Once there was a man named Yuan Liaofan, who was originally named Yuan Xuehai and was a famous Confucian scholar in the Ming Dynasty. He pursued scholarly studies in his youth, but because his father wanted him to learn medicine in order to save the world's people, he changed his course of study to medicine. Later, he met an old, long-haired diviner of physiognomy who told him, “It is your fate to become an official. You should pursue scholarly learning, for then you can become a great official. On a certain day, month, and year, you can pass the examination and become a graduate of the first degree. On a certain day and month, you can become a district magistrate with a salary of so much. On a certain day of a certain year, you will be promoted and your salary will become so much. At midnight on August 14th of your fifty-fourth year, your life will come to an end. You will have no sons.” Thereupon, Yuan Xuehai changed his course and pursued scholarly studies, and everything turned out as the diviner had predicted. It was completely accurate. Since he thought his destiny was fixed, he just waited for fate to take its course. He was ruled by fate, and did not seek to improve himself. Instead, he spent his days traveling and enjoying the scenery of mountains and rivers.
One day he traveled to Qixia Mountain in Nanjing, and hearing that the Chan Master Yunku was there, he went up the mountain to pay a visit. The Chan Master handed him a cushion, and the two of them sat facing each other for three days without speaking. The Chan Master was very surprised and said, “Where are you from? If you can sit peacefully without moving or having idle thoughts for three days, you are an exceptional cultivator of the Way.”
Yuan replied, “Since everything is determined by fate, I crave nothing, seek nothing, and have no idle thoughts.”
The Chan Master said, “I thought you were an extraordinary person, but it turns out you are just an ordinary person.”
Yuan was upset and asked, “Why do you say I'm an ordinary person?”
The Master replied, “If you weren't an ordinary person, why would you allow yourself to be bound by fate?”
Yuan asked, “Is it possible to escape fate?”
He replied, “You are a scholar. The Book of Changes very clearly says, ‘Pursue good fortune and avoid calamity.’ If it were not possible to escape fate, how could we pursue good fortune and avoid calamity?”
Yuan experienced a great awakening and changed his name to Liaofan (Ending the ordinary). From that day onward, he was no longer an ordinary person. Thenceforth, he extensively practiced good deeds and accumulated a lot of merit and virtue. The diviner's words were no longer accurate. He lived to be over eighty, and had three sons. Thus, fate is not fixed, and fortune and calamity are not fixed. The ancients said, “The superior person creates his own destiny.” People who are virtuous, wise and proper can mold their own destinies and transcend their fate.
Why is there misfortune? It's because there is misfortune in the mind. If you plant bad causes, of course there will be a bad retribution. If you can reform your faults and go toward the good, then you can pursue good fortune and avoid calamity. From this perspective, we see that fate can be changed, and the power to do so is in our own hands. As it is said, “Great good and great evil can transcend fate.”