Zeng Shen Sincerely Complied with Confucius’ Teachings

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曾子見孔子(開宗明義章)

The emphasis of discipline and showing respect to one’s teacher are traditional values found in ancient Chinese culture. Sayings such as “A teacher to a student is like a father to a son,” and “A teacher even for one day should be respected as a father forever” were common. A student looks to his teacher as a profound person akin to his father, thus calling him “gracious teacher” or “master.” Teachers impart ethics, knowledge and values to their students. They teach people proper manners for interacting with each other, and for handling things in society at large. While learning from the teacher, a student must not only clearly understand the principle of respectfully serving the teacher from his heart, but also faithfully performing what the teacher imparts to him.

Zeng Shen (505 – 435 BC) became a student of Confucius at the age of 16. He was studious and sincerely compliant with his master’s teachings, and became the main successor and disseminator of Confucianism, playing an important connecting role between generations in Confucian culture. His motto, “multiple self-reflections daily,” meant that he repeatedly examined himself every day to determine whether he had done his best for others, been honest to his friends, or reviewed his teacher’s teachings diligently.

There is a classical story called “Zeng Shen leaves his seat to show his respect,” in which Confucius asked Zeng one time when Zeng was sitting next to him: “Former virtuous kings had sublime virtues and profound theories that they used to teach their people. Do you know why people could live in harmony and there was no dissatisfaction between the kings and their subordinates?” Knowing that Confucius was about to teach him profound principles, Zeng immediately got up and stood beyond the edge of the mat. He then respectfully answered: “I am not wise enough to know the reason. Please teach me.” This was a demonstration of great respect for the teacher. People have later learned this etiquette from Zeng Shen.

After returning to the State of Lu from the State of Chu with Confucius, Zeng farmed during the day and studied in the evening until midnight every day. It was a difficult lift. He was poor because he did not hold any official position. The king of Lu heard the good virtues of Zeng, and decided to bestow him with a piece of fertile land. Zeng declined the offer, citing that he could not accept the land without doing any work to earn it. The king’s envoy advised him: “Why don’t you accept, since you did not ask for it?” Zeng sincerely replied: “I often hear that a giver has pride, while a receiver is humble. Even though the giver is not prideful, how can I not be humble?” Zeng declined the king’s gift. Knowing that, Confucius praised him: “Zeng’s words have proved his moral integrity.”

After Confucius passed away, Zeng and other students such as Zi Xia, Zi Zhang, Zi You and You Ruo went into a period of mourning for three years. At the end of the mourning period, they bowed in unison to Confucius’ grave and then left in tears. Zi Xia, Zi Zhang and Zi You then proposed: “Since You Ruo looks like teacher, we can make believe that he is Confucius and serve him as sincerely and courteously as we did Confucius. Doing so would show our respect for teacher.” Zeng became very angry and was opposed to the idea. He said assertively: “We cannot do this. Teacher’s virtue was so clean, like being washed by the clear river water, and so bright, like being bathed by the autumn sunshine. His virtue was also as glorious as the boundless sky. How can he be compared to someone who just looks like him?” The others were astonished at what Zeng said, and were deeply moved by his sincerity to his teacher and his meticulous etiquette.

Zeng Shen succeeded Confucius and bravely took on the responsibility of promoting ethics, benevolence and virtue. He said: “A person with lofty ideals cannot be weak in resolve and perseverance because of the heavy responsibility and long journey ahead. Is it not a heavy responsibility to strive to achieve benevolence and virtue? Is it not a long journey to uphold justice forever?” Zeng Shen later authored the classic books Great Learning, and Classic of Filial Piety. He was later regarded as one of the Four Sages of Confucianism.

曾参谨遵师教

尊师重道,是中华民族的传统美德。“师徒如父子”、“一日为师,终身为父”等历来是敬师的名言,把老师的恩德比之于父亲,因而老师不但有“恩师”之称,而且被弟子称为“师父”。老师是伦理道德、知识、价值观念的传授者,教人为人处世的行为规范,是道德的表率。在跟随老师的同时,就应该要明白恭敬事奉老师的道理,严格按照老师的教导去做。

曾参是孔子的学生,十六岁拜孔子为师,是孔子学说的主要继承人和传播者,在儒家文化中居有承上启下的重要地位。他勤奋好学,谨遵师教,“于子言无不悦”。他提出了“吾日三省吾身”,即我每天多次自我反省:为别人办事是不是尽心竭力了?和朋友交往是不是做到诚实了?老师传授的学业是不是认真复习了?

“曾子避席”是历史上有名的典故。说的是:有一次曾参在孔子身边侍坐,孔子就问他:“以前的圣贤之王有至高无上的德行,精要奥妙的理论,用来教导天下之人,人们就能和睦相处,君王和臣下之间也没有不满,你知道它们是什么吗?”曾参听了,明白老师是要指点他深刻的道理,于是立刻从坐著的席子上站起来,走到席子外面,恭恭敬敬的回答道:“我不够聪明,哪里能知道,还请老师把这些道理教给我。”在这里,“避席”是一种非常礼貌的行为,当曾参听到老师要向他传授时,他站起身来,走到席子外向老师请教,是为了表示对老师的尊重。后来很多人都向他学习这种礼仪。

曾参随孔子从楚国返回鲁国后,每日在家白天躬耕陇亩,晚间学习到深夜,非常刻苦。他没有任什么官职,生活很是窘迫。鲁国的国君听说了曾参的品行后,对他非常关心和同情,决定赠以“食邑”。但曾参以为“食邑”是只拿俸禄不做事,不如自食其力为好,于是固辞不受。这时,派来的使者好心的劝说曾参:“先生非求于人,为何不受?”曾参对使者诚恳的说:“我常听说,受人者畏惧于人;与人者骄傲于人。纵然与人者并不骄傲,但我能不畏惧吗?”经过再三推辞,曾参终于没有接受国君赠给的食邑。孔子知道了这件事,就称赞说:“曾参的话,是足以保全他的节操的。”

孔子去世后,曾参、子夏、子张、子游、有若等弟子们沉痛守丧三年。在满三年时,共同行了大礼,失声痛哭而归。此时,子夏、子张、子游三个人提出:有若的长相酷似老师,想把有若当作孔子,以对老师的诚意和礼节来事奉有若,表示对尊师的敬意。曾参听后,非常生气,立即起来反对,严正陈词:“这可不行,夫子的盛德好像纯洁的江水冲洗过,又像秋天的阳光照耀过,还像广阔无边的天地一样圣洁,相貌相似的人怎么能比得了呢?”曾参一番言语,众人听后叹服不已,深为曾参对老师的真诚和对礼仪的一丝不苟所感动。

孔子之后,曾参承继孔子道统,勇敢的担负起推行道义、仁德的重任。他说道:“士不可以不弘毅,任重而道远。仁以为己任,不亦重乎?死而后已,不亦远乎?”大意是:有远大理想抱负的人不可以不坚强而有毅力,因为他责任重大而路途遥远。把实现仁德作为自己的责任,不是很重大吗?维护正义而直到永久,不是很遥远吗?”他还编著了《大学》、《孝经》等经典著作,被后人称为“宗圣”。

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