The ancient said:
“Man often commits the myriad of offenses because of this illness called, “Only Seeing Oneself”. Because of this sickness, he schemes night and day in order to become richer, climbs up the social ladder, strengthens one’s safety net, indulges in pleasures, assures one’s survival, lengthens one’s life while not caring whether or not others are poor and destitute, experiences danger and difficulty, and fails miserably or loses his life. In other words, he doesn’t care for other living beings and has no respect for the rules of morality and propriety. Therefore, he may have a human body, but he is no better than an animal.
Zi Chan 子產was a well-known scholar. He became a great politician and general in the Zheng
鄭 country in China. He taught that great men have four superior traits:
1. Having self-respect toward oneself.
The Qi (齊) army started invading the Lu (魯) country. As they crossed the border, there was a woman carrying a child in one hand and leading another child with the other. When she saw the soldiers, she let the child she was carrying down and carried the other child and ran. The child left behind ran after her, crying for her but she wouldn’t even look back.
A rich wife went home to visit her family. Her female servant came along, carrying the lady’s jewelry box. The servant misplaced the jewelry box. It was later that she realized it and therefore frantically went looking for it.
She saw a beggar sitting by the roadside holding the jewelry box. She immediately came over and claimed it. The beggar immediately returned the jewelry box to her.
A stateman official came into office. His populace organized a great feast to celebrate.
Toward the end of the celebration, an old man wearing a coarse white robe also came to see the statesman. He immediately put on his best clothes to go greet the visitor and said, “Our king does not realize that I have no talent and yet is too trusting. That’s why he appointed me to this post. I’m very grateful for the warm welcome. Now that you came for a visit, you surely must have something in mind.”
Zhuang Zi 莊子was the reknowned Classical Taoist disciple of Lao Zi. His wife passed away. His close friend, scholar and stateman Hui Zi 惠子, came to visit and found him singing while beating the rhythm on a water container.
Hui Zi said, “You married her and have children with her. Now that she passed on, you don’t need to grieve for her. That’s understandable. But you’re singing?”
The Emperor had just selected a new royal concubine whose beauty was out of this world. Therefore, he adored her and doted on her.
The empress knew so, and thus she also showed adoration for the new concubine and showered her with favors and gifts so that the new royal concubine was lacking in nothing.
There was a crazy man. He would roll in the mud, step on thorns and bristles. He was always content with himself and always argued to prove that he was right.
He later met with a competent doctor who was able to cure him. As a result, he gradually became better and became completely well.
The ancients felt that the superior man possesses three happy things that are even better than being a king.
One’s parents are still alive and the siblings are safe and healthy: that is one happy thing.
One cannot be reproached by the heavens and feels no shame toward anyone: that is another happy thing.
Roãn Thuần was taking the Imperial Examination. The topic of the required essay was “Killing the loyalists of the prior regime” (in order to be loyal to the current king). Roãn Thuần immediately stood up and left.
He immediately reported to his teacher and declared that he was done with taking Imperial Examinations. His wise teacher said, “How do you plan to provide for your aging mother?”
Liệt Tử 列子 (LT) was very poor and routinely had to endure thirst and hunger.
Someone reported to the king about LT, saying that LT was a superior person and yet destitute. If others heard about him, they would think that the king did not recognize talented and virtuous subjects.
The king immediately ordered three carts of food to be sent to LT.
LT came out of the house, respectfully bowed to the emissary and declined the offer.
Cảnh Công was a king in China during the Warring States. He had a favorite daughter who he wanted to give in marriage to his loyal general, Án Tử (AT).
One day, the king came to AT’s house for dinner. He took a look at AT’s wife and asked, “Is that your wife?”
AT replied, “Yes, she is your Highness.”
The king said, “Oh Dear, she looks so old and ugly! I have a daughter who is both young and pretty, I’d like her to come into your household to take care of you. Are you interested?”
Zi Lu, a famous disciple of Confucius, asked the wise teacher, “The superior man has worries too?”
Confucius replied, “The superior man is only concerned with the task under consideration. When he hasn’t started yet, he’s happy that he has aspirations and resolve. After he completes the task, he is happy that he is competent and smart. Therefore, the superior only knows happiness and has no worries.
In contrast, the small man, when he still hasn’t completed the task, he’s worried that he can’t. And if he’s successful, he’s afraid to lose it. That is why the small person only has worries his entire life.”
