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(Clearwisdom.net) Everyone living in this world wants to live a happy and enjoyable life. These thoughts are certainly not wrong, but a happy life and a life of comfort are two completely different concepts. A happy life is gauged by one’s spiritual feeling, while ease and comfort primarily refer to one’s physical enjoyment. For human beings, the mind and body are interlinked with each other like the roots and branches on a tree. Maintaining one’s mind with peace and joy is fundamental. Blindly and constantly pursuing physical pleasure however, is like putting the cart before the horse.
Let’s first examine a story called “A Life of Comfort Is Worse Than Poisoned Wine.”
There was a renowned official named Tao Kan during the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420). He gained merit during the wars and became the governor of Jingzhou. Some people were jealous of him and slandered him. As a result, he was demoted and transferred to a faraway place in the Guangzhou region of Guangdong. It was a wild place where criminals were exiled.
There were very few official duties in Guangzhou, but Tao never pursued leisure or comfort. He carried one hundred bricks from his study to the yard every morning, and then carried the same bricks back to his study in the evening. People were curious about his behavior and asked him why he did this.
Tao replied, “I aim to reclaim Central China during this lifetime. If I am too comfortable and become complacent, I am afraid that I will not be able to accomplish my mission.”
Tao was later transferred back to Jingzhou. Although he became much busier than he was in Guangzhou, he still carried the bricks every day to strengthen his willpower.
Tao Kan often told people, “Dayu, the legendary founder of the Xia Dynasty around 2100 B.C., was a sage, but he knew how to treasure every minute. We are ordinary people, therefore we should treasure every second. How can we ease up and indulge in games or pleasure and forget our duties?”
Mr. Tao held a very responsible position and endured many hardships. He did not pursue leisure. He was so persistent that while serving as governor of Jingzhou, he was promoted to grand general of West Battlefield. He was in charge of military affairs for eight prefectures and was given the title Sir Changsha County, thereby becoming a famous person in history.
During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 B.C.-476 B.C.), Guan Zhong, the prime minister of Qi State, advised the ruler Qi Huan Gong, “One should not pursue good food, comfort, and wine.” Our ancestors saw leisure as something worse than poisoned wine because leisure can erode man’s willpower. There is an ancient saying, “One often survives through hardship, yet perishes in comfort,” which refers to the same wisdom.
It is stated in Hanshu (Han Dynasty historical records): “The ancients considered leisure as poisoned wine, and trading virtue for wealth as misfortune. From the beginning of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.) to Emperor Xiaoping of Han (1 B.C. to 5 B.C.), among hundreds of dukes, kings, and emperors, most of them were corrupt and morally degraded. Why is history like that? It was their living environment and their position that caused them to sink into a state lacking self discipline.” This is truly a lesson we later generations should learn from.
The ancients said, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Good conduct and moral character are intertwined. Virtue amidst hard work makes people realize that life is hard, thus they learn to be thrifty, cherishing things and developing kindness. Were life too easy and comfortable, one would become dissipated without restraint, and unkind, thus being selfish, where evil thoughts can easily be generated. So seeking a life of ease and comfort without virtue is very dangerous for a person.
Looking at this from a cultivators’ perspective, persons living in this world must have done many bad things during many lifetimes [reincarnations] and created much karma. Disasters in life and things that adversely affect one’s needs all stem from karmic retribution. Just as we must pay what we owe others, if one accumulates too much karma but does not pay it off, this person’s next life will be miserable. Looking at it from the perspective of higher-level cultivation of the Buddha School and Tao School, the purpose of living in this world is not to seek pleasure, but to return to one’s original, true self.