Traditional Culture: Do Not Pursue or Indulge in Vanity
(Clearwisdom.net) Qi Jiguang was born when his father, Qi Jingtong, was at the age of 56, a relatively old age. Jiguang was the only son in the family and the father loved the child dearly. He personally taught Qi Jiguang to read books and to practice martial arts. However, he was very strict with Qi Jiguang's moral character and conduct.
One day, when Qi Jiguang was 13, he wore a pair of well-made silk shoes. He felt very happy about them, and walked back and forth in the courtyard. This was seen by his father. His father called him into the reading room and scolded him angrily, "Once you have good shoes, you will naturally dream about wearing good clothes. Once you have good clothes, you will naturally dream about eating good food. At such a young age, you have developed the mentality of enjoying good food and good clothing. You will have insatiable greed in the future. When you grow up, you will pursue delicious food and beautiful clothes. If you were to be a military officer, you would even embezzle soldiers' salaries. If you continue to be like this, it will be impossible for you to succeed in the undertaking of your elders."
Qi Jingtong learned that the silk shoes were a gift from Qi Jiguang's maternal grandfather. However, he still ordered Jiguang to take off the shoes, and he instantly tore them into pieces to prevent Jiguang from developing the bad habit of indulging in luxury.
At one time, the Qi family needed to renovate over a dozen of their rooms that were in very poor shape. Qi Jingtong hired several artisans to perform the job. Because the family would need a presentable place to host officials from the royal court, he asked the artisans to install four carved flowery doors in the main hall, and Qi Jiguang oversaw the installation.
The artisans regarded the Qi family as one of nobility and thought that it would look too frugal if there were only four carved doors. They talked to Qi Jiguang privately, "Your elders are generals. For such a noble and wealthy family, all doors throughout the house should be carved, flowery doors, which would be twelve such doors in total. Only this grade of setting will match the social status of your family." Qi Jiguang thought their suggestion was reasonable and brought it up to his father.
Qi Jingtong scolded Qi Jiguang seriously for his extravagant and ostentatious idea. He cautioned Qi Jiguang, "If you pursue and indulge yourself in vanity, you won't be able to achieve great things when you grow up." Qi Jiguang accepted his father's criticism and told the artisan to install only four carved doors.
Qi Jingtong also taught Qi Jiguang that the purpose of studying liberal arts and practicing martial arts was not to pursue personal fame, personal achievement or personal wealth. Instead, it was for the well-being of the nation, the society and the people. Therefore, we must pay attention to the moral character of "loyalty, respecting parents, incorruptness, and integrity" to nurture ourselves.
With this teaching, discipline from his father as well as learning from his father's exemplary conduct, Qi Jiguang sought no extravagance and felt content with moderate food. He was diligent and earnest in his studies and practice of martial arts. Later, he became a famous general as well as an outstanding strategist of the Ming Dynasty, and fought against the invading minorities. He therefore had his name imprinted in Chinese history.
He had learned that flaunting, indulgence, attachment to one's own appearance, acquiring wealth, achievements and status - these attachments aim at seeking other people's flattery and praise, and are all manifestations of vanity. The root of vanity is the attachment to one's ego. It will definitely ruin one's noble aspiration, and this person is doomed to fail in major undertakings. If one is enthralled by such illusive honor and is prompted by such mentality, fights with or even harm others, it is most lamentable.