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Effort and Destiny

Effort said to Destiny:

I have purposely avoided the familiar modern terms, Fate and Free will, which might seem to furnish the best equivalent to li and ming. Li is the ordinary word for 'strength' or 'force,' and here indicates human effort exerted in some definite direction (the German 'streben') as opposed to the blind and unconscious workings of Nature or Tao.

'Your achievements are not equal to mine.' 'Pray what do you achieve in the working of things,' replied Destiny, 'that you would compare yourself With me? 'Why,' said Effort, 'the length of man's life, his measure of success, his rank, and his wealth, are all things which I have the power to determine.' To this, Destiny made reply: 'P'êng Tsu's wisdom did not exceed that of Yao and Shun, yet he lived to the age of eight hundred. Yen Yüan's ability was not inferior to that of the average man, yet he died at the early age of thirty-two. The virtue of Confucius was not less than that of the feudal princes, yet he was reduced to sore straits between Ch'ên and Ts'ai.

See The Sayings of Confucius, p. 115.

{p. 91}

The conduct of Chou, of the Yin dynasty, did not surpass that of the Three Men of Virtue, yet he occupied a kingly throne.

Wei Tzu, Chi Tzu and Pi Kan were all relatives of Chou Hsin, by whose orders the last-named was disembowelled.

Chi Cha would not accept the overlordship of Wu, while T'ien Hêng usurped sole power in Ch'i. Po I and Shu. Ch'i starved to death at Shou-yang, while Chi Shih waxed rich at Chan-ch'in. If these results were compassed by your efforts, how is it that you allotted long life to P'êng Tsu and an untimely death to Yen Yüan; that you awarded discomfiture to the sage and success to the impious, humiliation to the wise man and high honours to the fool, poverty to the good and wealth to the wicked? 'If, as you say,' rejoined Effort, 'I have really no control over events, is it not, then, owing to your management that things turn out as they do? Destiny replied: 'The very name "Destiny"

Something already immutably fixed.

shows that there can be no question of management in the case. When the way is straight, I push on; when it is crooked, I put up with it. Old age and early death, failure and success, high rank and humble station, riches and poverty--all these come naturally and of themselves. How can I know anything about them?

'Being what it is, without knowing why--that is the

{p. 91}

meaning of Destiny. What room is there for management here?

*         *         *

Yang Chu had a friend called Chi Liang, who fell ill. In seven days' time his illness had become very grave; medical aid was summoned, and his sons stood weeping round his bed. Chi Liang said to Yang Chu: 'Such excess of emotion shows my children to be degenerate. Will you kindly sing them something which will enlighten their minds? Yang Chu then chanted the following words:

'How can men be aware of things outside God's ken? Over misfortune man has no control, and can look for no help from God. Have doctors and wizards this knowledge that you and I have not?

The sons, however, did not understand, and finally called in three physicians, Dr Chiao, Dr Yü and Dr Lu. They all diagnosed his complaint; and Dr Chiao delivered his opinion first: 'The hot and cold elements of your body,' he said to Chi Liang, 'are not in harmonious accord, and the impermeable and infundibular parts are mutually disproportionate. The origin of your malady is traceable to disordered appetites, and to the dissipation of your vital essence through worry and care. Neither God nor devil is to blame. Although the illness is grave, it is amenable to treatment.' Chi Liang said: 'You are only one of the common ruck,' and speedily got rid of him. {p. 93} Then Dr Yü came forward and said: 'You were born with too little nervous force, and were too freely fed with mother's milk. Your illness is not one that has developed in a matter of twenty-four hours; the causes which have led up to it are of gradual growth. It is incurable.' Chi Liang replied: 'You are a good doctor,' and told them to give him some food. Lastly, Dr Lu said: 'Your illness is attributable neither to God, nor to man, nor to the agency of spirits. It was already fore-ordained in the mind of Providence when you were endowed with this bodily form at birth. What possible good can herbs and drugs do you? 'You are a heaven-born physician indeed!' cried Chi Liang; and he sent him away laden with presents.

Not long after, his illness disappeared of itself.

*         *         *

Duke Ching of Ch'i was travelling across the northern flank of the Ox-mountain in the direction of the capital. Gazing at the view before him, he burst into a flood of tears, exclaiming: 'What a lovely scene! How verdant and luxuriantly wooded! To think that some day I must die and leave my kingdom, passing away like running water! If only there were no such things as death, nothing should induce me to stir from this spot.' Two of the Ministers in attendance on the Duke, taking their cue from him, also began to weep, saying: 'We, who are dependent on your Highness's bounty, whose food is of

{p. 94}

an inferior sort, who have to ride on broken-down hacks or in creaking carts--even we do not want to die. How much less our sovereign liege!'

Yen Tzu, meanwhile, was standing by, with a broad smile on his face. The Duke wiped away his tears and, looking at him, said: 'To-day I am stricken with grief on my journey, and both K'ung and Chü mingle their tears with mine. How is it that you alone can smile? Yen Tzu replied: 'If the worthy ruler were to remain in perpetual possession of his realm, Duke T'ai and Duke Huan would still be exercising their sway. If the bold ruler were to remain in perpetual possession, Duke Chuang and Duke Ling would still be ruling the land. But if all these rulers were now in possession, where would your Highness be? Why, standing in the furrowed fields, clad in coir cape and hat!

The ordinary garb of a Chinese peasant in wet weather.

Condemned to a hard life on earth, you would have had no time, I warrant, for brooding over death. Again, how did you yourself come to occupy this throne? By a series of successive reigns and removals, until at last your turn came. And are you alone going to weep and lament over this order of things? That is pure selfishness. it was the sight of these two objects--a self-centred prince and his fawning attendants--that set me quietly laughing to myself just now.'

Duke Ching felt much ashamed. Raising his goblet,

{p. 95}

he fined himself one cup, and his obsequious courtiers two cups of wine apiece.

*         *         *

There was once a man, Tung-mên Wu of Wei, who when his son died testified no grief. His house-steward said to him: 'The love you bore your son could hardly be equalled by that of any other parent. Why, then, do you not mourn for him now that he is dead? 'There was a time,' replied Tung-mên Wu, 'when I had no son, yet I never had occasion to grieve on that account. Now that my son is dead, I am only in the same condition as I was before my son was born. What reason have I, then, to mourn?

There is a story of Plutarch consoling his wife in exactly similar terms after the death of their daughter.

The husbandman takes his measures according to the season, the trader occupies himself with gain, the craftsman strives to master his art, the official pursues power. Here we have the operation of human forces.

Or 'effort'. See p. 97.

But the husbandman has seasons of rain and seasons of drought, the trader meets with gains and losses, the craftsman experiences both failure and success, the official finds opportunities or the reverse. Here we see the working of Destiny.

{p. 96}

Next: Book VII: Causality