Yuan Liaofan’s contemplation …
My father passed away when I was young. My mother persuaded me to learn medicine instead of studying and passing the imperial examinations because it would be a good way to support myself while helping others. Perhaps, I could even become famous through my medical skills; thus fulfilling my father’s aspiration for me.
One day, I met an elderly but distinguished looking gentleman at the Compassionate Cloud Temple. He had a long beard and the look of a sage. I immediately paid my respects to him. He told me: “You are destined to be a government official. Next year, you will attain the rank of Learned First Level Scholar. Why are you not studying for the examination?” I told him the reason.
I asked the elderly gentleman for his name and where he was from. He replied: “My family name is Kong and I am from Yunnan province. I have inherited a very sacred and accurate text on astrology and prediction. The text, written by Shaozi, is called the Imperial Standard of Governing the World. By my calculations, I am supposed to pass it on to you and teach you how to use it.”
I invited Mr. Kong to my home and told my mother about him. She said to treat him well. As we tested Mr. Kong’s ability at prediction, we found that he was always correct whether it was for big events or for minor everyday matters. I became convinced of what he had said and again began to think of studying for the examinations. I consulted my cousin who recommended Mr. Yu Haigu, who was teaching at the home of a friend, and became Mr. Yu’s student.
Mr. Kong then did some more calculations for me. He told me that as a scholar, I would be placed fourteenth in the county examination, seventy-first in the regional examination, and ninth in the provincial examination. The following year, I placed exactly where Mr. Kong had said for all three examinations.
I then asked him to make predictions for my entire life. Mr. Kong’s calculations showed that I would pass such and such a test in such and such a year, the year that I would become a civil scholar, and the year that I would receive a promotion to become an Imperial Scholar. And lastly, I would be appointed as a magistrate in Sichuan province.
After holding that position for three and a half years, I would then retire and return home. I would die at the age of fifty-three, on the 14th day of the eighth month between one to three o’clock in the morning. Unfortunately, I would not have a son. I carefully recorded and remembered everything that he said.
The outcome of every examination turned out exactly as predicted.
(From A Commentary on Liaofan’s Four Lessons, Master Chin Kung)
In philosophical circles a favorite discussion is free will verses predetermination. Students often ask, “To what extent are we free to act in the world, but does it really matter because the future is already set in stone?”
Yuan Liaofan faced the same dilemma. Was his life already mapped out for him, just waiting for him to go through the motions, or could he significantly change the course of action (by studying medicine) and thereby alter his destiny?
From a spiritual standpoint, when we speak of predetermination or destiny, we are referring to events/opportunities that will present themselves to us in this lifetime – based on our past actions. These will come to us in due time.
How we chose to respond to these events is our exercise of free will.
Our destiny is usually a “mixed bag,” of good, bad, or indifferent events. We certainly want to celebrate and enjoy the good, while trying to change and improve on the bad.
The wise masters of China have given us the following recommendation for changing our destiny, toward a more rewarding and fulfilling life.
Strategy for improving ones destiny:
Recognize good actions from bad actions
Acknowledge and correct our faults
Practice good deeds, and cultivate virtue and humility
Meditation every day (to purify mind and body)
Recognizing good actions from bad are not always that easy. We certainly know that offering need and comfort to the sick is good, while causing suffering is bad. But sometimes an action is not so clear cut. It has been said that the affect of action on the universe is “unfathomable.”
So a good rule of thumb is – action that contributes to growth and fuller expression of our eternal nature is good. Recognize your personal habits (samskaras); enhance the positive ones and work to change the negative ones.
Acknowledge and correct our faults to avoid the misfortunes yet to come, and thereby accumulate good fate.
Change behavior, reasoning, and enhance the qualities of the heart. Accomplish exemplary deeds. Enhancing intrinsic qualities (love, goodness, and empathy) is within your control.
The Ten Good Deeds:
1. To support the practice of kindness.
2. To revere love and respect.
3. To help others succeed in practicing goodness.
4. To persuade others to practice kindness.
5. To help those in desperate need.
6. To develop public projects for the greater benefit of people.
7. To practice merits by giving wealth.
8. To protect and maintain proper teachings.
9. To respect elders.
10. To love and cherish all living things.
One meditation changes your destiny for the better, and alters the trends of time for all mankind. It accelerates personal growth, purifies the atmosphere, and lifts up all life.
We each have a personal, family, cultural, national, and human destiny.
“Know that destiny is the result of one’s own action acquired in another bodily existence. Hence the wise man calls one’s effort superior. So even adverse destiny is vanquished by the heroic efforts of people exerting themselves in auspicious actions”
William Shakespeare has said, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”
Taking action to improve our destiny is both advisable and admirable, but better yet is taking action to escape the field/influence of destiny itself (time, space and causation).
“The knots of the heart are broken, all doubts are cut asunder, and Karma and its effects cease
to exist when the Self is realized”
(Mundaka, II, 2, 9).
Self Realization is that sublime state of human existence (Being) where the field of temporal life has been completely transcended. The SELF remains an unaffected “witness” to the activities of life.
To change your destiny, live as though your past has been completely dissolved and your life is beginning today anew, starting with a clean slate. Meditate every day to loosen the shackles of ignorance, and forge your own future.