Confucius Teachings: The Virtuous Character of a Gentleman (Part 2)

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曾子見孔子(開宗明義章)

Focusing on Key Issues

One day Duke Ai (508 – 468 BC) of the Lu Kingdom asked Confucius, “In ancient times, what type of hat did Emperor Shun (2294 – 2184 BC) wear?” Confucius did not reply. The Duke asked again, “I am trying to learn from you. Why do you not reply?” Confucius bowed and replied, “Because the question Your Majesty raised was not focused on key issues. That is why I was thinking about how to reply.” The Duke became curious and asked, “What are the key issues?” Confucius replied, “During Emperor Shun’s reign, he loved his people as his own children. He promoted the virtuous and appointed the capable. His virtue overflowed across the land. Yet he remained modest and humble. He changed things gently, just like the four seasons change living beings in nature. He encouraged the growth of people’s character. His kindness spread to other living beings as well. That is why his teachings reached far and wide. Even the legendary phoenix and mythical kirin showed up in the land that he ruled, testifying to his mighty virtue. All this occurred because of Emperor Shun’s encouragement of life and growth. Your Majesty was asking about the type of hat that Emperor Shun wore rather than these issues of primary importance, and that was why I did not reply right away.”

The virtuous rule of Emperor Shun inspired heaven and earth. There have not been any rulers since who did not admire his virtue and ability to govern the nation. As the head of a kingdom, Duke Ai only asked Confucius about Emperor Shun’s wardrobe. This showed that he did not place the welfare of his people and his kingdom as the most important issues. Confucius did not respond right away because he wanted to help Duke Ai with the peace and prosperity of his nation. The quality of learning is more important than the format.

Living with Kind People Is Like Entering a Room of Orchids

Confucius once told one of his students, Zeng Can, “Zixia will improve quickly because he enjoys spending time with those who are more virtuous than he. To stay with kind people is like living in a house with orchids blossoming. One assimilates to the environment. So a gentleman has to be careful in choosing who he associates with.” It is also stated in the Standards to Students, “It is immensely beneficial if one stays close to those with kind hearts. With the passing of each day, one’s virtue increases, and one’s mistakes are reduced. To stay away from kind people is harmful. One is drawn to sly men, which ruin everything.”

This tells us that by remaining close with people of kindness and virtue and taking them as friends and teachers, a person can expand his knowledge as well as improve his integrity. A gentleman sets a good example. Others around him will learn to look at themselves for their shortcomings and constantly set higher standards for themselves. “To frequently look for one’s own shortfalls, rather than blame others” requires one to be transparent in his words and acts. Applying strict standards for oneself, yet being tolerant of others reflects a character of generosity. Confucius said, “A gentleman learns the Tao and loves other people.” He was pointing out that a gentleman needs to care about others if he studies the Tao, applying the principles he has learned from the Tao to his daily interaction with others. The supreme kindness is like water. It facilitates everything while contending nothing.

The virtuous character of a gentleman brings about harmony and peace. It helps to remind everyone to exercise self-discipline and to not act against conscience. In today’s material world, where too many people are driven by greed in pursuit of fame and fortune, it is all the more important to adhere to one’s inner ethics and aspirations.

君子之德风 (下)

大舜何冠

鲁哀公有一次问孔子说:“以前,舜王是戴什么样的帽子呢?”孔子没有马上回答,哀公便问道:“寡人向您请教,为何您不说话呢?”孔子作礼答道:“因为君上提的问题,并不是将大的方面放在前面,所以臣正考虑如何回答。”哀公听了奇怪,问道:“那大的方面是什么呢?”孔子说:“舜帝在做君王的时候,爱民如子,选贤任能。他的德行犹如天之高,地之厚,而又宁静谦虚;教化如四时,涵容万物,使万物生长,所以四海皆接受舜帝的教化。于是,凤凰和麒麟都出现在境内,连鸟兽也感化于他的威德。没有别的原因,就因他好生啊!君上舍掉这些大的方面,却只问舜王戴什么帽子,臣因此才没能及时回答。”

舜的德行感召天地,泽被四方,历代诸侯君王,莫不仰慕舜王之德,能善治天下。鲁哀公身为一国之君,向孔子求教,然开口却只问舜王冠冕穿戴,未想到国计民生、舜之仁心德风,可谓舍本逐末,弃大就小了。孔子缓对,并非不答,只是希望能帮助哀公安邦定国,将大的方面放于心上。学习重实质而非形式,要学习舜王之仁爱好生,利益苍生百姓。

与善人居 如入芝兰之室

一次,孔子对曾参说:“子夏的学识会提高的很快,因为他喜欢与比他贤德的人在一起。所以说,跟善人一起,就像到了长满香花草的房子里,时间久了之后,被其感染与同化。因此,君子必然谨慎地选择与自己在一起的人啊!”《弟子规》中也说道:“能亲仁,无限好。德日进,过日少。不亲仁,无限害。小人近,百事坏”。同样也是告诉人们,亲近仁德之人,亲近良师益友,可以提高自己的道德学问。君子是修身的楷模,时时内观自省,让自己的品德日日新,“躬自厚而薄责于人”,严于律己而宽以待人,这种源自内心的清澈豁达,是一种宽恕仁厚的品格。孔子还说:“君子学道则爱人”,是说君子明白了道理就应该关爱他人,将所学道理落实在待人、处事、接物之中,以美好的道德化导人心,上善就像水一样,利益万物而无所争。

君子之德风,必然会带来一片祥和的气象,使人人知道自行节制,不做违背道义之事。当今社会,物欲横流,道德水准一日千里地下滑,人们是否还坚守著内心的志向和操守?

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