A Virtuous Gentleman Hides in Morning Song1 to become a fortune-teller.
One day after the Court audience had ended, he thought to himself,
“I could neither make my liege see the light of his errors nor am I able to sacrifice my life for the sake of the country. I am no different from the vulgar masses. Why don’t I just leave my post, find a quiet place somewhere in Morning Song and live in seclusion? I can become a diviner to help people, to become a master in the field of divination and dissecting the mystery of the Eight Trigrams. Although I am unable to help my country and its populace, at least this way, I would be able to leave my footprint through the millennia. Isn’t this a wonderful idea?”
With that thought in mind, he quickly wrote his letter of resignation in the night and presented his intent to the king at dawn. Due to his frequent remonstrations, the Shang ruler was not fond of him but was immensely elated upon hearing the news of his retirement. The petition was granted immediately. After his Court audience Chou Kan quickly went home, gathered a few items of clothing, locked up the mansion and led his retainers to a secluded place in Morning Song. He felt at ease with his newly found leisure life of no restrictions. The poem stated:
In becoming officials it is natural to make this world a better place,
But in hermitage, I know the secrets of heaven.
Clouds accompanying the mountains where there’s no danger,
Unlike before, worries I had to endure day and night 6.
After ten days of leisure and carefree living, he called upon his old steward named Chien Peng Jian, an old family retainer who came to live in seclusion with his master. He was an honest person who never took advantage of anyone. Whether in asking him to draw water from the well or to plant vegetables, he is never unwilling. On hearing his master’s beckoning, he hurried into the main hall and asked,
“Milord, what need do you have of old Peng Jian?”
“I am not capable in serving the country and its people well. Therefore I left my post to live in seclusion. I have decided in seeking another venue in life to fulfill the teachings of my ancestors and be someone of renowned ability. I shall establish my business here and you can help by opening another door on the left side of the main entrance to the house. Take three bars from the side room and erect it outside, clean the place and place a seat there. Do this immediately.”
Peng Jian laughed out loud when he heard the words,
“Milord, I Peng Jian, never in my life have I seen nobility set up shop to do any buying and selling.”
“I’m not doing any commerce at all!” smiled Chou.
“I am going into divination and fortune-telling to enlighten the befuddled so that they won’t commit crimes. At the same time, I dislike having too many people disturb my peace. I have a way – to charge a tael of silver for each session. After the charges have been paid you shall lead the inquirer to me and I shall begin my divination. However, only ten people a day I shall see and 3 pennies you may take as gratuity for leading them to me. What say you?”
Peng Jian was silent when he heard the words but kept smiling with a lowered head.
“Why do you not utter a single word?”
Peng Jian laughed out loud,
“It is not Peng Jian who is not answering you milord. You are just under one person but above thousands of others, why are you demeaning yourself in this way? For one, it is beneath your station to do so, secondly, I’m afraid you may be accused of bewitching the masses and thirdly people may not want to come to have their fortunes told as your charges are too high. Why all this fuss?”
“You know not my true intent. How would my dignity suffer by divulging the secrets of heaven? How enlightening and persuading the befuddled be construed as bewitching the masses? Worry not my divination capability. I tell you people will come knocking down the door to see me. Go quickly and do as you are told.”
Pang Jian had no choice but to hire some carpenters. After a few days, when everything was done he reported to Lord Chou,
“The divining enterprise is completed”.
Then Pang Jian smiled and continued,
“Milord, since you insisted upon one tael of silver as fee, everything would be fine if your predictions come true but what happens if they do not? Won’t you become the laughing-stock? People will bad mouth you for using divination as a ruse to cheat people out of their money.”
Lord Chou laughed out loud and said,
“I am a reasonable person. If my predictions are not accurate, then ten times the amount paid will be refunded!”
“This is impermissible! If milord refunds the amount ten fold, then my gratuity of 3 pennies will be also ten fold. I cannot afford it. Surely you jest.”
Laughing out loud again, Lord Chou said,
“You have no idea know how good my predictions are. If a refund is to be made, I shall pay for you as well. Now what do you think about that!”
Pang Jian was delighted on hearing those words and kowtowed before his lord. A large bamboo slip was ordered to be brought before him and Lord Chou wrote the following four words,
“Amazing Eight Trigram Divination” 7
And on the left side, a column of smaller words,
“All predictions for death and fortunes both good and bad”.
And on the right was written, “One tael of silver for divination, three pennies gratuity to my servant as go between.”
Then on another large bamboo slip,
“Divination will be limited to ten each morning. Absolutely no inquirer after midday. If predictions proved inaccurate, a refund of ten taels of silver and thirty pennies!
After writing, he commanded Peng Jian to sit at the cross-section of the main road to wait for customers. With such a move, the entire city of Morning Song was rocked with gossip; spreading like wild fires as one person informed ten and from ten into a hundred. Everyone on the street was saying,
“Strange, this is really strange. Never before had a nobleman parted their grand career for such measly divination business. Regardless if his predictions are accurate or not, it’s too much to shell out that one tael of silver!”
