Fame is Not Reality

Yao, an ancient emperor from Chinese mythology, wanted to give up his throne to his friend, Master Yu. He said to Yu, “There’s no need for torch light when a bright sun shines in the sky; there’s no need to water plants when it’s raining. I’m a torch light, compared with you, the master of the mind. Take over the throne; then all will be well.”

Yu replied, “My lord, as far as I know, you have ruled well. There’s no reason for me to take over unless it’s for fame. But fame is no reality. I am a small being in the world, coming and going as a guest. A bird in a large forest perches only on a branch of a tree; a beast drinking water from a stream only takes what he needs. Forgive me, my lord, I am not interested in ruling the country.”


FAME is the fishbone that is often caught in the throat of modern men. Restive and discontented when we don’t have it; huffy and moody when we have it; embittered and melancholy when we lose it. We move heaven and earth in pursuit of it, only to be dazzled by its radiance and burned by its heat. Minds are distorted and lives shattered because of it.
In a world densely connected by digital devices, with so many channels and tools that readily serve as routes to fame, FAME has never been so accessible. We play silly, we play sick, we risk our lives, and we become ever so inventive in our quest for fame and to grab attention, turning life into a fast-paced roller-coaster ride.

When a man seeks fame only for the sake of seeking it, he suffers the way he suffers from a disease. His ego swells out of proportion; he loses touch with his inner world and is no longer his real self. Fame is not reality. We all but a small being in the world. No matter how famous we are, we are still the man of the same physical appearance. We grow no bigger, eat no more food than we can stomach, and use up no more space than the size of our body. Fame is an illusion. It tempts us with desires for imaginary benefits and cost us contentment and our present blessings. A man like Yu knows his value and follows his intuition, so he stays unruffled in the face of fame. Held in high regard by a great king, Yu is all but unknown. When a man’s deeds speak volumes, fame is at his heels and comes to him without being bidden. Such fame is genuine fame, and only genuine fame bears the force and energy of the universe.

From the age-old thoughts of Chinese philosophers, I am searching for the meaning and purpose of today – my voyage into the land of the unknown. The story of this post is originally from Book of Wonders by Zhuangzi (369-?286BC) and translated by Martin Palmer.


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