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Tales of the Immortals
Enlightened by an Immortal, a Worldly Man Resigns his Position to Cultivate the Tao
Ouyang Ziyou

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He Zhizhang lived on Xuanping Lane, Xijing [today’s Chang'an City]. Across from his house was a house with a small plank door. He often saw an old man riding a donkey and coming and going through that door. Five or six years passed, but the old man’s complexion and clothing remained the same; it seemed that the old man never changed. He never saw any of the old man’s relatives either. When he asked his neighbors in this old man, everyone said that the old man was Wang, who sold ropes to string coins in the West Market and had no other jobs at all.

After careful observation, He Zhizhang found the old man to be an uncommon person. He Zhizhang often went to visit the old man during his leisure time. The old man welcomed him very respectfully and carefully. The old man only had one servant boy. He Zhizhang asked about his job but the old man just answered him vaguely. As they got to know each other more and more, gradually they grew to respect each other more and more and the topics they discussed gradually grew more and more profound. The old man told He Zhizhang that he was good at cultivating the Tao and making pills for immortality. He Zhizhang had always respected and believed in Tao cultivation, so he wanted to formally acknowledge the old man as his teacher. One day, He Zhizhang and his wife came to the old man holding a bright pearl. They told the old man that this pearl came from He’s hometown and they had treasured it or many years. He Zhizhang said he wanted to present it especially to the old man and asked the old man to teach him the Tao and the Fa. The old man accepted the pearl, and immediately gave it to the servant boy and asked him to go to market to trade the pearl for some buns. The boy came back with 30 sesame buns, and the old man treated He Zhizhang with the buns. He Zhizhang was very unhappy about it. He felt that the pearl was a special gift to the old man that was highly valuable. How could the old man just use it so arbitrarily and trade it for just 30 sesame buns? The old man then said: "The Tao or the Fa can only be gained by giving your heart. How can we vigorously pursue it? If the attachment to money and property is not gotten rid of, it is impossible to achieve the Tao. You should go to a desolate and barren mountain area to cultivate Tao diligently and with great devotion. It’s difficult to achieve the Tao if you live in the city.” He Zhizhang was very enlightened by his words. He thanked the old man sincerely and left.

A few days later, the old man disappeared. Soon after He Zhizhang abdicated his official position, and returned to his hometown to cultivate the Tao.

Note: He Zhizhang, also called Jizhen, was from Yongxing, Huiji (today’s Shaoxing). Since his childhood he was well known for essays and poems he wrote. He earned the rank of Jinshi (a successful candidate in the highest imperial examinations) and later was promoted to Taichang Doctor. Zhizhang was unconventional all his life and became even more so during his old age. His took the pen name Four Siming, or “Demented Scholar.” He usually wrote poems after getting drunk, and could write good poems very quickly in that state. He was also good at both cursive script and official script. People collected his writings and regarded them as treasures. In the beginning of the reign of Tianbao, he resigned and went back to his hometown to be a Taoist. The emperor circulated an imperial edict that awarded him a piece of music named “Mirror Lake and Shan River”. The emperor also wrote a poem to commemorate his leaving. The crown prince came down and shook He Zhizhang’s hands to see him off. He Zhizhang died at the age of 86. Emperor Suzong respectfully awarded him the title of “Minister of Ministry of Rites.” His poems like "Coming Home" and "Chant the Willow" etc. are widely read and recited

* This story is featured on PureInsight Website.

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