Author Archives: Shan Tung Hsu

About Shan Tung Hsu

Dr, Hsu currently lectures worldwide on matter of spatial and environmental design in accord with natural principles. His teaching unifies his training in western science, ancient Chinese philosophy, Taoist and Buddhist meditation, and the energy work of Chi-gong/Qigong and Tai Chi Chuan, along with decades of experience in Feng Shui.

2017 The Year of the Rooster

The Monkey year, as predicted, has been very eventful, and it is now coming to an end. Although the remnants of the Monkey energy are tapering off as the New Year approaches, some of it will continue to remain through the transition.

The Year of the Rooster is like waking up at daybreak. The big event in the Monkey year in the U.S. was the presidential election; its unexpected, and unpredictable outcome has created a lot of turmoil, especially since many people invested a great deal of energy and emotion to these issues.

It is important to remember that every event has three components: material, energy, and information. It is from information that energy, and then material circumstances, come to manifest. When something has manifested on the material level, the energy has already achieved its function, and the situation is already on its way out.

Any transition in nature is normally gradual; abrupt changes do not last long. As the Book of Changes says, torrential rains and strong winds do not last long. When they come, they will soon go. This is true of other sudden changes as well. Dark clouds overhead come to pass: they do not stay. In any event, there is reality, and there is our perception, without actually seeing the reality. People tend to react to leaders as though events were caused by leaders. Actually, leaders are like puppets, acting to manifest what is already in progress. In the New Year, we will face new realities – and the same thing is true of the new president, who will face realities he has not planned for.

Although the Monkey year is passing, its energy will linger, and many things will still take unexpected swerves. What we should do is keep centered, so that as new manifestations occur, we can sense the energies and information behind them. In this way, we can pass from perception to reality.

How we set our minds creates new information, which will then generate new energy and produce new material manifestations. We should be mindful in living our lives, keeping focused in our immediate situations, and let our understanding grow from there. As it does, we will have a new understanding of events as they unfold, and we will be able to help them unfold in a positive way.

As the Rooster year progresses, the energy of the next year, the Dog year, will gradually begin to manifest, and the suddenness of waking up will merge into a more positive, comfortable Dog year energy, and things will look better.

Blue Mountain Institute does not have a lot of new progress to report. We are still working to make on-line teaching available. We will have another certificate program in June and July. However, we are beginning a new experiment, organized by our Russian–speaking students: YouTube postings of a regular question-and-answer sessions, and also of brief lectures. Even though these will be translated for Russian students, they will also naturally be in English.

On a personal level, Dr. Hsu has been translating his novel, The Medicine Box, into Chinese.   It will first be published in traditional characters in Taiwan, and later will be published in simplified characters in China. We hope that his other books will soon follow.

For those interested in astrology, it is useful to know that any year is a year of change for those born in the sign of that year. So, for example, for people born in a Monkey year, each Monkey year that comes around is a year of changes, challenges and opportunities. For people born in the Rooster year, it will be a year of change. People born in the Rabbit year will experience serious challenges. For people born in the Ox and Snake years, the Rooster year will be auspicious – and also for those born in the Dragon year. For those who will experience increased challenges, it is good to remember to be more cautious and less impulsive. People born in the Rat and Dog years will tend to have small issues from time to time, but nothing that cannot be overcome.

For people born in other years, this Rooster year should be fairly neutral, if not actually smooth sailing. As the New Year unfolds, we will all have a chance to wake up, look around, and grow. Remember, “Do not resist evil”. Energy is neutral, and it is often our resistance to it that creates negativity. Even if we see the energy as potentially negative, we should recognize it, bless it, and let it go. Our job is not to resist what appears, but to relax, pay attention, and use every event as an opportunity to bring more awakened energies into manifestation.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!

Climax is Only Half Way of the Journey

Mount Rainier from the Silver Queen Peak
In the Yin Yang theory, everything – every process, every transformation, and every object – has both a Yin and a Yang aspect. The Yin and Yang energy roles represent different qualities: Yang energy manifests outwardly, and tends to be aggressive, dynamic, initiating and expansive. Yin energy reflects inward, and tends to be subtle, responsive, unseen and withdrawing.

