Confucius Teachings: The Virtuous Character of a Gentleman (Part1)

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君子之風

Confucius (551 – 479 BC) once said, “The orchids grow in the woods, and they let out their fragrance even if there is no one around to appreciate it. Likewise, men of noble character will not let poverty deter their will to cultivate in the Tao and establish virtue.” A gentleman knows the truth about life. Regardless of what his circumstances are, he adheres to moral principles in doing things and conducts himself by following the teachings of the saints. Wherever he goes, he spreads his kindness and influences those in contact with him, so that others also respect and value ethics and justice. The effectiveness of his teachings and influence exemplifies his virtuous character. The following are a few stories about Confucius and his disciples that were documented in The Analects of Confucius and The School Sayings of Confucius.

A Gentleman Speaks with His Actions

On one occasion, Yan Hui asked his teacher Confucius, “Are there any common characteristics in what sly men say? A man of virtue has to be perceptive of the deception.” Confucius replied, “A gentleman speaks with his acts. His words are matched by his deeds. In everything he says and does, he practices the principles promoted by the saints. A sly man only shows off his eloquence. He is quick at making demands on and finding fault with others, while contributing nothing of importance. A gentleman treats others with sincerity. When he sees friends in violation of ethics, he warns them of the consequences and persuades others to act out of conscience. His words come from his heart because he genuinely cares about the wellbeing of others. As a result, the friendship tends to deepen afterwards. The sly men appear to have formed an alliance for making trouble. However, they cannot help but quarrel and pull knives on each other’s back.”

Confucius also said, “The gentleman thinks of virtue; the sly man thinks of comfort. The gentleman thinks of the sanctions of law; the sly man thinks of favors which he may receive.” This describes what is different in the minds of these two types of men. The gentleman does not follow the crowd, let alone conspire with others. All he thinks about is how to practice virtue and justice. The sly man worries about himself all the time. The gentleman adheres to rules and exercises self discipline. The sly man places personal gain ahead of everything else, and his mind is filled with minor advantages and convenience. It is mentioned in the Standards for Students, written during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912 AD), “Remind the other party with kindness; virtue is established on both sides. Turn a blind eye to another’s mistake; principles are lost on both sides.” This is another example of how a sly man acts differently than a gentleman.

A person’s words and deeds are based on his thoughts. A gentleman nourishes the thought of kindness and rationality. His words and acts are consequently full of love, kindness, and generosity. When a gentleman appears in a region, his pure, kind thoughts will influence people around him, awakening the conscience of other people and planting the seeds of integrity and kindness.

Using Wisdom to Avoid a Fight

Confucius and his disciples were traveling to the State of Song when they passed by the region of Kuang. The local people mistook Confucius for Yang Hu, a man who brutally attacked the Kuang people. They immediately alerted Jianzi, the chief of the Kuang region. Jianzi hastily gathered soldiers in full armor, and they rode horses to besiege Confucius and his followers.

Zilu, one of the disciples of Confucius, was brave by nature. He was offended as soon as he saw the fierce Kuang people surrounding them. He seized a weapon in preparation to fight. Confucius stopped him and said, “How could men who are cultivating and practicing kindness and justice not be able to stop this kind of brutality? It is my fault to not have widely taught the ancient poems and great works and promoted etiquette and music. After King Wen of the Zhou Dynasty passed away, all of the ancient texts and culture were passed to me. If the Heavens wanted to eliminate the culture of the Zhou dynasty, I would not have received this knowledge. If the Heavens did not want to eliminate this culture, then what can the people of Kuang possibly do to me? Come, Zilu. You play the music and sing the lyrics, and I will join you.”

Zilu put down his weapon and brought out a zither. He started playing and singing. Confucius joined him. After three rounds of singing, the people of Kuang realized that Confucius was a saint, not the brutal Yang Hu. They took off their armor and left.

Even under siege, Confucius remained calm. He first looked at himself to see if he was at fault. If not, he then carried on with his teaching and influence through etiquette and music. His acts demonstrate the difference between him and Yang Hu. The people of Kuang realized that Confucius was a courteous, gentleman, a saint, despite his similar appearance to that of Yang Hu. They were moved and ashamed. As a result, they took off their armor and left peacefully. Confucius changed people with his virtue; he turned the dangerous situation around. Confucius exemplified the kindness of a man with a kind heart. Others could feel his generosity and sense of responsibility for carrying on traditional culture.

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