Forget Yourself

Augustus walked along the path meditating as he went. His young friend Lu-Wie had asked him to visit. He had said he needed some advice. Augustus was loathe to give advice. His natural inclination was to lead people to their own understanding. It was not long before he arrived at Lu-Wie’s little hut. There was his friend waiting for him out on his front porch. He was sitting on a little wooden stool and he had a look of consternation on his face.

On seeing Augustus approaching he rose up from his seat and went to greet him, exclaiming “Oh Augustus, it is so good to see you. I really need your help.”

“Whatever is the matter my friend?”

Lu-Wie joined Augustus and put his arm around his shoulders. They walked together towards Lu-Wie’s simple hut. Lu-Wie beckoned to Augustus to take a seat on one of the stools on the porch and then sat down on another.

“Well, Augustus, I have feelings of unworthiness. My father was a successful figure in the Emperor’s court but I have no achievements at all. You, for example, are well versed in Buddhism and many other aspects of spirituality, but I am ignorant in all these things. My brother makes a fine living by producing fine pottery which is admired by all in our community, but I have no such skills. I am beginning to feel that I am worthless and I despair that I might be destined to live a meaningless life.”

Augustus pondered this outburst from his friend for a few brief moments. Then he said, “My friend I can see you are distressed but I don’t have time to deal with your concerns. I have something more pressing to attend to and perhaps after that is done we might talk about your problem.”

Lu-Wie frowned. He longed for Augustus’s attention. He was indeed suffering from his own lack of purpose and meaning. What could be attracting Augustus’s attention that was more important than his own suffering?

Intrigued Lu-Wie asked, “What is it Augustus that you must attend to?”

“Well my friend there is an old farmer who lives near me who has taken ill. His crop is ready for harvest and if it is not taken off he and his wife will have no sustenance during the winter and they will surely starve. I must go and help with the harvest.  I was wondering if you had the time to help me?”

The other paused but a moment and then shrugging his shoulders agreed. “Why not?” he responded.

For many days Augustus, Lu-Wie and the farmer’s wife laboured in the fields cutting the rice with sickles, bundling it into sheaves loading it into the farmer’s wagon which an ox hauled back to the barn near the farmhouse for winnowing. Lu-Wie was unused to manual work but he bent his back and after a time rather enjoyed the work. When the work was finished the farmer and his wife were effusive with their praise, being now assured that there would be a reasonable store of grain for the winter with enough surplus to trade for well-needed supplies.

As Lu-Wie and Augustus wended their way home when the work was complete, Lu-Wie mused, “Augustus I have been so busy helping the farmer and his wife that I have not had time to dwell on my worries. And to tell the truth their problems seemed to make mine feel so trivial.”

They came to a fork in the road where they would each go their separate ways. “Nevertheless, I would still like the opportunity to talk over my problems with you.”

“Very well then,” replied Augustus, “I will drop by in a few days.”

Lu-Wie smiled in gratitude. “You are a true friend, Augustus.”

Three days later Augustus strolled back to Lu-Wie’s hut.

“Hoy, Lu-Wie are you there?” he called.

There was a flurry inside and Lu-Wie’s beaming face appeared at the doorway.

“Oh, it’s you Augustus. How good to see you. It was nice of you to come back to discuss my problems.”

“Well, I had planned to do that Wu-Lie but on the way over I noticed the widow Shang’s barn had been damaged in the storm we had two nights ago. She will need the barn intact to house fodder and some animals during the winter. So I wondered if you might like to help me effect some repairs?”

Lu-Wie paused a moment. “Yes, I could do that. Just wait a moment while I fetch my coat.”

They laboured all day to repair a gaping hole in the northern wall and refix a part of the roof that had been damaged. Widow Shang came down just as they had finished bringing a little food for them and a cool drink. She was overwhelmed by their good works and was lavish in her praise and gratitude.

As they strolled back in the late afternoon Augustus looked at his friend and said, “Perhaps while we walk you might tell me about those problems of yours.”

Wu-Lie laughed. “You know Augustus. I don’t think I have any problems worth talking about.”

Augustus nodded his head. “A wise man once said that the way to personal well-being requires that first we should know ourselves, then accept ourselves and finally forget ourselves. The easiest way to forget ourselves is to be concerned for others. Our concern for others displaces our own self-concern. Indeed it has been truly said that if we want to make others happy we should show compassion for others. Enigmatically it is also true that if we want to be happy we should show compassion for others.”

“Thank you Augustus. You have demonstrated this truth to me. I shall be forever grateful.”

Augustus smiled. “You know gratitude is also a helpful emotion – but I will save that lesson for another time!”