The highest level of Yang energy is the reaching of a goal or climax. The completion of Yin energy is the return from Yang’s climax to its point of origin. Climax is like reaching the top of a mountain, but the energy cycle is not whole without the Yin journey from the mountain top back to the base. Since Yang is dynamic and expansive in nature, it needs to be balanced by an element of restraint or control (Yin energy). Since Yin is naturally reserved and contained, it needs to balance by the quality of unblocked openness (Yang energy).

This pattern is vividly illustrated in sexual relationships and is a good model for sexual encounters. Men tend to focus on manifestation, and, once a climax is reached, their journey is complete. For women, however, it is essential to go through the whole process; the second half of the journey is as important as the first. Just as in a symphony, the music leads us along a journey, lifting us up, and then bringing us back at the end. The symphony doesn’t stop at the third movement, nor should a sexual encounter.

Carrying expansive energy, men should exercise control over themselves during love-making. Carrying restrained energy, women should allow themselves to let go. When men control themselves, they can more easily delay their climax. When women allow themselves to be completely free and unrestrained, they find it easier to reach their climax. In this balanced way, together, the male and female energies can achieve a climax with a greater feeling of union and wholeness.

The same pattern can again be seen the life span of a person. In the course of any life, there are Yin and Yang phases. However, generally speaking, the phase of growing up, studying, entering society, having a family, establishing oneself in a profession or career, achieving goals, and reaching the highest point of achievement or climax is the Yang phase of life. Often, success is defined in terms of the accomplishments of this phase of life. But the Yin phase of life which follows is just as important.

For many people, retirement from work is retirement from life. It can even become a matter of simply passing time until they die. Small wonder, then, that people can have a hard time handling retirement.

Actually, “retirement” may be a poor term to use. It is better to think in terms of settling into the Yin phase of life, perhaps even a Yin career. In the Yin phase of life, energy and physical strength may not be as intense as during the Yang phase, but mental maturity, emotional stability, and cultivated values can come to play a much deeper and more rewarding role. The breadth of view and wisdom of the Yin phase can make it possible to do more, and do it differently, than one could during the Yang phase, even if its achievements are not as obvious.

Former U.S. President Carter did not stop working when he stepped down from being President; he continued to work effectively in many different directions without the need for public recognition. The renown and much loved actress Audrey Hepburn spent the second phase of her life as a special ambassador to UNICEF. Bill Gates, after retirement from his climactic achievements at Microsoft, is devoting his time to a Yin career in educational and health charity projects through the Gates Foundation. Retirement from one’s career is the completion of the Yang phase of life, but it is the beginning of the flowering of the Yin phase of life.

Many people manage the Yang phase well, but do not consider that the Yin phase needs management. They do not see that they bring to the Yin phase the skills and maturity they have gathered during the Yang phase. After completing the Yang phase, instead of turning inward, many simply burn through what they have achieved, waste what they have accomplished, or gradually slip into a kind of decay, falling apart like a house that isn’t maintained.

A successful life means a successful Yin phase as well as a successful Yang phase. The Yin phase may not be as dynamic or exciting, as forceful or as openly recognized by the world as the Yang phase, but it has different kind of fulfillment. One can donate his time and energy to family and society without thinking of material compensation. There is plenty of time to read and chat with friends; there is leisure time to appreciate reading, traveling, and enjoying coffee, tea, or wine; and there is time to turn inward and discover the inner joy of meditation and Chi-energy cultivation.

So, delete the term ”retirement” from your vocabulary, and live a successful Yin phase of your life!

The Power of Yin –The Magic of Whispering

whisper-408482_1280In communication, we often think strong delivery will help get the message through better. But in a very real sense, a soft, even whisper-like delivery, which is Yin, will tend to resonate more with the receiving entity, which is also Yin. This is why in many situations it is better to whisper.

Whispering has a special magic. Often school teachers who have a hard time controlling a rowdy class can get better results with a whisper than a shout. All the students become quiet, because they want to hear the secret.

