The Great Learning in Ancient China (Part 2)

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Zhongyan Fan(Wiki meida)

The Great Learning in Ancient China (Part 2)

A family, country and the world, though different in size, follow the same principles as self-cultivation because the prosperity or decline of a family, country and world are all closely related to the cultivation of individuals. The methods of self-cultivation can be extended and applied to managing a family, ruling the country and presiding over the world with peace. For instance, self-cultivation leads a person to be filial to his parents. If he shows the same virtue to his emperor, he is a loyal official. Likewise, when a person with brotherly love shows the same virtue to his seniors, it becomes respect. A kind person who shows the same virtue while managing people must be very compassionate. Therefore, a well-cultivated person can manage his family well. Then he can also rule the country well. He will definitely recruit talented people of great virtue and preside over the world with peace. Self-cultivation is the most fundamental thing. If everyone attaches importance to self-cultivation, shoulders his own responsibility and does well on his own, then the world will be peaceful. Not everyone can become a great individual like Emperor Yao or Shun. However, the virtue of a noble man is like the wind, and the virtue of a sly person is like the grass. The virtue of a noble man could affect that of an ordinary person, just as in the relationship between wind and grass.

On the contrary, if no one cultivates himself, but always thinks of how to control others, then no one can improve. Officials at higher positions will have no virtue or talent and use suppression and torture to “manage” people. People at lower positions will have no choice and find it difficult to keep an upright mind. As a result, none among the emperor, officials, parents and children does well in his position. When conflicts intensify, the world will be in chaos. This results from taking the branch as the root. Therefore, the most fundamental element of all in ruling the country, managing the family or presiding over the world with peace, lies in self-cultivation of individuals.

Fan Zhongyan (989 – 1052 AD) was a famous high official in the Northern Song Dynasty. In The Yueyang Tower, he wrote, “Be concerned before the world starts worrying, be satisfied only after the world is content.” He lived his whole life according to these words. With the emperor, he made straightforward suggestions. In the communities, he built water conservation projects, helped guide talented people, preserved the lands and settled people down in a peaceful life. His achievements have been praised in the centuries since.

Fan Zhongyan attached great importance to self-cultivation at a young age. He was born into a very poor family. During the period when he was studying, he made a pot of porridge every night. The next day, the porridge would solidify. Fan would cut it into four pieces with a knife and ate two pieces for breakfast and the other two for dinner. A son of an official in Nanjing saw Fan eat porridge every day and was very touched. That official told his son to send food to Fan. However, Fan declined the food after sincerely expressing his thanks. He said, “I really appreciate your father’s help. I am accustomed to eating porridge every day, so I do not feel miserable at all. If I am greedy with this delicious food, how will I endure any type of hardship in the future?” Fan was very diligent even under difficult conditions. He was poor and frugal, but cultivated well. He eventually became a learned scholar and a famous top official at the court.

Fan taught his children by using his personal experiences and verbal instructions. All of his children became successful. His later generations inherited his good quality. His eldest son Fan Chunyou, at the age of 16, followed him to defend against the Western Xia and achieved many military successes. His second son, Fan Chunren, became a prime minister and was very responsible during his 50 years in government. His third son, Fan Chunli, became a chief minister. His fourth son, Fan Chuncui, became a financial minister. They were all righteous and were not afraid to speak up. They loved their people and were famous for being fair and honest while holding office at court. They donated most of their salaries to a charity village that Fan Zhongyan established for poor people.

In ancient China, there were many people like Fan Zhongyan. No matter how poor they were or how wealthy they became, they never changed their goal of self-cultivation. They attached great importance to virtue. They embraced the whole world, were concerned about their country and people, and pursued the great Way all their life.

浅谈古时的大学之道 (下)

家、国之于天下,虽小大有别,然而与治身的法则却无异,因为家、国、天下的兴亡、治乱都系于人。治身方法推而广之就可齐家、治国、平天下。比如修身以孝,以“孝”侍奉君主就是“忠”,同理,以“悌”侍奉长上就是“敬”,以“慈”管理民众就是“仁”。所以善修身者能齐其家,齐其家则必能成教于国,举贤能来治理国家就可平天下。人唯有自修方可提高,如果人人都重德修身,各尽其责,各守本分,则天下太平。虽然不能人人为尧舜,但是大人君子的品德就像风,小人的品德就像草,风行草偃,上行下效,“子帅以正,孰敢不正”呢?

相反,如果人人都不自修,只想去治别人,则人人都没有改变、提高,居上位者无德无能,“德薄而位尊,知小而谋大,力小而任重”,只知用严刑酷法镇压,居下位者不堪其扰,难守本分,君不君,臣不臣,父不父,子不子,矛盾激化,最终必大乱不治,这是本末倒置的结果啊。所以说,治国、齐家、平天下的根本还在修身。

范仲淹是北宋时的名臣,他在《岳阳楼记》中写下“先天下之忧而忧,后天下之乐而乐”的名句并终生践行,他一生出将入相,在朝廷,敢于犯颜直谏;在地方,兴修水利,培养人才,保土安民,功绩千古传颂。

范仲淹年轻时就注重修身,因家境清贫,读书时每天晚上用米煮一盆稀粥,第二天凝固成块,然后用刀子划为四部份,早晚各取两块做主食。有个南京留守的儿子,看到范仲淹每天吃两次稀粥充饥,很受感动,这位留守就让儿子送些饭菜给范仲淹。范仲淹诚恳地答谢:“我并非不感激令尊的厚意,只因我平时吃稀饭已成习惯,并不觉得苦。现在如果贪图这些佳肴,将来怎么能再吃苦呢?”范仲淹在艰苦中仍好学不倦,以清贫和俭素励志修身,学问过人,终成一代名臣。

在范仲淹的言传身教下,他的子女个个成器,家风世代相传。长子范纯佑十六岁随父防御西夏,屡立战功;次子范纯仁,后任宰相,在五十年的为官生涯中,恪尽职守;三子范纯礼官至尚书右丞;四子范纯粹官至户部侍郎,他们都正义敢言,关爱百姓,以清正廉洁著称,做官得来的俸禄,大多用在了范仲淹创建的扶危济困的义庄上。

在古代还有许多像范仲淹这样的人,无论贫富穷通,始终把目标定在修身立德之上,心怀天下,忧国忧民,对真理大道上下求索。视“为天地立心,为生民立命,为往圣继绝学,为万世开太平”为自己的责任与使命,不畏权贵,为民请命,中华文化中都有他们的浓墨重彩。

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