A Chinese Philosopher's Words on Filial Piety
(Clearwisdom.net) The concept of filial piety is essential to Confucianism. Zeng Zi, a philosopher and student of Confucius, said, "There are three levels of filial piety. The best is to gain respect for one's parents, the second is to not tarnish the parents' names, and the lowest level is merely providing for them." Musician Gong Mingyi asked Zeng Zi, "Sir, are you considered good at filial piety?" Zeng Zi said, "That's far from true! A true gentleman's filial piety is knowing the parents' intentions and to do as they wish even before they articulate it. At the same time, the parents would understand the reasons why it should be done that way. I can merely provide for my parents. How can that be considered filial piety?"
Zeng Zi said, "The body is given by the parents. How can we not be respectful when we use things given by our parents? If we are not acting with honor in our daily lives, if we are not faithful when working for the emperor, if we are not careful as officials, if we are not trustworthy as friends, or if we are not brave during battles, then we have failed at filial piety. If we don't do well in these five areas, we bring harms to our parents. How can we not be respectful? If we simply cook for them, taste the food, then bring it to them, then this is not filial piety but merely providing for them.
"Filial piety is fundamental in educating the public. It is demonstrated through providing food and money for the parents. It may be easy to provide food and money for the parents, but difficult to do so with respect. Even if it can be done with respect, it is difficult to do it naturally. Even if it can be done naturally, it is difficult to do it throughout one's life. True lifelong filial piety is conducting oneself carefully even after one's parents pass away, so that their names would not be tarnished. A kind person must be centered on filial piety. A person with manners must practice filial piety. A righteous person conducts himself with filial piety. A trustworthy person demonstrates filial piety with his actions. A strong person is one who consistently tries to show filial piety. Joy comes from filial piety, and punishment is a result of one's straying from filial piety."
Zeng Zi also said, "There are three levels of filial piety. The lowest level is only laboring for the parents. The middle level is establishing honor for the parents through one's accomplishments. The highest level is to be without omissions. Remembering parents' kindness and forgetting one's own hardships, this can be considered laboring. Being respectful and acting responsibly can be considered bringing honor to the parents. Widely spreading the teaching of kindness so that everything can benefit, this is having no omissions.
"If your parents like you, you should gladly remember it. If your parents don't like you, you should reflect on yourself and act with caution, but without complaints. If your parents make a mistake, you should advise with kindness without acting against them. When your parents pass away, you should use the fruits of your labor to remember them. This can be considered lifelong honoring of one's parents."
From the Classic of Rites