Human nature has a tendency to underestimate the power of Yin, of non-manifestation, of subtlety. Projection, manifestation, and delivery have to do with the Yang or masculine force. But Yin is a power as real as Yang. A quiet voice, a soft touch, a light thought, or a vague image, can be more effective than their Yang equivalents. If you hold a pebble with a strong grip, all you can feel is the tension in your muscles. Only if you hold it lightly, you can feel the texture and quality of the stone itself. The same thing is true for all our senses, all our avenues of perception. Strong projection can provoke resistance, and the receiver experiences primarily the rigidity of resistance; gentle projection creates attention, and then the receiver can attend to what is being communicated.

Communicating at the right time, in the right way, will help to provide a good basis for a good relationship. However, despite all good intentions, there is often another issue: that of perception.

The different energy patterns characteristic of male and female lead to different ways of perceiving situations, and lead to different perspectives on the human world. This often leads to a gap between the male and female perception of a situation.

Often a woman will perceive issues or problems in a relationship that the man does not recognize or even perceive. Regardless of whether the problem or issue is “real” or not, when one person perceives the existence of a problem and the other does not, there is a very real problem between them. This is why it is crucial for men to be sensitive and to pay attention when such issues arise. This requires the right attitude, the willingness to pay attention, as well as awareness and sensitivity — the capacity to pay attention.

 

Not by Force – An Experience of Tai Chi Push Hands

Push hands figuresTai Chi Chuan (Taiji Quan) has been a popular health exercise for many centuries.  Its popularity continues around the world.  Although people practice tai chi to promote health, in its origin it is a form of martial art, a form of self defense.

The slow and graceful motions, with slow breathing, promote inner energy flow, tone muscles, and bring peace to the mind. According to some medical studies, its health benefits surpass those of other exercise or sports such as yoga, jogging, or swimming.

Many tai chi practitioners, in addition to practicing the forms, will begin to practice push hands, a two-person exercise that can be the first step to learning the self-defense applications of tai chi.  While the practice of tai chi forms train grounding, push hands trains sensitivity. In tai chi push hands, two people touch hands, using the basic tai chi movements of ward off, roll back, push, and press. The emphasis is on yielding, neutralization, and following your opponent.  It stresses non-resistance, not using force, no effort, and so on.

The more one follows these principles, the better chance one will be able to out-perform their opponent. Of these, the principle of not using force, is easy to say, but not easy to do. How can you defeat your practice partner without using any force?  How can you not resist or even push back when you are about to be unbalanced? Most of the time, tai chi practitioners understand the words, but find it hard to perform the reality.

My teacher Master Ping-Siang Tao, was known as “a master of soft way”. We often saw him practice with students who outweighed him by well over a hundred pounds. These students would often find themselves on the ground when practicing with him, unable to understand what had just happened.

Once I went to take him to the airport from the house of another student where Master Tao usually stayed when he visited Seattle. Since I arrived early, Master Tao suggested that the student and I practice some push-hands. He always wanted us to take every opportunity to practice. We were naturally happy to have an opportunity to do so while he was watching.

Since I had much more experience, I was soon able to unbalance my partner and put him on the ground.  Tao looked at me and said, “Not good, not good, you used force.  Try again.“  So we continued to play. At one point, even though I did not feel that I had used any special technique, or any force, the other student just fell to the ground. I had no idea how it happened.  This time Tao commented, “That’s right”.

I was puzzled.   I hadn’t done anything.  How could the student fall to the ground?  The student also commented that the first time he could feel my force, and felt uncomfortable when he fell.  But the second time, he didn’t feel any force, nor did he have any uncomfortable feeling when he fell to the ground.

I had studied with Master Tao since I was in college.  I was always trying to be to be light and soft, as light and as soft as possible. But I always thought that “not by force” was just a matter of scale. Surely one must use some force to defeat your partner. That was the first time I truly realized that “not by force” really means not using force. It took me over 40 years of practice to realize this is possible.

I have watched many tai chi masters demonstrate push hands in both real life and from the internet.  All these tai chi masters have good grounding and use the technique of yielding and neutralization to ward off their opponents. But they always use some force.  I have yet to see anyone who absolutely does not use any force, as Master Tao was able to do.

