Mencius (372 – 289 BC), or Meng Ke, courtesy name Ziyu, was born in the state of Zou during the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). He wrote the book titled Mencius and was referred to as the “second Sage” after Confucius. Their philosophies are called the “doctrine of Confucius and Mencius.”
Mencius once said, “I am proficient in cultivating my noble spirit. It is the greatest and strongest force. It will fill heaven and earth with a noble mind. It must be matched with virtue and morality, otherwise it will lack force.” “Be impervious to the temptation of wealth and high position, do not be shaken by poverty, and do not be subdued by force.” Mencius advocated benevolent governance his whole life. In his dealings with feudal lords and nobility, he behaved neither submissively nor pompously. This originates from his great righteousness. His pursuit of the truth deeply influenced later generations.
Mencius’ view of destiny was that heaven possessed the highest will. The mandate of heaven determined the change in dynasties and emperors, rise and decline, and rich and poor. People had to follow the will of heaven and know how to dedicate, know heaven and do things for heaven. Those who submitted to heaven’s will prosper and those who defy it will die. Mencius emphasized moral cultivation. He considered morality to be a natural gift, innate to the human mind and conscience of people. If everyone is able to maintain goodness and strive to improve in self-cultivation, people can be like Emperors Yao and Shun. Both Mencius and Confucius toured various states to promote their teachings. Mencius spread the virtue and benevolent governance of the ancient emperors Yao, Yu Shun, and others across the states of Qi, Wei, Teng, Xue, Song, Zou and Liang. Lord Hui of the state of Wei treated him with a courteous reception and Lord Xuan of the state of Qi honored him as a high official. He persuaded them to apply benevolent governance that had won people’s hearts, and many times avoided war.
Mencius once traveled from Qi to Wei and was stopped by a heavy rain in the City of Gan. People found out about it and ran around spreading the news. Many people came to visit him to ask for advice. Seeing that the local people were so eager to learn, he thus decided to stay to lecture for several days. People of the city were proud to have received Mencius’ teachings, so they constructed a temple at the site where he taught. Mencius believed that a man of noble character must pursue morality, persuade monarchs to establish moral supremacy, value righteousness above material gain, and instill virtue in people’s hearts. The following are stories of his unswerving determination to urge people to do good.
Rule a Country With Righteousness, Why Talk About Benefits?
When visiting the state of Liang, Lord Hui of Liang said to him, “You have traveled a great distance to come here. You must have some things to benefit my country?” Mencius replied, “Lord, why talk about benefits? It is sufficient to discuss righteousness. Your highness says, ‘How can it benefit my country?’ The prominent ministers say, ‘How can it benefit my family?’ The common folk say, ‘How does it benefit me?’ As a result, everyone will be competing for his or her own benefits. Then the country will be in danger! In a country with 10,000 military vehicles, often the senior officers who own 1,000 military vehicles will kill their monarch. In a country owning 1,000 military vehicles, the monarch is often killed by the senior officers who own 100 military vehicles. You cannot say that these senior officers do not own enough. However, those who put their own interests above righteousness will never be satisfied with what they already own and will try to seize their monarch’s position. Those who never speak of benevolence are willing to abandon their parents. Those who never think of righteousness will abandon their monarch. Therefore, it is sufficient for your highness to deliberate righteousness. Why discuss benefits?”
The prominent historian Sima Qian (145 – 86 BC) in the Western Han Dynasty revealed that he often sighed when reading this dialogue between Mencius and Lord Hui, “Personal interest is really the source of chaos!”
浩然之氣 至大至剛 (一)