The Fading Sorrow

Not all Chinese idioms have a proper story to tell. But one of my favorites, 悲心更微 (“The sorrow grows fainter“), has a story simple yet succulent. A sense of gratification ensues, every time I peruse –

Once upon an ancient time, China was divided into seven warring states. There’s an old man born in the state of Yan but living in Chu all his life, who finally got the chance to revisit Yan. So he set out on the long-desired journey toward homeland.

On his way, while passing through the state of Jin, his travel companion decided to play a trick on him by declaring, “Here we arrive at the capital of Yan!”  Without suspecting a thing, the old man instantly felt sentimental. When they came across a shabby temple, the friend pronounced, “This is where your countrymen used to worship.” The old man took it to heart and got engulfed in a wave of nostalgia. Further on, the friend pointed to a desolate village and said, “Your ancestors used to live here.” The old man was gripped by a great sense of longing, with tears welling up. When they came to a gravesite, his friend spoke again, “Now, here is where your kinsfolk were buried.” The old man couldn’t hold it anymore, he broke down and sobbed with such deep sorrow.

Witnessing all the sentiments engendered by a mere prank, the friend couldn’t help bursting into laughter and finally told the truth: “I was just joking! We are in the state of Jin, not your homeland yet.” The old man stopped sobbing, feeling foolish and silly.

Eventually they arrived at the state of Yan. Standing before the village, the temple, and the gravesite of his people, the old man simply felt calm, coolheaded and unruffled, detached and neutral.

As it turns out, thoughts and feelings are just fleeting clouds – they come and they go in an empty sky. Without mental adornment or distortion of any kind, everything appears clear and undisguised.

Every time I revisit this story, it brings about a half smile on the outside, and a full grin on the inside. A secret sense of amusement permeates my whole space. Cozily, I am suffused with the feeling of a quiet happiness, something indefinable yet definite. As if a piece of good news has gotten verified in broad daylight. All the ostentatious chatter at the party have finally quieted down, and certain fundamental truth becomes self-evident in plain sight.

The collective perceptions you’ve clung on for lifetimes, the inherited mindsets you’ve taken for granted, all the cultural emotions hardwired in you before you’re even born, those conditioned thoughts and habitual reactions that have been driving your life up to this point … now you see them in new light.

The old man’s homebound journey turns out to be a rite of passage, for anyone who’s been stuck in a fabricated, contrived state of mind. Going home, is to reunite with a natural state beyond all concepts and mental formations, and arrive at a place where one is free to be – just be.

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12 Comments

  1. Yes the immediate emotions may have been sated, but they were still there. His lack of tears the second time around may have come from having experienced an emotional response first time, only to have it ridiculed. Or it may have originated from having travelled that road before and later grown accustomed to the rawness of pain; a second skin on the soul.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am wondering whether concepts come first or emotions play the leading role? For instance, if he didn’t have the idea instilled in him about all the ‘meaning’ of one’s homeland, would he still have that kind of strong emotions the first time round? If one could change the manmade concepts about everything, would he have more hope in clearing up all the habitual emotions? One lifetime might not be enough for such major project though. Like you said, everything is most likely still there, and might stay forever, no matter how dormant it has become …

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Two cats? Are you breeding them?
    Nicely illustrated poem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not breeding, only loving from distance.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Timothy Price

    Great story. I really enjoyed it. There are not many meaningful stories like that these days. I believe so many people are so consumed with themselves, their electronics, their selfies and their politics, that a great chasm separates them from any rites of passage and uniting with their natural states of being. They are so lost in themselves that the great abyss can never be filled for them to take one step to set themselves free.

    You gave us two beautiful kittens and lovely butterflies to gaze upon today. It’s a wonderful images to start the day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ❤ And your words are heartwarming. You’ve got such a gift in penning great comments, besides sharing all the delight and inspiration in your interesting posts. In my short history of playing on WordPress, I’ve read some comments you made across the blogosphere, and I’m amazed how you could always have something substantial and thought-provoking to contribute, every single time 🐾

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Timothy Price

        Thank you, Dot. I try to be relevant to the subject and blogger.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Often I feel lack of words to comment, even when I like a post. Is it the difference between introvert and extrovert? Or perhaps I am using introversion as an excuse for indifference …

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Timothy Price

            I think it has to do with how you react to a post. There are many many posts from various bloggers that just don’t inspire comments. I’m pretty introverted, not the social type, but when a post is worth a comment I comment. Sometimes, especially with poetry, the poems are fabulous, but I just have no words that are worthy of the poems. Sometimes I will have a lot to say about a poem. Often I really work hard to come up with a worthwhile comment, because a post is deserving of a good comment, but the words want to escape me. Those cases are especially difficult. You have to go with what moves you to comment, and what you think is worth the time.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Exactly, the words escape me. I don’t want to leave comments that say nothing but only pleasantries, yet everything I can think of seems redundant and stating the obvious. That’s why I haven’t contributed any comment on WordPress, just being a silent observer … Have got to warm up my attitude bit by bit.

              Your site gives off a healthy ‘outdoorsy’ feel, that’s why I thought you’re more extroverted than otherwise. In fact, it surprised me that you love cats.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Timothy Price

                Making comments that are somewhat redundant in reiterating some parts of the post, or pointing out phrases you liked, indicates you read the post. With practice you learn how to comment. A lot of times a simple “beautiful”, “wonderful”, “really cool” whatever you feel about a post is really meaningful to the blogger. It’s better than no comment at all.

                I like all animals, but cats are my favorite. I used to be called “Catman” when I was young because I liked cats. That was one of the nicer names the other kids called me when I was growing up. I also like snakes, and that was considered weird, still is. We had dogs, cats, horses, goats, chickens, turkeys, geese, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea hens, and guinea pigs, plus I almost always had one or two snakes when I was growing up.

                Now we have 7 cats, 2 parrots, a very large snake, and a lot of wild animals nearby that I photograph quite often.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Words and animals are really great companies to wrestle with, sufficient to keep hands full and hearts open 🐍🦜

                  Liked by 1 person

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