I suppose that only when you know it is possible, will it begin to be possible for you. This reminds us that Nature accomplishes everything without the use of force.

So, “Not by force!” It is possible.

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Uncle’s Tea

My Uncle's TeaMy father’s only brother was ten years younger than my father. As a traditional older brother, my father felt a strong sense of responsibility for him. So when my uncle turned twenty, my father began to try to find him a wife. My uncle refused to get married and ran away.

Many years later, my uncle resurfaced again. He had become a monk and lived on Wu Zhi (“Five Finger”) Mountain in northern Taiwan, in a cave that he had chiseled out of the rock mountain by himself. The only memory I had of him from when I was young was his annual visit to our home.

He would always come late in the afternoon on the day of the winter solstice. He would arrive before dinner. He was an vegetarian and ate mostly fruits and nuts. For dinner my mother would serve him a plain piece of white tofu sprinkled lightly with salt. After dinner, he would continue to chat and have tea with my father. When we went to sleep, he would close his eyes, sitting on a rattan chair in our living room. When we awoke in the morning, he would already be gone.

This was how things went every year throughout my student years. On my uncle’s visits, my father would always give him a few pounds of very special tea – the oolong tea that farmers normally kept for their own use. My father could always manage to get some from a farmer with whom he was a close friend. My father called this tea “ten-steeping oolong,” since it could be steeped ten times and still be potent.

When I was about to leave for the United States to continue my graduate studies, my father told me that I should pay my uncle a visit before I went abroad. Over the years, my older brothers would describe my uncle’s cave temple, which always aroused my curiosity, but I’d never visited him. At last, I took the journey.

It was an hour train ride and then three more hours by bus on a bumpy country road to the nearest village, where I spent the night. Then, on the morning of the second day, I hiked up to the temple.

Upon arrival, I was surprised to see not a cave but a newly built temple. When I asked a young monk in the temple about my uncle, he said, “Oh, the Master doesn’t live here. He still lives in the cave. After the temple was finished last year, we tried hard to get him to move here, but he prefers to stay in his cave.”

The young monk led me to the rock cave about a five-minute walk from the new temple, at the base of a sharply rising rocky hill. The entrance was about two meters high and three meters wide, but the inside was very spacious. As we entered, the young monk told me that when the temple was finished the year before, they had also managed to bring electricity to the cave. I was impressed at how much space my uncle had managed to clear out with just a hammer and chisel, and I wondered how long it had taken him. But as soon as I saw my uncle’s smile, I forgot my questions.

My uncle didn’t seem surprised at my visit. When I presented him with the tea my father had sent, he smiled broadly and immediately turned on his electric tea kettle. I noticed that he had a nice gong-fu tea set – a typical Yixing purple clay pot with small cups – on a rock table. It was not really a table, but a shelf of rock that he had left in place when he carved away the rest of the cave.

When the tea kettle whistled, he rinsed and warmed the pot and cups with boiling water, opened the package I’d brought, and scooped tea into the pot. Gently he covered it with the lid and shook the pot, then he removed the lid and smelled the leaves – and passed the pot to me to smell as well.

“This must be from the spring harvest,” he said. Then he poured the hot water into the pot. I was very familiar with the process, since I had seen my father do this every day, but I was struck with how smoothly and economically my uncle moved. I could tell that he was an experienced tea drinker.

While we were drinking the tea, he did not say much; I found that I was doing most of the talking. It was a strange feeling. We had never been that close, and I was surprised to find myself talking so much. Most of the time, he just smiled quietly, nodding his head occasionally. As we finished one steeping, he would make the next.

At one point, I asked him if there was any advice he might have for me. He nodded, sat quietly a moment, then took off the lid of the tea pot and started to clean the leaves out of the pot.

“Uncle!” I said, “We have only finished the fifth steeping. This tea is good for at least ten steepings.”

My uncle looked into my eyes, and for the first time I realized how gentle his gaze was. “I know,” he said, and went on emptying the pot.

I expected him to say something more, but he didn’t.

