I’ve been researching some Daoist (I will be referring to The Dao as that not The Tao as I have done so before) stories, specifically allegories. I came across the story titled The Yellow Millet Dream about the scholar and poet Lu Dongbin who lived in China around thirteen-hundred years ago – for how long, who knows as it is said that he lived for centuries. Lu, like Seneca of the Stoics, didn’t seem to fit the stereotypical mould of being the straight-faced, emotionless zen character. Instead, he was a partying ladies man whose wisdom was so fantastic that he was elevated to immortality, being declared one of the Eight Immortals. Whether or not this is literal immortality, spiritual in some astral form, or metaphorical through his works depends on belief.
What I find to be quite comforting is that every one of the Eight Immortals in Daoism have their own flaws and quirks, making them ultimately as organic and imperfect as the rest of us. It makes sense doesn’t it? Instead of being perfect, we work towards it but sometimes we cannot escape our nature and if a thing is in our nature then it is something to accept and nurture humanely that benefits the common good. Obviously if your imperfection is a hankering for human flesh and genocide then I’m sure you can find a better outlet in perfecting beef tartare or acting where at least you can bring joy through method acting, I suppose. We are, ultimately, the universe experiencing itself following The Dao and therefore, all is as it should be, or rather in it’s nature to work towards harmony and balance within its own ability and self.
However I’m digressing. Lu Dongbin, before he was warding off the dark with a sword of protection or mastering his internal alchemy, he was simply Lu Yan, a travelling poet.
He met an older man, a Daoist, at an inn. He dozed off while the dinner – millet -was cooking on the fire.
When he awoke, he left the village and went to town where he took and passed the imperial exam. He worked hard and was promoted again and again, soon becoming a minister in the government and marrying a rich wife, then becoming prime minister. His success attracted enemies, and he was betrayed, lost his friends, lost his office, his wife, his fortune and his children. Dying of poverty he awoke to discover that although he thought 18 years had passed, it was just a dream, and the millet was just coming to a boil.
The elderly Daoist caused him to have this dream so that he could learn an important lesson about life.
The lesson, of course, is that the material is immaterial. Success as defined by society does not grant any meaningful happiness based on itself alone. While recently a study came out to say that money can indeed buy happiness, if your unhappiness is caused by a lack of meaningful human connection, throwing money at the problem may not be the best way to go about it. Sure you can get yourself a ticket on a singles cruise to the Bahamas but if you do not look within first for help, you may end up staying in your cabin watching Too Hot To Handle crying into your silk monogrammed hankies.
Success is like beauty and exists within the eye of the beholder but sometimes – if not all the time – the world around us tries to gaslight us into thinking otherwise. Perhaps it happens to us all without even realising it, so then, I suppose, the real trick is to take the time and ask the question:
Am I dreaming?