(Minghui.org) Shao Yong (1011 A.D. - 1077 A.D.) was one of the most learned scholars in Chinese history. He was a philosopher, cosmologist, poet, and historian who lived during the Song Dynasty. He was well respected for his virtues and in-depth knowledge of iconography and numerology.

Early Days

Shao's ancestors were from Fanyang in Hebei Province. He was born in an area known as Hengzhang. The family later moved to Gongcheng County, now Huixian City, Henan Province.

Shao's father, Shao Gu, was an honorable man with a straightforward temperament. He was a scholar of philology and loved to read. Under his influence, Shao Yong studied classic literature from a young age. Later, Shao Yong studied at private schools, many run by Buddhist monks. He also traveled extensively, broadening his horizons.

I Ching - The Book of Changes

I Ching is an ancient text of divination and one of the oldest Chinese classics. It has been the basis for divination practice for centuries in China.

It was said that Shao Yong had two pillow-shaped pots. Reading in his room one summer afternoon, he saw a rat running around. Quickly, he picked up one of the pots and threw it at the rat. The pot missed the rat and broke into pieces.

Shao found a piece of paper inside the broken pot, which read, “The pillow breaks when the rat passes.” Shao thought it very strange. He then broke the other pillow-shaped pot and found another piece of paper that read, “That one is broken, this one is broken as well.” Because of this experience, he became extremely interested studying divination.

The administrative officer of Gongcheng at the time was Li Zhicai. Li was a third-generation disciple of the famous Taoist Chen Tuan. He had studied I Ching extensively and wanted to pass on his learning. Impressed with Shao Yong's character, Li taught Shao Yong the ancient subjects of iconography and numerology. He gifted Shao Yong with rare books, such as Hetu, Luoshu, Eight Triagrams, and Hexagram Images.

Shao Yong devoted the next 20 years to studying I Ching. At the time, most scholars studied I Ching using a literal and moral approach. Shao alone took another approach, one that was based on iconography and cosmological concepts. He wrote Huangji Jingshi (Book of Supreme World Ordering Principles) and Guanwu Neiwaipian. People believed that one could predict all matters in life, including the rise and fall of society, using Shao Yong's methods.

According to historians in the Song Dynasty, Shao was extraordinary knowledgeable and able to foretell the future accurately on many occasions. Shao Yong wrote books about divination, such as Meihua Yishu, Tieban Shenshu, Heluo Zhenshu, and others. In the famous Plum Blossom Poem, Shao prophesied the major changes in Chinese history from the Song Dynasty to today, and even the future. Many people believe that history has confirmed his predictions.

A Model for Future Generations

The study of I Ching also led to a path of self-cultivation for Shao Yong. He believed a person must follow the way (Dao) of heaven and earth in his conduct and speech. He said that there is a heavenly way in all matters of the universe. When one abides by the heavenly way, not only can he nourish his body and spirit, but also obtain true joy.

Shao Yong believed that a person should strive to have the virtue of a sage. Such a person is perceptive of cosmic changes, understands the natural world, and is experienced in all human affairs.

To achieve that, Shao Yong believed the key was to cultivate one's heart, or ,as he put it, “Talking about it is not as good as putting it into action; putting it into action is not as good as taking it to heart.”

Shao Yong himself attached great importance to his own moral cultivation. His conduct and manner became a model for future generations. According to historians in the Song Dynasty, Shao treated people with genuine sincerity regardless of their social status. He had a good heart and was always easygoing. When he talked with people, he avoided their shortcomings and enjoyed talking about their strengths. When asked questions, he always answered truthfully, without imposing his own view.

Shao Yong never took a position in the government, despite befriending many high-ranking officials. He was well respected for his high moral character and his knowledge by people from all walks of life. People rushed over to greet him wherever he went. Some even built their houses like Shao's, hoping he would stay with them.

A Conversation Between a Fisherman and a Woodcutter

Shao Yong believed that, when people valued virtue, they would be polite and humble, and the society would prosper; when people chased after profit and self-interest, they would fight for profit and power, and society, in turn, would fall into chaos.

In the story of a Fisherman and a Woodcutter, Shao Yong wrote about the consequences of seeking self-interest.

A fisherman was fishing on a riverbank. A woodcutter passed by and asked, “What are you doing?”

“Fishing,” said the fisherman.

“You can catch fish just by using a fishing hook, right?” asked the woodcutter.

“Yes,” replied the fisherman.

“What if you don't put bait on the hook?” asked the woodcutter.

“That won't work,” said the fisherman.

“So the fish is hooked not because of the hook but because of the bait,” sighed the woodcutter. “The fish loses its life just for that little bit of bait. Some people are like the fish—they ruin their future for just a little bit of self-interest.”

Shao Yong died at the age of 67. Many emperors bestowed honorary titles on him after his death.