What are the signs that people in the past used to determine if a country was on the decline?
The country stored enough food and fortified the ramparts, neglecting to care for its citizens and felt confident that it was strong enough to fend off the enemies. Its king was not keen on working hard to maintain the independence of the country. The crown prince was weak and cowardly. The rich elite were extravagant in their expenditures and indulged in lust. The officials were arrogant, greedy and cruel. The government was heavily polarized, and no one would assume responsibility.
If that country is in between two stronger countries, it would not last ten years.
The Chinese man, who was the personification of intelligence, cleverness and loyalty, once wrote a letter of advice to his son.
“...The superior man must be still and pure in order to cultivate. He must know moderation to nurture virtue. If one is not calm and dispassionate then one cannot be clear-headed. Deep knowledge requires quietude, lack of rashness and no temper.
To study one must be still and pure. Talented people still need to study or else their talents are narrow in scope. Lacking stillness and purity then one cannot really study. Laziness and arrogance will preclude thorough knowledge. Viciousness and brute force prevent reforming one’s character.
Each year the body ages and becomes weaker and sick. To sigh and lament of missed opportunities would only be in vain...”
Innocent and neither good nor evil, such is our nature when we are born into the world.
Liking good and disgusted with evil is because that’s what (most of us) we gravitate toward
Rejecting good and identifying with evil happens when we are influenced by bad habits, thus putting us on the road toward steady decline.
Turning from evil to good can happen through cultivation, thus helping improve ourselves steadily.
Regress or improvement, you yourself know it: you should never try to fool yourself. Apply yourself!
This world has two kinds of difficulties: to be born to the heavens is hard but asking someone for help is even harder.
This world also has two kinds of bitterness: huang lian is bitter (the Chinese know that this plant is very very bitter) but being poor and destitute is far more bitter.
Mankind has two kinds of thinness: newly frozen water surface is thin (you get in big trouble if you step on it) but reliance on others is even thinner.
Mankind also has two kinds of dangers: the mountains and rivers are dangerous, but people’s hearts are even more dangerous.
The Chinese philosopher Mo Zi 墨子, saw silk being dyed and had the following realization:
It turns green when a green dye is used, and yellow when a yellow dye is used. Silk takes on the color of the dye that is used. Dye it five times, it will change color five times: therefore, one must use the dye carefully.
A wise official of old said to a newly appointed official, “An official works for the citizens and it’s not the case that the citizens must serve the official. People pay taxes in order to pay for the official’s salary in order for the official to administer justice for the populace. Unfortunately, it is so sad to see that nowadays, the official collects his salary but is tardy at administering public work and in some cases even steals from the citizens.
The ancients said the following:
Heavens cannot make flowers bloom out of season. Therefore, sages observe timeliness.
Mother Earth cannot change the seasons. Therefore, sages do not violate traditions.
According to Mencius, for the country to be strong, it needs three components:
1. The people.
2. The land.
3. The king.
In that order.
Although the people lack authority and power, they have the power of the mass. Therefore, they
are ranked first.
Zi Chan 子產 was a well known scholar. He became a great politician and general in the Zheng鄭 country in China. He was a very benevolent leader.
Zi Chan fell very ill. So he called Zi Tai Shu 子太叔 and said, “After my death, you’ll have to govern the country. You should know that virtuous people must use benevolence and harmony to inspire respect from the people while ordinary people must use awe and strictness to govern the country.
In the Qi 齊 country, there was a man who was an official in the king’s court. He was bestowed land, riches and titles and was very well off. When the Qi king was in danger, he refused to sacrifice his life to save the king.
One day, he met an old acquaintance who saw him in astonishment, “I thought you were dead!”
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.”