Master musician didn't tune in to life

City Talk | 27 Sep 2016

Yu Boya, pictured, was a genius and famous music master during China's Spring and Autumn Period.

He had been the protege of a teacher, Lian, for many years and reached the pinnacle, but felt that his music was still missing a magic touch.

Lian knew his dilemma and took him to meet his own teacher, a grandmaster.

They went by boat to Penglai Island, home of all immortals, which is in the East China Sea.

On arrival, Lian told Boya to wait for him while he went in search of the grandmaster.

But instead, he disappeared with his boat and never returned.

Boya was miserable in his loneliness, and the rough sea, screeching seagulls and silent woods seemed to be composing a sad melody.

With myriad thoughts welling up in his mind, he began to play a tune on his musical instrument. His music was becoming more expressive, fired by emotions. It turned out his teacher had left him alone deliberately, knowing he would gain inspiration from nature.

Boya enjoyed the beauty of nature and he listened to the sound of the waves and could smell the sea.

He incorporated the beauty of nature into his music, reaching a state of excellence that he had never experienced before. But he was all alone, and there was no one to appreciate his music.

One day Boya was cruising alongside the river bank in his boat.

It started to rain heavily and he felt the urge to play his guqin, an ancient Chinese instrument.

Boya berthed his boat, and saw a woodcutter standing nearby. He could see that the woodcutter had been enjoying his music, and he invited the man, Zhong Ziqi, to join him on his boat, where Boya played music for him.

When Boya played a piece of music associated with high mountains, the woodcutter exclaimed: "The melody is as magnificent and dignified as Mount Tai, which reaches to the sky!"

When he played a piece of music depicting the turbulent waves, the woodcutter said: "The melody is as vast and mighty as the great rivers!"

Boya was thrilled to have someone who understood his music.

He promised to visit Zhong again.

One day he returned as promised, but was sad to learn that Zhong had been ill and had passed away.

He played a tune at Zhong's tomb, then smashed his guqin into pieces and never played music again.

To have someone to understand you is not easy, let alone to appreciate you!

The master always says that to reach the pinnacle, you must be able to handle all situations without him, and it is important to help others rather than setting out only to prove yourself.

Learn to appreciate others rather than only expecting others to appreciate you.

Kerby Kuek has published 15 books on feng shui, inner alchemy, Taoism and metaphysics. He can be contacted at

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