Traditional Culture: Discussion on Upholding Moral Discipline
(Clearwisdom.net) Upholding moral discipline is maintaining moral courage. Moral courage refers to one's ambition and moral integrity. It is a kind of noble personality quality, manifesting as perseverance and persistence in upholding justice without submitting to fear. Confucius' saying "Only when it is winter, does one realize that pine and cypress wither late" praises the pine and cypress for withstanding the cold and frost in winter while being distinctly independent and proud. To eulogize the personality of one who stands firm and is unyielding, Mengzi also proposed that, "Richness and honor cannot be obscene, the poor and lowly cannot be moved, power and prestige cannot be subdued by force." This also emphasized the importance of moral courage. Since antiquity, Chinese people have perceived moral courage and moral discipline as a very important aspect in the cultivation of virtue.
Confucius said, "[One] does not reduce one's will, shame his/her body." ("Weizi" in Lunyu) The general idea is not to compromise one's own ambition, nor bring disgrace to taint one's pureness. Human beings should uphold and measure up to the standards of human beings. No amount of power or suppression should change their minds. Confucius highly praises the ancient talents of Weizi, Boye, Shuqi and others. When a person is subdued by power and might, or enticed by unfair gains, fame, or fortune, it will only weaken one's own personality, and bring shame and disgrace.
When Mengzi was debating with others about who could be called a "great honorable person," he summarized the standard that people should follow: "Richness and honor cannot be obscene, the poor and lowly cannot be moved, power and prestige cannot be subdued by force." Throughout history, there were many great people like that. Su Wu, of the Western Han Dynasty period, is one such example. During the reign of Emperor Hanwu, he followed orders to go to the country of Xiongnu on a diplomatic mission. The leader of Xiongnu tried to force him to surrender. He used a herd of livestock, wealth, official positions and so forth to tempt him at first. Because he would not give in, they resorted to punishing him by forcing him to live a life of hardship. Su Wu was not enticed by the riches, honor or power offered to him. Neither was he moved when he was suppressed. He stood by his principles and remained unmoved throughout his trials. He was held prisoner in Xiongnu for 19 years. Throughout his imprisonment, he maintained and upheld his moral integrity. Finally he was able to return to the Han Dynasty.
Mengzi added: "[A poor man] cultivates one's own moral worth; while reaching the goal successfully benefits everybody." ("With One's Heart" in Mengzi). Regardless whether a person is successful or unsuccessful in one's endeavor, one must always shoulder the responsibility to contribute one's best. One must always do one's best, according to one's abilities, to help others. If it's beyond one's ability to be of assistance, one must at least manage oneself well. Whether one is surrounded by favorable or adverse conditions, one must persevere to safeguard moral principles, and maintain noble moral courage in one's heart.
It was recorded in the book Lushi Chunqiu that "Rock can be smashed, but its hardness cannot be changed; cinnabar may be ground, but its red color cannot be removed." This can be understood as, "A person with great pure noble quality will not submit to external pressure to compromise one's personal integrity. Even if met with a cruel death, the spirit remains unchanged."
People often used the phrase "Better to have broken jade, than to have unbroken tile" ("Northern Qi Dynasty Book" in The Biography of Yuan Jing'an) to express a person's willpower to persevere and preserve moral courage and determination. There was a famous phrase of Yu Qian from the Ming Dynasty "remain fearless when faced with cruel death, in order to maintain a clear and pure title in life." (Lime recitation) Yu Qian used his Lime Recitation "Better to have broken jade, than to have unbroken tile" to express his firm belief and faith without any fear in upholding moral character even under the most difficult, precarious and dangerous circumstances.
In the most difficult and dangerous environment, it's very easy to spot and gauge a person's true character. Emperor Tang Taizong once wrote a poem, "Gusty and strong winds can blow the gentle grass, while the turbulent age can distinguish the honest feudal official" (Confer Xiao Yu). Strong, fiery winds can bring out the tenacity and resiliency of the weeds to withstand the blow, and turbulent and tumultuous times can identify a true, loyal, and honest feudal official. Wen Tianxiang caused great headaches for the Yuan Dynasty ruler when he was lured with high-ranking position and material wealth to surrender, because he was unmoved by temptation. Under these difficult circumstances, he even wrote "Righteous Song" to reveal his aspirations of rock solid determination. "At the critical moment, his moral integrity can be seen and his stories would be recorded in history one by one." During hardships and difficult moments, lofty moral courage can be exhibited. This kind of moral courage remains forever in history.
Ancient people often referred to physical objects in expressing emotions and feelings, like the arrogance and firmness of the pine and cypress withstanding the wintry cold, to describe people who maintain their righteous dignity and moral courage under tumultuous times and adverse conditions. For this reason, the ancient people chose the pine tree, bamboo plant, and the plum tree as "the three friends of winter," praising their special resistance to harsh weather to eulogize and praise individuals who persist in truth and justice, and uphold moral courage when faced with the most difficult and tumultuous situation. Renowned painter Zheng Banqiao from the Qing Dynasty wrote, "Bamboo roots on green mountain and rock cling deeply. Facing wind from all directions, it still firmly stands." ("Bamboo and Rock", in his paintings with poem) Painter Zheng Banqiao loved painting bamboo all his life. He expressed and entrusted a special spirit in his bamboo paintings. This spirit is noble and pure, not vulgar, modest but not yielding. Isn't living to be an upright human being also like this?