Zeng Zi 曾子 ranks amongst the top students of Confucius, second only to Yan Hui 顏回.
Zeng Zi was gravely ill and bed ridden. His son and another disciple was by his bed side. So was a young boy (who was typically called upon to fan him or fetch things).
The boy said: “The straw mat [that Teacher is lying on], is very shiny and well made, is it for the great officials’ use?”
Zeng Zi’s son immediately said: “Silence! Say no more!”
Zeng heard the boy’s comment, was shaken and sighed.
The boy said again: “The straw mat is very shiny and well made, is it for the great officials’ use?”
Zeng Zi replied: “Yes it is. A great official from Lu Kingdom gave it to me.” Zeng Zi then told his son to change the straw mat.
His son said: “You are very sick and should not be moved. Let’s wait until daybreak and I’ll change it for you.”
Zeng Zi said: “You do not love me as much as this boy. The great man loves with the proper fashion, unlike the small man who is careless. I wish for nothing left, only hope to have a proper death so that people do not think that I am unprincipled. Then it not all be in vain.”
The son, disciple and boy immediately changed the straw mat for Zeng Zi.
After Zeng Zi was settled on the new straw mat, he passed away peacefully.
* * * * *
How many people would know that Zeng Zi passed away on a fancy straw mat? And yet, it was not acceptable to him because he himself knows.
The small man seeks personal comfort and advantages. The great man is humble and principled.