Monday, February 21, 2011

Success or failure is just like a dream

Zen Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng got his enlightenment through hearing the recitation of the Diamond Sutra once in an inn. Taoist Grandmaster Lu (呂祖) got his enlightenment through a dream. In the dream, our master passed an official exam with high grade (in real life he never did pass such test) and was given good post. And during some 40-50 years, his career rose and declined several times, even up to the top government job (prime minister) with beautiful wife and all goodies in life and lost everything a few years later and repeating the process until he was old, broke and got nothing at all - an awakening of the flux, unpredictability and vagary of life. Not at all a dramatic story by modern standard. However, there are a few points worth noting:

1. The situation as described in the master's dream is in fact a true depiction of life in imperial China. A loss of favoritism with the emperor on oneself or the clan that one belonged to could lead to quick downfall of a family, that previously in more fortunate times, enjoyed much good fortune through hard-work (like passing official exams) and/or being the favored one or belonged to a favored group. China's most famous fiction the Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢) depicted the downfall of one such families.

2. Our master's dream was "induced" by his future master. It has been common for Taoist masters to have their enlightenment, knowledge or inner-practice transmitted by, sometimes historical, figures or masters in dreams, during meditation or when in possession. It goes with the concept of Immortality of enlightened masters who would visit people to bring teaching to new devotees and future masters, perhaps every few decades or so. Grandmaster Lu was said to have come to teach some who are ready many times in history, and even today in Taiwan! It is however not so esoteric a concept as one might imagine. Late psychologist Carl Jung reviewed in his auto-biography that he had for years been under the spiritual guidance of a guru called Philemon. And Jung said this kind of spiritual guidance in dreams and during meditation had been quite common among spiritual practitioners in India.

3. Whereas the dream itself is not so dramatic, the subsequent ten tests that Grandmaster Lu's master put to him become an integral part of Chinese popular culture and have been even included in children books in Taiwan (I shall come to the ten tests in future posts).

4. Carl Jung in his commentary to the Secret of Golden Flower mentioned that Taoist yoga practice is meant for middle aged folks who have to come to terms with his position in life and prepare him for eventual death. Grandmaster Lu's dream did fit into such categorization, and got its contemporary parallel. Did most modern man in peaceful times (master Lu was born in peaceful time) think that they can owe the world when they are young, and only begin to find out that at 40, for example, they are going to be stuck with middle-management up to retirement, with the constant fear that they might be kicked out and replaced by younger and lower paying folks before actual retirement? A dosage of Taoism may be helpful for these folks - who are actually the majority of us!

5. When Grandmaster Lu was dreaming, his master was cooking yellow-rice for him. After he woke up, the rice has yet to be cooked. And the dream was subsequently called yellow-rice dream (黃梁一夢). It has become a popular proverb in Chinese culture: Success or failure is just like a dream. A good metaphor (or symbol) with therapeutic effect!

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