Liao Fan’s Four Lessons: Changing Fate and Realizing Our Dreams


Your fate is not sealed,
For the scale of karma 
That decides woe and weal,
Can be altered by Dharma.

Pious and good deeds,
Cause all woes to yield 
To joy and great weal,
‘Tis how fortune is healed!

In this life we strive to realize our dreams and visions. However, more often than not, we are left disappointed or wanting. In many ways, most of us are just like Ming dynasty scholar Yuan Liao Fan (1533-1606). Born to a middle class family, he was originally set to become a physician. However, when he was young, he encountered a Taoist master (Mr. Kong) who read his fortune  and informed him that he had the past merit to become a scholar bureaucrat. Thus, he studied for the imperial civil service examinations. Below is an excerpt from his famous autobiography (Liao Fan’s Four Lessons) that covers the part of the unfailing accuracy of the predictions:

“Mr. Kong: As a student, you will place fourteenth in the county examination, seventy-first in the regional examination and ninth in the provincial examination.

Liao-Fan: The following year, at the three places of examination, I placed exactly as he had predicted. Then Mr. Kong calculated the predictions for my entire life.

Mr. Kong: You will pass such and such a test in such and such a year, you will become a civil servant in such a year and in such a year you will receive a promotion. Finally, you will be appointed as a magistrate in Szechwan Province. After holding that office for three and a half years, you will resign and return home. At the age of fifty-three, you will die around one o’clock in the morning on August 14th. It is a pity that you will not have a son.

Liao-Fan: I recorded and remembered all that he said. From then on, the outcome of every examination I took turned out exactly as Mr. Kong had predicted….

Thus, afterwards, Liao Fan became apathetic towards life as he then falsely believed that everything  (be it marriage, children, wealth and honors) were intricately fixed to his original fate. However, he later encountered Zen Master Yun Gu who enlightened him to the fact that:

Master Yun-Gu: The merits accrued can actually change their destiny from suffering to happiness, poverty to prosperity and short lives to longevity. Similarly, fate cannot bind those who commit great evils (wrongdoing).

Narrator: When a person’s (bad) evil deeds are so great and powerful, they will cancel out the good fortune and prosperity predetermined in his original fate and his or her life can be transformed from good to bad.

Master Yun-Gu: For the past twenty years, you have lived your life according to Mr. Kong’s predictions and did not do a thing to change it. Instead, you became bound by your own fate. If you are not considered a mundane mortal, then who is?”

Thereafter, Liao Fan strove single-mindedly to eschew vice and embrace virtue, leading to several profound and far reaching improvements in his life ; extending his blessings and lifespan far above the original predicted by Mr. Kong. 

I feel that Yuan Liao Fan’s life story is very important nowadays as we often seek from the external instead of rectifying the root causes. Very often, this leads us to only flutter along life’s foggy path and create more volatile karma in the process as emotions tempt and provoke. For instance, Master Yun also noted:

“Narrator: If wealth, fame and prestige are embodied in one’s fate, then one will attain them even without having to pursue them. If they are not, then one cannot attain them even through plotting and scheming.

Master Yun-Gu: Therefore, if one cannot reflect within one’s own heart but instead blindly seeks fame, fortune and long life from external sources, then this seeking will be in vain. Just as Mencius once said…”

Doesn’t this remind us of a lot of people?

Thus, if we want to increase our blessings and pursue our dreams, we ought to make sure that we have the stock of merit to back us up. Therefore, I strongly recommend everyone read Liao Fan’s Four Lessons:

Online Text Version with Audiobook:

Extended Commentary of Book:

The 3000 Good Deed Goal

Lastly, in both Liao Fan’s Four Lessons and the Treatise on Response and Retribution, the 3000 good deed mark is important:

“Then I made my second wish and that was for a son. I vowed to complete another three thousand good deeds. A few years later, your mother gave birth to you and named you Tian-Chi.”

-Liao Fan

故吉人語善 視善 行善 一日有三善 三年天必降之福。凶人語惡 視惡
行惡 一日有三惡 三年天必降之禍。胡不勉而行之?

A virtuous man speaks only good, does only good and sees only good. Hence,
he does at least three good deeds everyday. After 3 years (1000 days), karmic
rewards are guaranteed to manifest. The evil man does the opposite and amasses
evil deeds daily. Therefore, disasters and misfortunes will
certainly befall upon him after three years

– Treatise on Response & Retribution

Thus, I would like to recommend my free and Public Domain Merit Ledger that I created as a simple merit accumulation guideline and tracking system:


Note: All poems ,words and material of mine in this post are released into the Public Domain



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