Once upon a time, there was a farmer who worked diligently in the fields every day, all throughout the year, but when autumn came, he often reaped very little harvest. Despite this, he was a very contented man; he was happy with the little that he has because it is enough.
Unbeknownst to the farmer, on his farm lived some ghosts. The elder ghost is an evil and grumpy ghost, and he wanted everyone else to be grumpy and bad like him. When the elder ghost saw this good-natured farmer working diligently every day, yet not getting angry at a small harvest, he said, “How could this farmer remain so happy and good? I can’t stand this. I need to make him grumpy and bad like me!”
The elder ghost then said to his little ghosts, “Whoever can ruin this farmer’s good attitude will be rewarded!”
One ghost said, “Let me try! Let me try!”
“Alright,” said the elder ghost.
The little ghost watched the farmer working hard to till the soil. Despite the hard work, the farmer never fretted. At night, the little ghost used his magical powers to make the soil harder. The next day, he thought the farmer might complain that the soil suddenly became very hard and then give up. But when the farmer started working, he did not complain at all. He simply kept working as normal, except he rested more frequently.
The little ghost reported his failed attempt to the elder ghost, who said, “This farmer is a hard case to crack. Does anyone else have an idea?”
Another little ghost said, “Me! Me! Let me try!”
“Alright, don’t disappoint me,” said the elder ghost.
The second little ghost observed that the farmer only ate a loaf of bread with water for lunch. Hence, he waited until the farmer went to work in the fields in the morning, then he stole the bread and water. He hoped that the farmer would get upset at losing the little food and water he had.
When the farmer came back, he was surprised that his food and water disappeared. He started searching and searching. The little ghost giggled in anticipation of the farmer getting angry. To his surprise, the farmer said, “Oh I know! Someone who needs the food more than me must have stolen it while I was working in the fields. Well, that’s okay, going one meal hungry is not a big deal for me, especially if it means helping someone else in greater need.”
The second little ghost reported what happened to the elder ghost, who said, “Unbelievable! Perhaps we should give up.”
Then, the third little ghost said, “Master, master, let me try! I have a plan! But it might take a long time.”
The elder ghost said, “Alright, I don’t have much hope for your success, but if you want to try, then be my guest.”
The third little ghost made himself visible to the farmer and said, “Dear mister farmer, I see you working hard on the fields all the time, and despite your little harvest, you never complain. I am a benevolent spirit here to help you.”
The farmer, being a good and trusting person, welcomed the ghost. The ghost had supernatural powers that allowed him to see the future, so he told the farmer, “Next year, there will be a big drought. Therefore, you need to prepare extra water and keep the soil moist next year.”
The farmer followed the ghost’s advice, and indeed, there was a big drought. The other farmers suffered, but this farmer did not because he was prepared. The little ghost continued to tell the future to this farmer and give him advice for how to improve his harvest.
Once the farmer started having a big harvest, the little ghost taught him to make wine out of the rice. Since he had so much extra harvest, the farmer had lots of wine. The little ghost taught him to sell that wine. The wine was popular, and the farmer slowly became wealthy.
By now, years had passed, and the elder ghost came to check up on him. Seeing the farmer wealthy and happy, he said, “Little ghost, what have you done here? You were supposed to make him grumpy and bad, not wealthy and happy!”
The little ghost replied, “Don’t worry master, it is all part of the plan! Tomorrow, the farmer will have a banquet. Come and see what happens!”
The next day, the farmer invited some friends over to have a feast. He ate like a pig and drank wine until he got drunk. The servant was carrying away some dishes when she accidentally dropped and broke a plate. The farmer immediately criticized her, “You careless good-for-nothing! What’s wrong with you? No food for you tonight!”
The elder ghost laughed in delight and asked the little ghost, “Amazing! How did you make him bad like that?”
The little ghost replied, “Simple. All I did was give him more than he needed, then slowly, his greed and arrogance started to grow.”
When life is tough, people often cultivate virtues like diligence, frugality, and humility. But when people gain wealth and power, if they lack virtues, then vices like greed and arrogance may take over, which then attracts disaster.
An example is of lottery winners. If they never cultivated frugality and humility beforehand, after suddenly gaining so much money, they become arrogant and indulgent. Soon, they squander all that money and even end up in large debt.
Anyone who studies history will also know that the rise of a nation is linked to the virtues of frugality and diligence, while the fall of a nation is linked to the ruler being extravagant and lazy. Money and power in themselves are not good or bad. What makes them good or bad depends on whether or not we have enough virtues to handle them. Vices like greed, indulgence, laziness, and arrogance are what lead to people’s downfall.
To guard against greed and indulgence, we should cultivate gratitude and contentment. As Seneca said,
“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power to not want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.”
Similarly, Socrates said,
“The secret of happiness is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
To guard against arrogance and laziness, we should cultivate humility. In the book Liao Fan’s Four Lessons, Liao Fan explains:
“A humble person receives support and trust from the general public. If a person understands the virtue of humility, he is the person who also understands the importance of constant self-improvement. This constant self-improvement not only includes the search for higher knowledge, but also encompasses the need to be more humane, better performance in daily duties, and improved communication with friends.”
Indeed, I’ve noticed that tough times can make people better, while smooth times can make people worse. In my first three years of university, I worked extremely hard. In my fourth year, I already knew I had a full-time job lined up after graduation, so I became lazier and wasted a lot of time watching TV and playing video games. A couple hours of gaming a day might not seem like a lot, but that’s 14 hours a week, 728 hours a year! These bad habits stayed with me even after I started working, and I had to work hard to change those bad habits later.
In bad times, cultivate virtues, and fortune will come. In good times, guard against vices, and fortune will stay.