The greater majority of people hope for freedom. However, the only freedom that we seem to be achieving is external freedom. This kind of freedom cannot compare to the freedom attained by internal self-liberation through wisdom. If we can agree that this way of thinking is correct, then we should direct the energy of our entire lives into unlocking this capability within ourselves.
There are some philosophers who would deliberately twist the superficial meaning of happiness, believing that happiness is simply the point at which another form of suffering begins. They also describe the happiness which people talk about as being a temporary sense of relief for the mind that has long been confined and shackled. Perhaps many people can be persuaded to accept this kind of explanation from philosophers. In actuality, how much true happiness a person is able to experience is decided by how much she is able to let go of internally. Saints are able to see through all worldly gain and loss and the hollow nature of the myriad things, so they are not at all influenced by the external environment but are drawn closer toward the inner nature. Therefore, they are truly able to see clearly the external environment, the stage play which is human life. Only then will they be able to take care of their inner self. Most particularly, in a time where superfluous and nonsensical discourse is rampant, temptation of all sorts are at an all-time high. At this time, one huge issue is how we are to bring benefit to our self-nature and exhort people to do good deeds. Yet, this is the only way to manage this world compassionately.
Recorded history can be divided several stages. In the beginning there were the Three Sovereigns and the Five Emperors. During the time of the Three Sovereigns (Fuxi, Shennong, and Suirenshi), ethics existed throughout the world, and the people were endowed with a completely natural state of mind, uncontaminated by falsity. Upon entering the age of the Five Emperors (The Yellow Emperor, Zhuan Xu, Ku, Yao, and Shun), they began to rule over the land with laws. Human interaction began to follow a set code of conduct and negotiation became necessary, which gave rise to a world wherein benevolence was of prime importance. From this to the time of the Three Kings (Yu the Great, Shang Tang, and King Wen of Zhou), the emphasis was placed upon ethics and behavioural norms. At this time the world could still be called benign and human temperament was still mild. Gradually came the Spring and Autumn Period. The avarice of human nature slowly began to express itself. Desires for things beyond food and shelter emerged. Cravings beyond standard profit also arose. Fortunately, there were still benevolent and virtuous rulers striving to stabilize the minds of the people. Fatuous ones had not yet come into existence. You may say that this was still a peaceful era.
After the Spring and Autumn Period, however, morals began to change with each successive age. The law of the jungle began to apply. The arrival of the Warring States period signified the advent of a world of trickery and crafty acquisition, which accounts for the beginnings of the Nine Schools of Thought and the various other doctrines which followed. From this, the wind of virtue died down, and humanity lost its internal compass. The world declined in its moral values and the effects were felt everywhere. Human nature became a pretense, therefore the split nature of humanity gave rise to more and more conflicts and contradictions. Greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt became more and more apparent. How then could one recognize one’s intrinsic nature? The morals of the time are precisely the collective karma created by the human race.
The modern environment we are in is much more complex than that of the Spring and Autumn and Warring State periods; the collective breadth of knowledge humanity has acquired far surpasses that of the Nine Schools of Thought; the wheelings and dealings of modern minds are more clever than the Daoist immortals. People may be as close as siblings but are without true sincerity. Resentment and apprehension breed. This is caused by a fear of being hurt, which in turn creates a vicious cycle. How can the human mind be settled in the midst of all the crafty tricks humanity employs, not to mention the karma created through this type of human interaction?
People ask me how, while living the everyday, to simultaneously remain unfettered, at ease and free from being wrapped up with all worldly affairs, and yet still be able to accomplish them successfully. The answer lies in a mind that is utterly capable of experiencing everything without being attached. If a person is capable of accomplishing this, then she will not fret about settling her mind either when alone, in the midst of rapidly changing circumstances or unexpected, startling incidents. If a practitioner can neither disown nor favor, hide nothing, set his mind at ease in everything with which he engages, and neither covet nor indulge, then it doesn’t matter into which era he may be born, he will always be at peace with himself.
To put this in a modern context: strive to remain relaxed and happy at any given moment, deal with everything in an organized and efficient manner, feel grateful towards both your superiors and subordinates and try not to bury yourself in sorrow and depression. Make self-confidence your priority. By accomplishing this, people will be drawn to you like a magnet. You will enjoy every day with a clear and unfettered mind. You will not let pressure linger and will be able to adapt and reassure yourself when encountering problems. Add the spiritual component that is essential for modern times, and wouldn't you say that a leisurely and blissful life is definitely within reach?