This story happened in Jiangsu Province during the Chinese Qing Guangxu period (1875–1908 CE). Mr. Jia was working for a big company and had earned a deep trust from his boss. One day his boss asked him to go to the southern side of the city to collect debts. Mr. Jia took his bag and left to do as he had been asked. After a whole morning of traveling and collecting debts from more than ten companies, his bag was full of silver coins, and he was tired and thirsty. He decided to stop by a teahouse to take some nourishment. After he finished, he returned to the office.
When he arrived back at the office, he discovered that the bag containing the money was missing. It was a lot of money, and he would never be able to pay it back. Even worse, his boss would never trust him again. He would lose his job and his good reputation. He was so upset; it took him a while to summon the courage to tell his boss. After telling his story, his boss prepared to take him to the police station. Mr. Jia thought his life was ruined.
Meanwhile, back at the teahouse, a businessman, Mr. Yi, had just arrived. Mr. Yi had just lost all of his money on investments that weren’t successful. He had purchased a boat ticket and was resigned to returning to his home village. With a couple hours left before the boat took off, Mr. Yi went to the same teahouse where Mr. Jia had lost his bag, and he happened to sit down in the same place. When he sat down, he noticed Mr. Jia’s bag. He sat in the teahouse for an hour, and nobody came for this bag. No longer able to stifle his curiosity, Mr. Yi opened the bag and was shocked to see a wealth of silver coins. This money could change his life, he thought. He could reinvest it in his business, and it would provide him with a luxurious lifestyle for the rest of his life.
However, Mr. Yi did not want to benefit from someone else’s loss. He felt compassion for whoever it must be. He knew the person must be desperate and worried at such a loss. He waited at the teahouse, sure that someone would return to retrieve the bag. A few more hours passed. His boat was ready to depart, but still no one came to claim the bag.
It was almost dinnertime when at last he saw a young man with the pale expression of someone in deep distress. The man entered the teahouse followed closely by two other people. This young man pointed at the chair, and Mr. Yi heard him tell the two people, “That is the chair where I was sitting. The bag could be there.”
“Pardon me, did you lose this bag?” Mr. Yi asked, “I have been waiting for you since this morning.” He took out the bag and gave it to Mr. Jia.
Mr. Jia was so relieved that his body began trembling. He could not believe that he was able to find the money again. He looked at Mr. Yi with tears, “You are my great benefactor. Without this bag, I would have to hang myself tonight.”
Earlier in the day, when Mr. Jia told his boss he lost the bag he pleaded for a chance to trace back the path he was walking in the morning. His boss did not trust him anymore and thought Mr. Jia would try to escape but he decided to allow Mr. Jia to look for the bag. To make sure he didn’t run away, he ordered two other employees to follow him. They did not expect to find it.
After they introduced themselves to each other, Mr. Jia wanted to offer Mr. Yi a reward, but Mr. Yi politely refused. When Mr. Jia offered again, Mr. Yi again refused. When Mr. Jia tried a third time, Mr. Yi got upset.
“I returned this bag to you and was not expecting a reward.”
Finally, Mr. Jia begged. “There are no more boats leaving tonight. At least allow me to treat you to a nice lunch tomorrow. I will wait for you in the restaurant next to the river. Please accept my invitation; otherwise, I will feel bad for the rest of my life.” Then Mr. Jia left to bring the money back to his boss.
The next day Mr. Yi showed up at the restaurant where Mr. Jia was waiting anxiously. Before Mr. Jia could say anything, Mr. Yi bowed to him and thanked him. Mr. Jia was confused. He was the one who was supposed to thank Mr. Yi.
“Because of waiting for you yesterday, I missed my boat. When I returned to my hotel, I was told that the boat capsized, and all twenty- three passengers were drowned. If I did not wait here, I would also be drowned. You have saved my life.”
When Mr. Jia returned to his company, he told his boss what had happened. His boss was intrigued by the lucky fates of this chance encounter, and he insisted on meeting Mr. Yi. Mr. Jia’s boss hired Mr. Yi as a manager of the company. Due to his reputation as a man of integrity, other companies trusted him and liked to do business with him. Soon, the company became one of the largest companies in the city.
The above is an excerpt from The Dao in Action: Inspired Tales for Life as told by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, published April 2019, by YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594396519.
From the Foreword by Leslie Takao, YMAA Editor, Tai Chi and Qigong Teacher, and Student of Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming
I love these stories. Some are inspirational, some are funny, and some are thought provoking. Many of you will recognize the themes of these fables. You may have heard them with other names and places. The themes, noble and ignoble, transcend culture and time. The Dao is the Dao, and fables are the de (the manifestations) of the Dao.
In the last hours of the last days of many of Master Yang’s seminars, when we were physically drained from training and mentally void from trying to remember new forms and new skills, Master Yang would sit down, answer questions, and tell stories. Sometimes, during regular classes, he would tell one of these stories to make a point. These were my favorite times; time to get to know our teacher and to absorb an important spiritual and inspirational part of the training. I find myself often retelling many of these stories to my students.
I would like to add my own story. Once upon a time, in real life, my mother was a civilian worker at the US naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, during World War II. It was not a top-secret area; we are Japanese. There was a prisoner of war, a Japanese national, who was allowed to clean the offices where she worked. She would sometimes offer this man a stick of gum or share some of the Japanese food she had brought for lunch, little kindnesses to which she gave no second thought. She never even mentioned them to us.
If the story ended here, it would just be a story about a kind lady. But the story does not end here.
It ends about forty years later when the Japanese embassy contacted my mother. That prisoner of war had gone on to become a successful CEO of a large sake company, and he had been looking for my mother for several years. He wanted to thank her. To him, her gestures were not just small kindnesses; they made him feel like a human being again and reinstilled in him the will to live. He sent her two first-class tickets to Japan and treated her and my father like royalty.
The consequence of her small actions was the profound change in the course of another human life. That consequence honors her otherwise ordinary human gestures. That is the ethos of a fable.
These fables of human integrity, kindness, perseverance, wonder, and honor are the revelations of the Dao. Read them in order or randomly. Most of all, enjoy.