Is there a “golden” cure in an epidemic? Here is a story that might shed some light.
As the story goes, an imperial chef retired and went back to his hometown. Wealthy and famous, he eventually got bored, having nothing to do. So he hired a few clever people and opened a tavern, which grew very popular, and the locals enjoyed spending time there with guests and friends.
A terrible plague later broke out in the county. The imperial court sent a special medical team to treat those who had become ill, but they could not find the source of the contagion and none of the drugs they used did anything to help.
The situation became worse and worse, and people were perishing right and left. Everyone was terrified. However wealthy one might be, no medicine or form of treatment was known to cure the plague.
A man might seem all right one minute and then drop dead the next. The once-bustling streets became deserted. Those who were homeless, already miserable, fell down and died, their bodies left lying in the streets. Panic-stricken, people realized just how unpredictable life was.
Court officials felt utterly helpless, and high-ranking officials and dignitaries were scared to death. Their wealth, merit, and fame were suddenly worthless. The only thing they had on their minds was how to survive.
The imperial chef’s tavern had long been closed, and he had cut off any communication with the outside world, holed up in his luxurious residence all day long. But the plague found him anyway. He started to feel weak and he often writhed in pain. He felt dizzy and started vomiting blood. He also had blood in his stool.
Sensing that his days were numbered, the old chef climbed up to the high point of his residence and looked around at the surrounding area, at the homes here and there. He was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and tears ran down his face: “What use is fame? I have been a well-known imperial chef and yet I’m powerless to resist this disease. Misfortune can befall us at any time. No one can escape.”
He then thought: “Since I’m already dying, what’s the use of keeping all this wealth? I might as well give it to the poor so that they can have enough to eat and decent clothes to wear.”
With that kind thought foremost in his mind, he was no longer frightened. Instead, he felt his heart fill with positive energy, and strength return to his limbs.
He opened the gate to the tavern and asked those who were brave enough to cook porridge for the poor every day. He told his servants to give clothing to those who were dressed in rags. He also sent people to bury the cadavers out in the streets.
Seeing what he was doing, many other wealthy people followed suit, thinking, “If I’m going to die, I might as well do something good and meaningful.” Gradually, people’s fear of the plague vanished, and the deserted streets returned to life.
Everyone in town was filled with loving-kindness. People were polite to each other and there was no more fighting or bullying.
A month later, the old chef suddenly realized that he had recovered, and his face had taken on a healthy glow.
One night, he dreamed that a Taoist master was flying toward him on the back of a crane. When he reached the chef, the Toaist whispered in his ear, “Your mighty virtue has earned you the golden cure. Why bother with herbal medicines? The miraculous gong has created golden elixirs to cure the plague. I have seen your virtue. Come and get the elixirs!”
The chef stretched out his hands to catch the box in his dream and woke up with a start. He saw he was indeed holding a box of elixirs. Elated and grateful, he kowtowed in the direction where the Taoist master had appeared.
The next day, the chef dissolved some of the elixirs in several big woks according to the instructions on the box and distributed the potion to patients near and far. They all recovered right after taking the potion.
The chef then took the remaining elixirs to the imperial palace in the capital city. The plague, which had been wreaking havoc for months, came to an end.
When the emperor heard about what had happened, he took a bath, changed into clean clothes, sat in a quiet room alone, and reflected upon his wrongdoings. Later, with sincerity and respect, he wrote, in large characters: “Golden Cure – Virtue.”