Recently I went abroad for a retreat and while I was there, I had the pleasure of reading Eva Wong's Excerpts from Lieh-Tzu, A Taoist Guide to Practical Living. The following is one such excerpt that I really enjoyed:
Musician Wen learns to play the lute
A long time ago there was a musician who could charm birds and fish into dancing with his music. A lute player named Wen from the Kingdom of Cheng heard the story and wanted to acquire the skill. So he left his family and went to study with the master musician Hsiang.
For a long time, Wen could not play anything. His fingers were tied up in knots, and every time he picked up the lute he could not bring himself to play. After 3 years, he had learned nothing. "You might as well go home," his teacher said.
Wen put down his lute, signed and said, "It's not that I haven't learned any songs or that I can't tune my instrument properly. I cannot play from my heart so the music has never become a part of me. That's why I can't bring myself to play. Let me rest a bit and see what happens."
Not long afterward, Wen returned to his teacher.
"How are you getting along with your music?" his teacher asked.
"I think I've experienced a breakthrough. Let me show you."
Wen took the lute and gently touched the string called Autumn. Although it was springtime, a cool wind blew, the leaves crackled in the autumn breeze, and the sky was bright and cloudless. Then in autumn, he touched the string called Spring, and a gentle wind came. Warm rains fell and the flowers bloomed. In the middle of summer, Wen touched the string called Winter, and suddenly the snow fell and the rivers froze. When winter came, he touched the string called Summer. Immediately the sun shone fiercely, the snow disappeared, and the ice melted from the rivers.
Finally when he touched the last string and played them all together, a refreshing wind blew, azure clouds floated overhead, sweet dew fell, and fragrant springs bubbled up from the ground.
The master musician Hsiang clapped his chest and exclaimed. "Your music far surpasses what words can describe. The greatest players will have to learn from you now."
Wen was already an accomplished musician by the time he went to study with Hsiang, but he realized that perfection in technique alone does not make great music. When he was finally able to dissolve the duality between himself and the music, the songs he played not only had the power to create moods but literally changed reality.
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