Dương Chu (DC), a known scholar in China, stayed at an inn during one of his travels. The inn keeper had two concubines, one pretty and one ugly. The pretty one was not liked while the ugly one was well-liked. DC asked the resident children why. They said, “The pretty wife was aware of her beauty and therefore lost her appeal; we no longer saw her as pretty. Whereas the ugly wife was well aware of her lack of beauty and therefore compensated for it; thus we no longer see her as unattractive.”
Dương Hổ (DH) was a high ranking general during the Warring States era in China. He got in trouble and had to run for his life, taking refuge in a neighboring country. He asked to see a wise official Triệu Giản Tử (TGT) and declared, “From now on, I will never help anyone else.”
King Hoàn Công was reading. (He was known to be a very competent king during the Warring States in China.) His wood craftsman who was fashioning cart wheels came up to him and asked: “What is your Highness reading?”
The king replied: “I am reading up on the sages’ teachings.”
“Are they still alive?”
“No, they are all dead.”
“Then, your Highness is only picking up rejects!”
Tử Kích (TK) was rich and powerful official. He saw Điền Tử Phương (DTP), a poor but reputed scholar, and immediately descended his carriage to greet him. DTP ignored TK completely.
TK was upset and said, “The rich and powerful are entitled to slight others, can the poor and destitute afford to do the same?”
An official observed the Confucian practice of making offerings to the ancestors. However, when making the offerings, he forgot to include his own son in the ceremony.
When Confucius heard of it, he commented, “This man will lose his official position within two years.”
The official indeed lost his job a year later. Confucius’ disciples asked their teacher how he could see it coming.
Part of the makeup of a good and meaningful life is righteousness. Righteousness is defined as the state of being morally right or justifiable. It is also known as virtue.
What do the ancients have to say about a righteous life?
They say, “If each day, we can hear of one righteous thing, see one righteous thing being done and do one righteous thing, then that day would not have been in vain.”
How can we teach our children about righteousness? To rely on our educators whose promotions are not based on teaching righteousness would be inadequate.
The ancients said,
“There is nothing more skilled than practice: Therefore, children will be reminded to do their homework: that is their duty. Adults must patiently hone their skills in order to perfect them.
There is nothing more peaceful than patience: Life is full of obstacles and challenges when we just want to be left alone. When we cannot run away from our problems and challenges, we must learn to patiently endure them: the storm will blow over.
Chinese Emperor Yáo 堯 tried to talk ascetic Xǔ Yóu 許由 into taking over and rule the country. Xǔ Yóu simple left and went to mount Zhong Yue to continue his ascetic practice.
Later the emperor pursued him and again respectfully requested that Xǔ Yóu reconsidered. Xǔ Yóu got up abruptly and went to the nearby river to wash his ears.
Meng Zi said, “A man steals a chicken from his neighbor every day. When told that is dishonest, he replied, ‘You are absolutely right! Unfortunately, I can’t quite stop. I tell you what: I’ll just take one chicken a day for now. I’ll stop after a year.’
Would such behavior be acceptable?
We should fix our flaws as soon as we become aware of them!”
A man found a jade stone in the mountain. He offered it up to the king of the country.
The king asked his jeweler to examine it and said it was not jade. The king therefore ordered that the man’s left foot be cut off as punishment.
Then after the crown prince succeeded his father to the throne, that man offered up the jade stone to the new king. His jeweler proclaimed that it was not jade either. So, the new king ordered the man’s right foot be cut off as punishment.
Zeng Zi’s wife was preparing to go to the market but their son cried and asked to go with her. So she said, “Stay home and be a good boy. When I come back I will give you pork for dinner.”
After she came back from the market, Zeng Zi told her to kill a pig for their meal.
She said, “I did not mean it!”
Zeng Zi replied, “How could you? Do not ever think that children don’t understand! Whatever parents do, they will imitate. If we lied to him, aren’t we telling him that it’s OK to lie?”
So, Zeng Zi went and killed his pig and let his son have pork.
Ma Vien grew up as an orphan. Life was very hard but he was undaunted. He used to tell his friends, “When you face great suffering, you should strengthen your resolve; when you become old, you should become even more unrelenting in your resolve.”
Therefore, Ma Vien worked very hard. He vigorously cultivated the fields, took great care of his animals and eventually became very wealthy. However, he did not rest on his laurels. He often told his friends, “Those who are rich should understand that they are to use their wealth to help the poor and unfortunate. Otherwise, they are just slaves to their wealth and would be wasting their lives guarding it. What’s so great about that?