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Pearls of Wisdom from the Elders
Mencius got an audience with King Hui of Liang. The King asked: “Elderly sir, you came from afar, traveled a distance of one thousand li, you must have some counsel that will make my kingdom profitable?”
Mencius replied: “Your Majesty, why mention profit? If I have anything to say, it will only be benevolence and righteousness! If a king asks: ‘How to make my country profitable?’ The lords ask: ‘How to make my clan profitable?’ The officials and commoners ask: “How to make me profitable?’ If the people, from the royalties to the commoners, all compete for profits, a country is in peril. A benevolent person would never abandon (neglect) his parents. A righteous person would never serve his Sovereign after himself.”
King Hui of Liang stated: “I am comfortable with this teaching and willing to accept it.”
Excerpted from A Compendium of Books on the Essentials of Governing, vol. 37, (Book of) Mencius.
[Translation] King Hûi of the Country Liang received Mencius (at his court). The King asked: “Elderly sir, you travelled a thousand lî to come to my country (without a concern about the long distance); I presume that you must have some counsel to profit my kingdom?”
Mencius replied, “Why must your Majesty talk about profit? My only counsel is benevolence and righteousness, which is sufficient (to rule a country). If a king says, ‘What is to be done to profit my kingdom?’ The nobles will also say, ‘What is to be done to profit my clan?’ In addition, the officers and the common people would also say: ‘What is to be done to profit my person?’ If a country’s people, from the upper class of royalties to the lower class of commoners, all compete for and pillage profits from one another, and the kingdom will be endangered. I have never heard of a kind and loving person to abandon his parents. Also, I have never heard of a righteous person who is insolent and neglects his duties to his sovereign. Therefore, Your Majesty only needs to implement benevolence and righteousness. It is not necessary to mention profit.”
King Hui of Liang stated: “I am comfortable with this teaching and willing to accept it.”
When the Grand Way was practiced, the world was just, the sage and capable was selected, aspired people to be trustworthy and to cultivate harmony. Thus people would not be kind only to their parents, or love only their children; would ensure that the elderly were supported till they die, the capable (the able-bodied) employed, the youth nurtured; widowers, widows, orphans, the childless, and the mentally and/or physically disabled, were all provided for. In short, males had a living and females had a home.
It was repugnant to waste goods, or to see them perish on the grounds, but it was not necessary to hoard them for self-purposes. It was distasteful to not be able to contribute one’s efforts, but it was not necessary to exert it for personal advantage.
As a result, scheming was repressed and found no development; robbery, thefts, or sedition was never committed; hence no one locked their front doors. This is the so called Era of Grand Comity.
(This excerpt is describing the way of the world in ancient times. The mores were pure and simple because people lacked the mentality to compete. Such was the ambience during that period.)
Excerpted from A Compendium of Books on the Essentials of Governing, vol. 7, “Book of Rites, Operation of Rites.”
[Translation] When the Grand Way was implemented, the world was shared by the people. The virtuous and capable persons were selected and recommended to govern the world together. They would make people aspire to honesty and trustworthiness, and to treat each other harmoniously as if all were kin.
Therefore, people would not only support and love their parents, nurture and cherish their own children, but also willingly ensured that all the elderly in the world would die in peace, all the adults contributed their talents to the society, and all the youths received the teachings of the saints and sages as well as to grow up properly. The aged widows, widowers, and the childless, young orphans, and the physically and mentally disabled, all would be taken care of by the society. In short, males would have suitable employments and females belonged to (married into) good households.
With respect to properties, all material goods were utilized to the fullest extent. People abhorred the waste of properties and would not throw them away carelessly, but rather to store them properly in order to give to the needy. Wholeheartedly, people would rush to be the first, fear to lag behind, to render their services for public welfare, rather than scheming for their own personal gain.
As a consequence, people had no shenanigans or cunnings in mind, and the society had no such crimes as robbery, theft, rebellion, or other harmful speech or conducts. Hence people would not lock their doors at night. This is the depiction of a society of “Great Comity.”
(Venerable Master Chin Kung: This passage depicts the civilization of China in the archaic times. It describes the lifestyle of our ancestors, their social norms of simplicity and honesty, the purity and depth of their virtues, and the lack of the mentalities of greed, jealousy, and competition; thus begets a social ambience of beauty and goodness.)
Now that the Grand Way has fallen into obscurity, the kingdom becomes a family inheritance. Every one loves only his own parents, cherishes as children only his own sons. Goods are hoarded and strength is exerted only for self advantage.
Rulers believe, as propriety, that the order of succession belongs to their own families; as security, that the city walls, the ditches, and moats must be built and strengthened.
Propriety and righteousness are regarded as codes of conduct (to maintain social order), to maintain the correct relationship between the ruler and his subjects, to maintain the loving-kindness between father and son, the harmony between the elder and younger siblings, the sentiment between husband and wife; to establish systems and measurements, to set up the boundaries of fields and counties; to adjudge superiority to men of valor and wisdom; all endeavors are for self-advantage. Thus, schemes and tactics are deployed; military and wars are instigated.
Because of this decline, Yü, Tong, Wan, Wû, King Tsan, and the Duke of Zhou obtained their distinction. Of these six great men, none were ever not cautious in their adherence to the rules of propriety, in order to manifest their righteousness and to testify (exemplify) their credibility (trustworthiness).
To expose wrongs, to sentence with benevolence, to aspire to yielding, and to show people the virtuous mores. If not abiding by this course, rulers would be exiled, regarded as the pest (of society) by the public, this is the so called (era of) Small Tranquility.
(Such is the Reign of the Three Dynasties, which was the epoch of extreme prosperity and peace in ancient China.)
Excerpted from A Compendium of Books on the Essentials of Governing, vol. 7, “Book of Rites (Liji), Operation of Rites.”
[Translation] Now that the Grand Way has fallen into obscurity, the king gives the throne to his son or grandson instead of abdicating it to the sage; thus, the world belongs to one individual family (instead of shared by all). People only show filial piety to their own parents and only love and protect their own children. The production of goods and the exertion of labors are all for self benefits.
The succession of the ranks of nobility becomes a fixed system and the descendants of the nobles inherited the noble ranks of the family. In addition, the lords all built city walls, ditches, and moats to strengthen and defend their territory.
To maintain social order, propriety and righteousness were instituted as codes of conduct for the purposes of clarifying the relationship between the king and his subjects, as well as to make the relationship between father and son sincere and loving, the relationship between the elder and younger siblings friendly and respectful, and the relationship between husband and wife harmonious.
As a result, countries were established, a myriad of systems were standardized, boundaries between fields and countries were marked, respects were given to men of valor and wisdom; all for self-advancement and the success of self-enterprises. Thus, schemes and tactics are deployed; military and wars are instigated.
During this period, the only way to rule the world was to advocate Propriety and Righteousness. This was the way of Yü of the Shia dynasty, Tang of the Shang dynasty, and a succession of royals during the Zhou dynasty, such as King Wan, King Wû, King Cheng, and Dan, the Duke of Zhou. They all governed with Propriety and Righteousness to ensure the prosperity and peacefulness of their country and society; and thus they became men of distinction during this epoch.
Of the six great men mentioned above, none were ever not cautious in their adherence to the rules of propriety and righteousness when governing their countries. They manifested the extent of propriety and righteousness, set up the standards of rightful and wrongful conducts, and instilled in the people the social mores of honesty and trustworthiness.
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