After I came to the United States, I would occasionally remember how my uncle had stopped at the fifth steeping and puzzle over why he had done so. He was definitely a connoisseur and knew the tea was good for many more steepings. Many years later, after I had been in the working world for a long time, and my uncle had passed away, I began to realize what he may have meant to tell me: Everything has a beginning and an end, and from beginning to end everything goes through a series of stages. For the tea we had been drinking, the fifth steeping was the peak – the stage of greatest richness and abundance. He was, I think, telling me to stop at the peak and let it go, rather than stretching things out forever, hanging on to each little bit of flavor. As humans, when we reach a peak, we often try to hold on and stretch the peak out for as long as possible. We forget that this moment, like all others, is transitory. With holding on comes regret.

Often we see politicians who achieve power and never want to let go, holding on until they fall in disgrace. This is true for many people in all walks of life. It is better to let go when you are at your prime instead of clinging persistently to past achievements, so that you will be remembered at your best.

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Good Karma Is Still Karma

candlelight 2I formally became the disciple of Zen Master Pu Yu of Bubble Spring Temple on Drum Mountain in Fujian Province, China, right after the end of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970’s. At that time, the temple had few monks and hardly any visitors. After the private ceremony, Master Pu Yu gave me a pep talk that has guided my life since. He talked about Zen tradition, the temple’s history, and also spoke more informally and personally to me.

“Shantung,” he said, “I can see by looking at your big earlobes that you will be financially successful, so I know you will do much to support Buddhism and spiritual teachings.” He said this with a teasing smile. When I smiled in response, his expression became more serious. He then said something that surprised me and that has stuck with me ever since.

“Shantung, do no evil, and also do not do good.”

I was very surprised. “Do no evil: do good” is one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism. Master Hui Neng, the Sixth Zen Patriarch, always stressed this teaching to his disciples. How could the master ask me not to do good?

Master Pu Yu looked at my puzzled expression, smiled, and added, “I know you must be wondering, why not do good?” After a pause, he continued.

“You know when you do bad things you create bad karma, and that is not good. When you do good deeds, you create good karma. But good karma is still karma, and karma is what we need to be free from. “ I became very quiet and attentive. The master continued.

“Why isn’t it good to do good deeds and accumulate good karma? Because when you do good deeds, something incomplete or unsatisfied lingers. For example, let’s say you’re a rich person who supports a young man by helping to provide a living and education for many years until he graduates from college and enters society. You do this with a good heart, selflessly, without any expectation in return. Later on, when the young man becomes successful and well known, and people mention that he received a lot of help when he was younger, he denies that he ever received any help from you, and even goes so far as to bad-mouth you. At that point, you will think, ‘But I have given you so much, without expecting any return, why on the contrary you bad-mouth me!’ You will inevitably be upset.

Or, as another example, you might contribute much to people in your village – food, clothing, and so on. People love you and praise your generosity. But one day another rich person moves to the village. He builds bridges and roads, establishes a hospital, and does good deeds on a much larger scale. You will inevitably compare yourself to him, and feel that your good deeds don’t measure up to his.

Do you see? This is what I mean when I say that good deeds are somehow incomplete or unsatisfied.”

I was puzzled. I was about to ask, “So, Master, what should I do?”

Before I could speak it, Master Pu Yu continued.

“Do not try to do good deeds. Just work on yourself. Be a candle. A lit candle can illuminate a small space.  Continue to work on yourself; expand the light, so that the candle becomes a torch. A torch can illuminate a larger space. Then make yourself into a bonfire that can illuminate an even bigger space. A candle, torch, or bonfire, each gives out light naturally, according to its size. There is no trying; there is no effort involved. If you are a candle, you can’t choose to illuminate a larger space; if you are a bonfire, you can’t limit yourself to a smaller space.

“Just focus your work on yourself. Knowledge comes from outside, but wisdom comes from a tranquil mind. As you work on yourself, the capacity of your heart will increase to embrace more and more space and time, on an ever-larger scale. This is the change from candle to torch to bonfire. As this happens, whatever you think or do is naturally good and beneficial to people, society, and all living beings; but it is so natural that there is no effort toward “good deeds”. When you live your life this way, and you are not thinking about whether what you do is good or great, then there is no good karma, and you are set free from karma.”