As no one would part their one tael of silver, none knew if any prediction is accurate. All day long Lord Chou sat serenely and smartly dressed in his cap and gown. No servant was in attendance except for a stick of burning incense. Three days gone by and nary a soul had come to have his fortunes told. Yet always a crowd of onlookers gossiping nearby. Then one local gentry landlord remarked,
“This Lord really knows how to jest; I’ll show him that I too can jest! I shall shed my one tael of silver and three pennies and see how good he is.”
Yet another, a soldier thought to himself,
“Yesterday, I came across some money and I haven’t decided what to do with it. I shall have my fortune told instead!”
So they entered the premise. As Lord Chou is from the nobility, they dared not make him wait by having small talk with Peng Jian but handed the money quickly over to him who was smiling gleefully,
“How interesting… Today’s the propitious start of business!”
And with that, he laid the taels of silver in front of Lord Chou and explained the situation to him. Lord Chou then bade him to let one of inquirers enter. On seeing the landlord, Lord Chou said,
“Need not stand on ceremony nor explain anything to me. Just a silent prayer on the side will do.”
With those words, the landlord stood aside and prayed silently. Looking at the man, Lord Chou said,
“I understand your problem fully. Just because your servant has a beautiful wife, you wanted to break up their marriage and bade him marry another. The husband is unwilling and so now you wanted to harm him. Am I not correct? I’m afraid that you would not succeed but you get yourself killed first!”
This landlord was dumbfounded when his inner thoughts were exposed. His face was ashen into the color of mud. Immediately he knelt down on both his knees and pleaded,
“My Lord, this nobody did indeed harbor such intentions. I beg your Lordship point a way out for me to escape this calamity!”
Lord Chou nodded his head and said,
“Since you repented, there is a way out. Had you not seen me today, you will be dead tomorrow!”
Lord Chou then wrote a few lines of words on a piece of paper, handed it over to the landlord and spoke,
“This is your problem…”
The landlord took the paper and looked at the words…
What did Lord Chou write? How he is going to save the landlord? Please read the next chapter.
1. Chaoge (朝歌) Capital of the Shang Dynasty. It may also means “facing the song” i.e. embracing a song.
3. In Taoism, the Three Regions (三界) are
The Limitless Region (無極 region of no senses, upper)
The Ultimate Region (太極region of senses, middle)
The Present Region (現世region of needs, lower)
In Taoist philosophy these regions are located in the human body. If one can refine (smelt) away essence away (煉精), one can leave the region of needs; refining away Prana (煉) one can escape away from the region of senses and refining away the spirit, one will leave the region of no sense. In popular stories, they are actual regions.
4. Ancient China is an agricultural society and therefore rains are of utmost concern. Therefore they are regulated by edicts from the Jade Emperor. Any unauthorized scheduling is considered as a crime against heaven.
The poem compares his present and former life. Even though he is a minister of the court and can make the world a better place but it is all but an illusion. Day and night he has the burden of the court affairs and the weight of the world bearing down on him. These are the least of his worries for one loses his life easily under an unjust ruler. Carefree and living in harmony with nature is the secret to a better life.
7. The four characters are卦理通神. Of course translating these four characters will not result in four English words. The phrase literally means “Eight Trigrams divination principles connected to gods”.
那周公終日俱在，穿得衣冠齐整的，在卜市中間座位上坐着，一個從者俱不用，止焚一爐好香，净净的清坐。彭剪自然是一個人坐在大門内。一連坐了两三日，并無一個人來占卦，止圍着無數的閑人，在那里乱講。内有一個土豪道：“這一位公爺也會玩耍，我小可却也会取笑。我舍着一两三分銀子，與他試試罷了。”又有一個軍漢道：“我昨日有一股財帛，却忘了一件事情，難以决断。我也去算一算！” 這二人就是先後進去了。只因國公是個有爵位的人，誰敢與他對坐閑談？故此不待人說，就將一两三分銀子交與彭剪。彭剪接了銀子，心中暗笑道：“有趣，今日發利市了！”随將一两銀子放在周公面前座位上。禀明了周公。周公便叫他先領了一個進來。那土豪先就跟了進來。周公道：“你不须行礼，也不用禀明何事，只在旁暗暗祷告便了。”土豪聞言，就立旁邊暗祝了一遍。周公看了一回，道：“你的心事，孤已明白了。只因你家下人的妻子貌美，你要拆散他夫妻，叫他丈夫另娶，他丈夫不從，你今想将他丈夫害死，是也不是？孤只怕你害人不死，先害死自己！”土豪聽周公道出他的私心，直唬得目定口呆，面如土色，忙双膝跪下，道：“公爺！小人果有此事。求公爺指明条路，小人好去趋吉避凶！”周公聞言点頭道：你既有悔心，自有生路。若不遇孤，你明日决死无生了！” 說罷，取了一張紙來，寫上幾行，递过與土豪，道：“這是你的心事——。”土豪接來一看，未知周公寫的什么，怎生指点，救得土豪如何，