a medical doctor’s family during the Ming Dynasty. His father died when Liaofan was a small boy. Later he gave up his studies to become a doctor as his mother hoped. When he passed by Ciyun Temple once on his way to collecting medical herbs, he met an old but young-looking man called Mr. Kong, who encouraged him to pursue a scholar-official career. Inviting the old man to his house, Liaofan reported this encounter to his mother, who told him to treat Mr. Kong well and asked the old man to tell his fortune.
According to Mr. Kong, Yuan Lianfan was to be ranked 14th as a county candidate, 71st as a prefecture candidate, and 9th as a provincial candidate before he could achieve some fame. He would become a lin-student or one of the second-best xiucai in a certain year, a gong-student or the best xiucai in another and eat certain amount of rice in that capacity. After his release from formal Confucian restrictions, he would be appointed Magistrate of some county in the Province of Sichuan in a certain year. Three and half years later, he should resign and return home. He would die without a son at the age of 53.
Yuan Liaofan took notes of all these details and remembered them well. It turned out that everything happened exactly as Mr. Kong had predicted, except that the amounts of rice Liaofan Yuan ate during his lin-studentship was not right: Mr. Kong had foretold that he would not become a gong-student until he consumed 91 dan plus 5 dou of rice, but somehow he was recognized as such by the provincial minister of education when he had finished eating only 71 dan. In private, Yuan Liaofan began to nurture some doubts about Mr. Kong’s predictions. However, Yuan Liaofan’s gong-studentship was later revoked by an acting minister. It was not until the grand examiner Qiuming Yin read his paper and became deeply impressed that Yuan Liaofan was made a gong-student again as a result of Yin’s intervention through an official order to the magistrate. During this dramatic period, Yuan Liaofan ate more rice which, added to what he had already consumed, made the total sum exactly 91 dan plus 5 dou.
These occurrences made Yuan Liaofan realize that everyone’s personal advancements and setbacks were predetermined. It was also preordained whether one was to be fortunate sooner or later. Given all this, he began to make light of everything and henceforth became downhearted.
In 1569, Yuan Liaofan went to Mount Xixia to visit the Zen Master Yungu, where the two sat still face to face, meditating with a clear mind for three days without ever falling asleep. Surprised as he was, Master Yungu asked, ‘How have you managed to sit still without any distractions for as long as three days?’ In reply, Yuan Liaofan told the master everything about his experiences predicted by Mr. Kong.
‘In Taijia’s words,’ said Master Yungu, ‘man could go against God’s will, but he must perforce fall if he chooses to.’ As pointed out in the Book of Poetry, ‘Always remain studious in harmony with the ordinances of God, and you will attain much happiness.’ Mr. Kong predicted that you could never pass the imperial examination, nor would you have a son. This is your fate, or the so-called ‘God’s will,’ something you can actually try to change. If you maintain a high moral integrity, perform more good deeds, and accumulate as many hidden virtues as possible, how can you not get what you deserve?’
Greatly inspired, Yuan Liaofan decided to perform 3,000 good deeds; he kept a record and subtracted one from it for every bad thing he happened to do.
During the imperial examination held in 1570, Yuan Liaofan should come out third as predicted by Mr. Kong, but he actually won first place and began to have a different fate. In 1581, he begot a son; five years later, he obtained his doctorate, and was appointed Magistrate of Baodi County. In 1593, he was promoted to be a section chief of the Imperial Defense Department. He died when he was more than 70 years old.