This particular story of how a wise and renowned personality who had planned to save his second son but was thwarted by his own family may have something to do with fate.
The Daoists, Confucians and Buddhists can probably use it as a means to teach their respective doctrines since the story, taken from the Shiji, covers many aspects of life including that of loyalty, justice, diligence, philanthropy, wisdom, rule of law during the Spring and Autumn period, and why most of the time, children should listen carefully to their parents.
On the family aspect, there will be times when we think that our parents really do not know what they plan to do for their children. Being older and wiser, parents often do know especially where such plans are made based on knowing each of their children’s character and how they would deal with things.
Fathers can be said to be a bit more discerning than mothers in some ways, not because mothers are not wise, but mums perhaps more doting and/or soft hearted often easily succumb to the demands and antics of their children. (Think of the third line of Hexagram 37 Chia Ren / The Family)
Most loving parents keep their children’s best interests at heart. If you happen to have loving and wise parents, try not to be too headstrong having it your own way. Unless you have strong reasons or have prior experiences to believe otherwise, you have to learn to trust, if not revere, your parents’ judgment and actions.
Since Father’s day happens to fall this month, perhaps this entry on how an eminent ancient, Fan Li later known as Lord Chu of Tao tried his best to save a son of his but failed, is apt to show the times when a father knows best. Or was it fate? Read on.
“For more than twenty years Fan Li had toiled without sparing himself in the service of Gou Jian, advising the king till at last he overthrew Wu and avenged the disgrace of Kuaichi. When Gou Jian dispatched troops north of the River Huai to threaten Chi and Tsin, lorded it over all the central states and exhorted them to respect the House of Zhou, he became Lord Protector with Fan Li as his supreme commander.
After his return Fan Li realized that he was too prominent now for his own safety, for Gou Jian was a good companion in danger but not in time of peace. Sending a letter to Gou Jian, Fan Li gathered his jewels and precious possessions and together with his followers left Yue. Fan Li went by sea to Chi, where he changed his name and called himself Master Wine-skin. He worked hard with his sons as a farmer on the coast, and amassed considerable property. Soon he had tens of thousands. The men of Chi, knowing his great ability, made him their prime minister.
Then Fan Li said with a sigh, ‘For a private citizen to make thousands of pieces of gold or for an official to become a minister are the highest attainments of ordinary men; but no good can come of a long period of fame and nobility.’ So he returned the minister’s seal, gave all his money to his friends and neighbours and left quietly with his jewels to settle in Tao, a great commercial centre where a man could grow rich by trading. He now called himself Lord Chu of Tao. Here once more he and his sons tilled the soil, bred cattle, stored goods and sold them at the right season to make a ten percent profit. In a short time he had amassed tens of thousands again and his name was known throughout the land.
While in Tao, Lord Chu had a third son. When this boy grew up, the second son was arrested for murder in Chu.
‘It is right that a murderer should die,’ said Lord Chu. ‘But I have heard that the son of a wealthy family need not die on the execution ground.’ He ordered his youngest boy to go and make inquiries, packing one thousand yi of gold in sacks and loading these on an ox-cart. But as he was sending the young man off, his eldest son insisted on going instead.
When Lord Chu would not agree, his first-born said, ‘The eldest son of a family is the guardian of the house. Now my brother is charged with murder, yet you want to send my younger brother instead of me – I must be a bad son!’ he threatened to kill himself.
His mother put in, ‘Sending the youngest may still not save the second, while the eldest dies first. What use is that?’
So Lord Chu was forced to send his eldest son. He wrote a letter to his old friend Master Chuang and told his son, ‘On your arrival, leave the thousand yi of gold with Master Chuang to dispose of as he thinks fit. Mind you don’t argue with him!’
The eldest son set off, having added several hundred pieces of gold of his own. Upon reaching the Chu capital, he found that Master Chuang lived in the suburb in a very humble way, his gate choked with brambles. Still, he gave him the letter and gold as his father had told him.
‘You may go straight back,’ said Chuang. ‘Don’t stay here. And if your brother is released, don’t ask the reason.’
The eldest son withdrew but stayed on in the city, not calling upon Chuang but using the gold which he had brought separately to bribe a powerful noble of Chu.
While Master Chuang lived in a poor neighbourhood, the whole state knew that he was incorruptible and he was respected by everyone from the king downwards. He had no intention of keeping Lord Chu’s gold, but meant to return it as soon as he had succeeded.
Lord Chu’s eldest son did not know this, however, but thought Chuang rather lacking in discrimination.
Chuang had an audience with the king of Chu and told him that a certain star in a certain quarter of the heavens boded harm to the state. The king was advised to do good to avert danger. The king agreed and sent a man to seal up the treasury.
Then the noble told Lord Chu’s eldest son that the king was going to declare an amnesty. The eldest son reflected that if there was to be an amnesty his brother would be released anyhow, and all the gold given to Master Chuang would be wasted. So he went to see Chuang again.
Chuang was surprised to see him but knowing what he wanted, he told the young man to take the gold and leave.
The young man took the gold and left, very pleased with himself.
But Chuang, annoyed at being tricked by this youth, went back to the king and said, ‘Last time when I spoke of the stars, sir, you decided to avert bad luck by doing good. But now it is the talk of the town that the son of wealthy Lord Chu of Tao is in prison here for murder and his family has given your ministers substantial bribes. They say you are not declaring an amnesty out of goodness of your heart but for the sake of Lord Chu’s son.’
The king in his anger ordered the execution of Lord Chu’s second son and a general amnesty was proclaimed the next day. So the eldest son had to take back his brother’s corpse. When he reached home, his mother and the rest of the household mourned. Only Lord Chu laughed.
‘I knew he would kill his brother,’ he declared. ‘Not that he did not love him, he just could not help himself. He went through hard times with me when he was young, knows how difficult it is to make a living, and therefore hates parting with money. His younger brother has never seen me as otherwise than wealthy, riding in carriages or on fine horses to hunt the hare. Because he has no idea where money comes from, he is prodigal with it and never counts the cost. That is why I wanted to send him. But the eldest is incapable of that, and so he ended up killing his brother. This is the nature of things, not a cause for mourning. I have been waiting day and night for his corpse to be brought back.’ “
[Records of the Historian – HY and Gladys Yang]
Therefore try to respect your parents’ wishes and not to remonstrate too much. Unless you really know how to change the fate of self and others! For that you may need the guidance of the Yi.