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Filial Piety Fosters Kindness

September 26, 2006 |   By Qing Yan

(Clearwisdom.net) Li Gao lived during the Tang Dynasty. He was well known for being caring and respectful to his mother.

During the first year of the Shangyuan Calendar (674 AD), there was a drought in the capital. Rice was very expensive, and many people were starving to death. Li Gao saw that his salary could not support his family, so he decided to become an official in another province, where he could earn a higher salary. Later, Li Gao made a mistake in his work and was demoted to be the principal in charge of local issues in the Wenzhou area in a different province.

The crops in Wenzhou were also scarce. The government had hundreds of thousands of hu (an ancient Chinese measurement, equal to approximately 40 quarts) of grain in storage, and Li Gao wanted to give it away to the poor. His subordinates suggested that he wait until the emperor gave permission. Li said, "If a person doesn't eat for a few days, he will starve to death. I have no time to wait! If I have to risk my life to save thousands of other lives, there could be nothing more worthy." He ordered the grain to be given away to the poor and wrote a letter to the emperor criticizing himself. After reading the letter, the emperor paid him high compliments and promoted him.

Once Li Gao went to a neighboring county to visit. He saw a white-haired woman crying and asked her what was the matter. The elderly woman said, "I am of the Li family. My sons are Li Jun and Li E. They have been serving as government officials away from here for over 20 years and have never visited me. I am so poor I cannot even feed myself." At that time, both Li Jun and Li E were quite well known. Li Jun worked in the capital of the country.

When he heard this, Li Gao was furious. He said, "When a person is home, he should be obedient and kind to his family. When he is away, he should be respectful to the elderly. If he has extra time and energy, he could pursue more achievements. How could these two brothers with such low morals be government officials?" He wrote a letter to the emperor about the matter. As a result, Li Jun and Li E were both fired from their official posts and banned from serving in the government.

Treating family elders with obedience and kindness is a traditional virtue of the Chinese nation and a standard of morality. Why did ancient people focus on filial piety and give it such importance? Because filial piety is closely connected to improving one's moral standard. To be able to practice filial piety, the person must have a kind heart, which is a necessary virtue for interacting with others in society. This is the most important. Filial piety also includes other virtues such as being grateful, repaying kindnesses, remembering one's roots, respecting the elderly, and being considerate of others.

If a person cannot be kind to his own family, how can he be truly kind to others? How can he "organize his family, rule the country, and bring peace to all under heaven?" Since the Han Dynasty (206 BC ¡V 220 AD), the royal court has used filial piety as one of the main standards for choosing talented individuals to serve in the government. Because Li Gao had a sincere heart of kindness and obedience towards his family, he was able to treat others kindly just like his family. That was probably why he was willing to give up his life to save the starving common people.

To foster a heart of kindness and broaden familial love into compassion, one should start with treating one's family members kindly and expand to all people. That was probably the real reason the ancient people emphasized filial piety.