Mi Fu (米芾)(1057 – 1107), a great calligrapher, painter and poet of the Sung Dynasty, also a contemporary of Su Shi (蘇軾), had the hobby of collecting fine inkstones. In 1101 Mi Fu asked Su Shi to write a colophon for his most treasured Xie An (謝安) Ba Yue Wu Ri Tie (The Fifth Day of The Eighth Month Tie‘《八月五日帖》. Then Su Shi borrowed Mei’s purple-gold inkstone. He liked it so much that he kept the inkstone and told his son he wanted the inkstone to be buried with him. When Su Shi passed away later in 1011, Mi Fu rushed to his house and took back the inkstone just in time. This piece ‘Zijin Yan Tie’ 《紫金研帖》recorded his thoughts and feelings of getting back the inkstone.
Translation: Su Zizhang (Su Shi) took my purple-gold ink stone away. He told his son to put it into his coffin and bury with him. I have retrieved it now saving it from being entombed. The purple-gold ink stone is a treasure to be passed on from generations to generations. How can it be buried with the ‘Buddhist-enlightened’ body (of Su Shi) ?
In Su Shi ‘First Ode on The Red Cliffs (Qian Chibi Fu 前赤壁賦)’ (1082) he stated his Buddhist thinking of ‘let go’ (放下) and contemplating freedom of mind and body (自在). An excerpt of the text was as follows: 且夫天地之間，物各有主，苟非吾之所有，雖一毫而莫取。(Translation: Besides, in this universe, everything has its rightful owner. If something does not belong to you, then you shall not even have a bit of it.)
According to Mei Fu, Su Shi took the purple-gold inkstone and refused to return it to the owner. This was a stark contrary to Su’s stated attitude in The First Ode on The Red Cliffs written during his exile to Huang Zhou. Some commentators said this demonstrated the human side of Su Shi. He had his weak points with a treasured inkstone!
For the image of Xie An (謝安) Ba Yue Wu Ri Tie (The Fifth Day of The Eighth Month Tie‘《八月五日帖》, please click:
20130820《殷瑗小聚》北宋大觀特展–書前赤壁賦 (四) (蔣勳)