Seeking No Power and Pursuing No Fame
(Clearwisdom.net) When Guangwu Liu Xiu was the emperor of China during the East Han Dynasty (6 B.C. to 57 A.D.), he appointed the scholar Heng Rong as court official with the duty of educating his son, the Crown Prince.
At the time, Heng Rong was sixty years old. He led a school in Jiujiang City and had taught hundreds of students. One of his students, He Tang, was promoted to be a commander. He Tang recommended that Emperor Guangwu appoint Heng Rong as the imperial tutor. On the first day that Heng Rong went to the court, He Tang reminded him, "Being an official is completely different from doing scholarly research. A scholar should be rigorous and honest. However, an official must be adaptive and flexible. You have such a good opportunity to be the Crown Prince's teacher. Please don't be too stubborn."
Heng Rong did not say a word. Then He Tang added, "Although the emperor is a wise emperor, nevertheless, he likes to be flattered. In particular, you should not offend the Crown Prince. Please don't be too strict with him."
Upon hearing this, Heng Rong was not happy. He said, "You are my student. Don't you know me? I have been doing research all my life. I appreciate the Tao for gentlemen and do not want to be an official. I accepted the emperor's appointment because the emperor is wise and he has helped to make the world peaceful. You have not been an official for long, yet you've learned political trickery and flattery. You even try to teach me such things. I truly feel sorry for you."
Then Heng Rong wanted to return home. However, Emperor Guangwu would not approve it. Emperor Guangwu talked to Heng Rong several times and praised him, "What you say is very good. I am very fortunate to have you. I wish I had known you earlier."
Thus Emperor Guangwu immediately appointed Heng Rong as imperial tutor. Unexpectedly, Heng Rong firmly refused. He said, "I do not have enough virtue or ability. If your Majesty honors me with an official position just because your Majesty is fond of me at this moment, it is not a prudent decision. I am not as good as minister Peng Hong or Yangzhou official Gao Hong. It is more appropriate for your Majesty to promote them."
Emperor Guangwu sighed, "Although scholars have been talking about not pursuing personal gains and not seeking fame, how many of them can truly achieve this? You are a rare gentleman. You are not only modest, but even recommend others to me, without seeking power for yourself." Emperor Guangwu insisted on appointing Heng Rong as imperial tutor. He also promoted Peng Hong and Gao Hong to be court officials.
Peng and Gao went to thank Heng Rong. However, Heng Rong did not admit them. He sent a message to them, saying, "The emperor is wise, and thus promotes you. It has nothing to do with me. If you want to thank someone, you should thank the emperor. You must be diligent in your work and be loyal to the state. That is what you should do."
One day, Emperor Guangwu went to visit the imperial college. It just happened that the scholars there were having a heated argument. Some scholars talked on and on with red faces. Heng Rong was the only one who kept a calm manner with gentle words and did not show disrespect. Emperor Guangwu told the officials accompanying him, "Reasoning with respect is what a true scholar does. Only Heng Rong was able to do so."
Emperor Guangwu tried to promote Heng Rong several times; however, Heng Rong politely refused. He said, "Your trust is my great honor. I do not make great contributions to the country. If I accept the promotion because I seek fame, your Majesty would be criticized and I would feel embarrassed."
The Crown Prince was diligent and became an accomplished scholar after years of study. Heng Rong was very pleased; however, he asked to resign from his position as the Crown Prince's teacher. He wrote to Emperor Guangwu several times, "Thank you, your Majesty, for giving me the opportunity to teach the Crown Prince. The Prince is able and he has learned all the classics. It is time for me to return home."
Others advised Heng Rong not to resign, and told him, "It is a great honor to be the Crown Prince's teacher. Someday when the Crown Prince becomes emperor, your honor will be immeasurable. Other people seek such an opportunity and cannot get it. How can you give it away so easily?"
Heng Rong replied, "If I had thought like you, how could I become the Crown Prince's teacher? Exactly because this position is honorable, I dare not to keep it for long."
Crown Prince Liu Zhuang later became Emperor Mingdi in the Han Dynasty. Emperor Mingdi admired Heng Rong very much, and treated him with the courtesy due to a teacher. Emperor Mingdi once went to Taichang Court for religious ceremonies and to examine imperial scholars. The emperor asked Heng Rong to sit at a desk just like when Heng Rong was teaching him. Emperor Mingdi also called several hundred people, including court officials and Heng Rong's students, to the Taichang Court to give a salute to Heng Rong. When Heng Rong was sick, Emperor Mingdi personally went to visit him. Upon arriving, the emperor stepped out of his carriage and walked to Heng Rong's home to show his respect. When Heng Rong died, Emperor Mingdi wore mourning apparel to attend his funeral.