The Concept of “Being Content with Poverty and Happily Pursuing the Way” (Part 2)
（维基百科）The Concept of “Being Content with Poverty and Happily Pursuing the Way” (Part 2)
Liu Yuxi’s “This House, albeit Humble, is Fragrant Because of My Virtues”
Liu Yuxi (772 – 842 AD) of the Tang Dynasty wrote the famous article “Epigraph for a Humble House,” which stated, “A mountain is famous not for its height but for the deities in it. A lake is soulful not for its depth but for the dragons in it. This house, albeit humble, is fragrant because of my virtues. Moss has covered the steps green; grass color filled up the window view. Confabbing here are all erudite men, the contacts never lack knowledge. Here I can play my plain zither and read my Diamond Sutra. I am neither annoyed by the noises of string and flute instruments, nor exhausted by working on government affairs. My house is like Zhuge Liang’s Thatched Cottage in Nanyang, or Ziyun’s Pavilion in Western Shu. Just as what Confucius had said, ‘Where would the humbleness be then?’”
This article contains less than one hundred characters, but it implicitly depicts the author’s aspiration of being content with poverty and happily pursuing the Way, as well as his independent character of not being bogged down with worldly affairs.
How could the author feel happy while living in such a humble house without feeling its humbleness? This is because Liu Yuxi felt that as long as he could improve his realm of morality, his house would “be fragrant because of my virtues.” Therefore, even though he lived in a humble house, he felt “where would the humbleness be then?”
The author, in the beginning of his article, used the analogies of mountains with deities and lakes with dragons to describe his humble house, which very naturally reflects the scheme of the article that led into the main point. The colorful details like the moss, green grass, plain zither, and Diamond Sutra make the humble house no longer humble, but instead very glamorous and unique. With the description of the friends he interacted with, his aspiration, his elegant playing of zither, and his dedicated reading of the Buddhist sutra, the author felt that his humble house was like Zhuge Liang’s Thatched Cottage in Nanyang or Yang Ziyun’s Pavilion in Western Shu, which, albeit simple and humble, are remembered by future generations for the great aspirations of their owners.
The author ended its article with “Just as Confucius said, ‘Where would be the humbleness?’” This was quoted from The Confucian Analects
– Zi Han: “The Master [Confucius] wanted to go to live in the nine wild tribes of the east. Someone said, ‘Those places are very raw and undeveloped. How could you live there?’ The Master said, ‘If a nobleman goes to live there, where would be the humbleness then?’” This shows that Liu, the owner of the “humble house” also had the aspirations of the ancient sages. Although the author was in exile because of his having enraged the nobility, he would never change his aspiration. How could such a humble house be unworthy for me to write an epigraph for it?
Zhou Dunyi’s “Ode to Lotus”
Zhou Dunyi (1017 – 1073 AD) of the Northern Song Dynasty held governmental positions for several dozens of years. He was honest and upright. He viewed fame and profit very lightly and took nobility and richness as nothing. Confucius and Yan Hui were his models as he governed his region with benevolence. In his senior years, he resigned from his position and went to live a life as a common folk. He established the Lianxi School under the Lotus Cliff of Lu Mountain. People called him Mr. Lianxi. He loved the lotus flower very much. He made a pond and planted lotus flowers inside it. He called the pond “Lotus Lover Pond.” About this pond, he wrote the legendary prose of “Ode to Lotus.” He used the nature of the lotus flower to symbolize his character of not flattering nobility and of always maintaining his true character.
Zhou wrote, “I only love the lotus because it grows out of mud without being polluted by it. Bathed in clean water, it is pure and not lascivious. It is hollow inside but upright outside and does not cling nor branch. Its subtle fragrance reaches far and wide. It stands erect in water, upright and graceful. It can only be appreciated from afar but not touched blasphemously." He saw the lotus flower as the gentleman in the flower world. He endowed the lotus flower with the significance of symbolizing the virtues of a gentleman.
“Growing out of mud without being polluted by it” reflects the character of a gentleman, who, even in a filthy environment, does not drift along with the dirty current. “Bathed in clean water, it is pure and not lascivious” symbolizes a gentleman’s dignity, straightness, not seeking popularity, and not showing off. “It is hollow inside but upright outside and does not cling nor branch” represents a gentleman’s upright, unyielding, open, and forgiving character. “Its subtle fragrance reaches far and wide. It stands erect in water, upright and graceful.” denotes a gentleman’s rectifying power and the fragrance of his good virtues. “It can only be appreciated from afar but not touched blasphemously” embodies a gentleman’s great aspiration, pure behavior, and graceful demeanor, which makes people revere him and dare not to blaspheme him.
The lotus does not drift along with the current. The lotus’ beauty lies in its nobleness, purity, and sacrifice. Comparing man to the lotus flower, Zhou emphasized the character of a man, who should have a steadfast faith in truth and morality and should keep himself pure and from being polluted. Reading “Ode to Lotus” reminds people to muster their spiritual power to pursue righteousness and remove all filth.