There once lived an old man in northern China who was a great fortune teller. One day, his horse ran away to the land of the savages. The villagers all gave the old man their condolences, but the old man said without a hint of sorrow:
“Who knows? This may bring good fortune.”
A few months later, the horse came back with the fastest horse of the savages. When the villagers praised the old man, he said without a shred of joy:
“Who knows? This may bring bad fortune.”
Then one day, the old man’s son who loved horse riding fell off the savage’s horse and broke his leg. When the villagers tried to cheer him up, the old man replied in a calm manner:
“Who knows? This may bring good fortune.”
A year later, when the savages attacked the village, all of the young men had to fight them and ultimately died during battle. But the old man’s son survived as he was lame.
Nothing in life is certain. Good and bad, luck and misfortune come in random order in life and cannot be predicted. Thus, it is wiser to enjoy every day as it is, throw away all of your preconceptions of the future and dream and hope for the best.
On a hot summer’s day, one tends to drink cold drinks and eat cold foods to try cool their body down. But an old Korean proverb states that one should control fire with fire (yiyul-chiyul, 이열치열, 以熱治熱). In other words, instead of drinking cold drinks, it is better for your health if you eat hot soup to combat the heat. When the temperature becomes hot, the body redirects blood flow to the skin to cool itself, meaning there is less blood flow to the organs and causing the internal temperature to drop. Although cooling yourself is good, having a cold drink rapidly on a hot day can suddenly cause a large temperature difference between the surface and the organs, leading to digestive problems. In severe cases, it can cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea, with a vicious cycle where the heat is trapped on the surface and you feel even hotter. Ergo, having a hot food like samgyetang (a Korean chicken soup with many nutritious foods to revitalise your health in the summer) warms the organs and allows for better communication between the organs and the skin to effectively overcome the heat.
The philosophy of yiyul-chiyul can be extended beyond the scopes of medicine. Just as the proverb defeat savages with savages (yiyi-jeyi, 이이제이, 以夷制夷) says, one can control a certain force by using the same force on it. A great example is backfires. A forest fire tends to be too large in area to be extinguished with water. But if you deliberately start a fire just beyond its trajectory, it will burn everything as it moves towards the forest fire. Eventually the two fires will meet and without any fuel to consume, both will be extinguished.
A man living in the Song Dynasty had many monkeys. He was wary that he might not have enough food to feed the monkeys, so he implemented a rationing system, telling the monkeys “As we are short of food, I will limit the acorns you get to three in the morning and four in the evening”. The monkeys screamed and protested, so the man told the monkeys: “Then I will change it to four in the morning and three in the evening. The stupid monkeys could not figure out that the sum was the same and were overjoyed. This is the story behind the proverb: cho sam mo sa ("Three in the morning, four in the evening”, 조삼모사, 朝三暮四).
It is common to see people who cannot see the forest for the trees and only focus on the immediate gains, just like the monkeys. Although there might be some short-term benefit, the results will be the same (or worse) in the long run and not seeing this is very foolish. To lead a successful life one must have the insight to understand how the happiness gained now will affect the future and the wisdom to achieve the balance between short-term and long-term benefits. Too many people lack these qualities and fall into the trap of hire purchases, mortgages and frauds.
The monkeys made another critical mistake. If they protest against the man’s plans for a better future, he can just say “If you’re not happy, starve” and everything will be over. To throw away the future for a quick fix is an incredibly idiotic act.
화룡점정 (Hwa Ryong Jum Jung) – 畵 그림 화 (painting). 龍 용 룡 (dragon). 點 점 찍을 점 (spot). 睛 눈동자 정 (pupil).
During the Liang Dynasty (modern day China), there lived a famous painter called Zhang Sengyao. It is said that he was such a skilled artist that his paintings were lifelike and almost like a photograph.
One day, a monk asked him to paint a mural of dragons on the wall of his temple. Zhang accepted and proceeded to draw four dragons rising through black clouds. The fluid motion of the body, armour-like scales, the ferocious and vivacious look of the dragons… the sheer scale and detail of the painting astounded everyone who gazed upon the painting. However, people noted that none of the dragons had eyes drawn in.
When asked why, Zhang simply replied: “If I draw in the eyes, the dragon will immediately burst out of the wall and fly off.” No one believed him and laughed at such an insane comment. After constant pressure from the people to do it, Zhang reluctantly lifted his brush and plotted a single black dot where the eye was to be.
Suddenly, lightning flashed and thunderclaps boomed out of the painting, from where a dragon emerged and proceeded to flash off into the sky. The people were speechless. The painting (minus the one dragon) still exists to this day.
To seek perfection is arrogance. This is a common mistake found in modern society, where people are too obsessed with becoming perfect and not see the beauty of imperfection.