This is in line with Taoist teaching about being in tune with nature. Nature does not need to make any effort, but everything still happens. So work silently on yourself. People on a spiritual path usually do not draw public attention to being on spiritual path. Spiritual people are not aware that they are spiritual. They cultivate themselves, and everything is done in accord with nature, as revealed through self-cultivation.

A Memory of Tea with Master Pu Yu

master pu yu smallPu Yu (普雨法師) was the 133rd head master of Yungquan (“Bubbling Spring”) Temple on Gu Shan (“Drum Mountain”) in Fuzhou, China. Established in the Tang dynasty, this monastery has over 1,200 years of history. I formally became his disciple in the late 1970s, just a few years after the end of the Cultural Revolution. At that time, due to the long suppression of religion in China, the temple had few monks and hardly any visitors. As a result, I was able to enjoy quite a bit of time with Master Pu Yu during my stay.

Once I visited him in his private room while he was making tea, and he handed me a cup of steaming brew. The cups in the monastery were bigger than the tea cups usually seen in homes. It was a Song dynasty design, with a soft celadon glaze. I bowed, accepted it with both hands, and carefully took the first sip.

This was a special oolong tea known as “rock tea,” which has a bittersweet taste but a robust aroma with a hint of smoke in its flavor. While we had tea, I asked, “Master, what exactly is Zen mind?”

He smiled, but went on talking about tea.

After a while, when I had nearly finished my cup, I was about to repeat my question. He looked at my nearly empty cup, looked at me directly, and said very quietly, “So, do you remember?”

I was puzzled.

After a short moment, I asked, “Remember? Remember what?”

“Didn’t you just ask me about Zen mind?” he replied.

I tried to figure out what he meant, but was still confused.

“Do you remember the very moment you took the first sip?” he asked, looking right into my eyes.

After pausing briefly, he continued, “Do you remember that moment? Before you could tell whether the tea was hot or warm? Before you could differentiate smell from taste? Before you could tell what kind of tea it was? Do you remember that moment?”

As soon as I heard Master Pu Yu’s words, I understood: that moment is the state of Zen mind.

I looked at him and smiled in silence. He nodded and smiled back. It was but a brief moment; yet I have retained this memory for decades.

The foundation of Zen teaching is this: no matter where we are or what we are doing, we must fully live at that moment.

So, do you remember?

Tea and Wine

tea and wineAt first glance, tea and wine seem very different. Wine is made and stored as a liquid; tea is made and stored in the form of dried leaves. Wine is best aged while tea can be drunk fresh. Wine is served cold or at room temperature in a glass; tea is usually served hot in a ceramic cup. The temperature at which wine served is critical; tea can be served over a great range of temperature without losing its flavor. However, if we look at the art of wine tasting and compare it to the art of tea tasting, there are interesting similarities.

Both tea and wine are judged by their appearance. In both, color and clarity are important. In both, the aroma is an important feature, as is the sensation that the liquid produces in the mouth. In wine, the final aspect of the flavor is called the “finish.” the quality that the wine leaves behind in the mouth. In tea, people pay attention to the “aftertaste,” the feeling and taste that may linger for hours after the last cup is finished.

Wine comes from the yeast fermentation of whole grapes. The result is a great richness and complexity, both of scent and taste. However, in the same bottle of wine, the taste hardly varies from beginning to end. Tea “fermentation” is the enzymatic oxidation of the leaves; even the most complex scents and flavors are simpler than those of wine. But these flavors change and develop from steeping to steeping, so that the experience of tea over time is much more complex.

Wine is assertive; it comes to you and presents itself. Tea is reserved; you have to cultivate its acquaintance to know it in depth. Wine leads to disinhibition, spontaneity, and drunkenness. Tea leads to clarity, mindfulness, and awakening.

Traditionally, tea can be enjoyed in solitude. Wine is enjoyed in company.

Tea plays an important part in Buddhism. It was used to help monks stay awake while meditating, and in turn monks became some of the most important cultivators of tea. Wine is associated with Mediterranean religions; Catholic monasteries were centers of grape growing and wine making. Wine leads to ecstasy; tea leads to awakening. Wine helps you escape the world while tea helps you awaken to it. When you drink too much wine, tea can help you recover.

