Stories from Ancient China: Lu Mengzheng Urges People to "Follow Their Fate"

In the divine culture, it is believed that a person's fate is determined by heaven, and that a person needs to respect heaven and follow his or her own fate. Only if the person does good deeds and accumulates virtue will he or she be rewarded with a good life. The famous official Lu Mengzheng was an honest and tolerant person. He dared to say what was on his mind, was tolerant of challengers, and had a broad understanding. He served as prime minister through three generations of the empire. He wrote an article entitled Slum Long-Poem that described many famous instances in history in an effort to advise people that everything is controlled by heaven. All a person should do is to do his best and follow the will of heaven, and go along with the natural course of things. Fighting to gain self interest cannot change anything. It was said that he used the long poem to teach the prince, who was young and arrogant. After reading the poem, the prince modified his behavior and became much more modest. The prince later became Zhenzong Emperor. The following is a translation of the Slum Long-Poem:

"The blue sky can suddenly turn stormy, and a person's luck can change abruptly. With hundreds of legs, a centipede cannot overrun a snake. With a pair of powerful wings, a rooster cannot out-fly a duck. A horse can run a thousand miles, but it has to be guided by its rider. A person has mile-high ambition, but without good luck, he will not achieve anything. It is said that a person should not give up his morals for riches, nor should he alter his will when he is poor. Confucius could write wonderful articles, but he was once stranded in Chen Country. Jiang Taigong (the founding official for Zhou Dynasty) had great talent, but he once fished idly at the Wei River. Yan Yuan (a model student of Confucius') had great integrity, but was short-lived. Dao Tuo (a bandit in Confucius' time) was a scum, but had a long life. Emperor Yao was a great leader, but raised a worthless son. Gusou was stupid and stubborn, but his son was famous for his respect of his elders. Zhang Liang met Xiaohe and started serving as a mayor; otherwise, he would have been an ordinary citizen. Yanzi was less than five feet tall, but he became the prime minister of Qi country. While staying in a hut on a farm, Kong Ming became the chief of staff for Shuhan.

"Despite his almighty power, King of Chu still eventually committed suicide at Wu River. Even though he was a weak person, the King of Han conquered the whole country. Li Guang was so powerful that he shot and killed tigers with bows and arrows, but was never appointed an officer during his life. Feng Tang (a famous person under the Hanwen Emperor) had the greatest talent, but he never had a good opportunity to flourish. Han Xin was so poor that he could not afford three meals a day before his luck arrived. Then he became a high official and carried an astonishingly large seal. But finally he was murdered when his luck ran out.

"Some people are poor first and become rich later. Some people are weak when young and strong when old. There were intelligent people who tried to pass the examinations (for selecting learned people) all their lives, but failed. There were people who knew little, but passed the examination at a young age. Beautiful girls in the emperor's court became prostitutes when their luck ran out. Prostitutes were married to noble people when they were in luck. Young and pretty girls sometimes married ugly, old men. Handsome men sometimes married grotesque women. A powerful dragon, before finding its time to emerge, may swim along with fish and turtles in a little pond. A gentleman, missing his time, may serve under some lowly person. One needs to still maintain proper manners when one is poor, and one needs to still respect others when one is distressed. When luck is not in your favor, you should be patient and quietly do your duty. As long as you maintain your integrity, things will turn around. A true gentleman will not be bothered by a poor life. A lowly person is always lowly, even when he suddenly becomes rich.

"When the timing is not right for heaven, the sun and the moon will lose their radiance. When the timing is not right for the earth, the plants will not grow. When the timing is not right for the ocean, the water will be stormy. When the timing is not right for a person, he will have bad luck. People's luck and fortunes are all predetermined by their fate. Everyone wants to be rich and noble. But how will you get it if that is not your fate?

"I used to live in Luoyang City. I was so poor that I relied on the monks for food and slept in a slum. I did not have enough clothes to keep me warm and was always starving. No one liked me, and they all looked at me as if I were a bum. Now, I serve in the emperor's court as the highest official. I am above everyone in the country except for the emperor, himself. I can punish any official and I can order a citizen's immediate death. I have tons of beautiful silk and other nice clothes. My food is all delicacies. When I go out, warriors drive my carriage. When I am inside, beautiful girls serve me fine drinks. Everyone worships me. It is not because I am so capable. It is because of my fate, my luck, and my time.

"A person should not consume all of his luck for riches, nor should he be worried so much about poverty. Heaven and the earth are cyclical. It goes around and around."

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