Tea and wine appeal to different people in different ways and at different times. Both are gifts of nature that have been refined and transformed by human cultivation, and that have transformed the societies that cultivate them.

Excerpt from The Essence of Tea by Shan-Tung Hsu

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Money, the Ultimate Testing Tool for Relationships

Money symbolI was the youngest son among eight siblings (5 boys, 3 girls). In my childhood in Taiwan, my family was relatively well off. That was right after World War II. There were food shortages after the war. But we were fortunate because we had a big farm and hired many farm workers. So, we had plenty to eat.

In 1949, when the Communist Party took over China, many refugees came to Taiwan from China. Because we had a big farm, my father took in many of these refugees, who became permanent guests. Many of them were intellectuals, or people with special talents or skills.

In later years, so that his children could have a better education, my father sold the farm and our family moved to a small city. There, he began to get into business, by providing consultations including feng shui. Because he was very knowledgeable, people consulted him on all sorts of things.

Being a very open-hearted and generous man, my father would always welcome many guests (mostly relatives from the countryside) who would come to visit, and stay for lunch and dinner. I was very close to my father, as Chinese tend to dote on their youngest sons. And I spent a lot of time with him when I was not in school. I remember these times fondly. Up to this time, our family had a very comfortable living.

Later though, my father’s business life became a rollercoaster.   All the ups and downs naturally affected our living. Even though he was very knowledgeable about herbs, for a long while he could not cure his own sickness. These were very trying times but he kept things close to his chest.

When I turned 18, my father told me: “You are an adult now, and you should be responsible for yourself.” After that, he hardly ever asked me anything about what I was doing. Even if I stayed up very late at a classmate’s house, he did not worry, knowing that I would not do anything I shouldn’t. (Remember, at that time we did not have telephones, and certainly not cell phones.) I never disappointed him.

One day when I was 21, in my second year of college, my father took out his private reserve, a nice home-made rice wine, and invited me to have a drink with him. And then he told me something I have never forgotten.

He said, “Soon you will leave school and enter society. You will be involved with all kinds of people, in a social circle far larger than just your brothers, sisters and relatives, classmates and friends. You will know colleagues and business partners. You will be involved in many kinds of relationships. How can you know the genuineness and depth of the relationship? One day you might be surprised to find that your best friend, lover, or business partner is not as truthful as you thought. You might find you have been betrayed; you might be very disappointed, and even get angry. How can you know beforehand whether people are truthful, dependable, shallow or deep? The way to find out is through money. When there is money involved, you will know.

What people are most attached to is money. When money is involved, people reveal the truth of their values and their relationship with you. Whether you ask someone for help, or whether you have money issues with someone, you will find out the truth.

When you are in real need and ask for help, you will find all kinds of responses. Some friends may be very rich but avoid you; some may be not so well off, but go out of their way to help you. A lover may stick with you for a long time or exhaust their loyalty after a while.

This is not just among friends. It happens between husband and wife, among brothers and sisters, parents and children, relatives, and among business partners. It is always easy to find examples of children fighting bitterly over an inheritance, partners fighting for a better share of profit, dear lovers saying goodbye when one of the lover’s financial status changes. People you have helped might go out of their way to help you; others may no longer stop by. Money is the best test for the truth of a relationship.”

I listened very attentively and understood this must be from his rollercoaster life experience. But what has left an impression on me most was his second piece of advice:

“Use money to test relationships, to find out what is real, and what to expect. So you will not be surprised or disappointed. But don’t take it any further: don’t make unnecessary judgments. Whether people are generous or stingy, sympathetic or unsympathetic, supportive or not, just take this as a way of knowing who they are and how they react in the situation, without false expectations. Everybody walks on his own path of development. Sometimes you may wonder why a person who is well-off cannot come forward to help. Some people may be rich in money but not rich in heart. Get to know people, treat people the way they are. Do not be surprised by other people’s actions. When you do not have false expectations, you will not be disappointed.”

My father was a great person, a great father. Of all the things I learned from him – feng shui, herbal medicine, energy work, face reading and so on — this is the advice I remember most.