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Be Strict with Yourself and Lenient Towards Others

April 10, 2010 |  

(Clearwisdom.net) Fan Chunren (1027~1101 AD, the second son of Fan Zhongyan, a prestigious litterateur in Chinese history) was a famous scholar and an important political figure of the Sung Dynasty (960~ 1279 AD). He always cautioned his sons, "The most stupid person can be very clear-headed when he finds faults in other people, and the most intelligent person can become muddle-headed when he forgives his own mistakes. Therefore, if you can find fault within yourself in the same way as you find fault in others, and forgive others in the same way as you forgive yourself, you need not worry that you won't become a sage someday."

On one occasion, a person asked Fan's advice about the principles of words and deeds. Fan replied, "Only frugality can cultivate a sense of honor and shame, and only forgiveness can lead to benevolence and virtue." Fan himself cultivated moral character and tempered himself throughout his life and was never fastidious about food. Each day when returning to his residence from his government office, he would change clothes to wear those made of coarse fabrics. He kept practicing this custom throughout his career regardless of the superiority of his position in the government.

Chinese people always remind their children that the only way to get along with people is "be strict with yourself and lenient to others." Yet, it is not easy to actually put this principle into practice. The reason is that common people tend to focus on the imperfections of the world and feel discontented and uncomfortable. Out of vexation, they start blaming others. As a result, even stupid people can see clearly and tell specifically what others have done wrong. However, when it comes to self reflection for identifying their own problems or faults, even intelligent people become muddled-headed and incapable.

Therefore, Fan warned his children and students that the key point for achieving great virtue is to "find fault within yourselves in the same way as you find fault in others, and forgive others in the same way that you forgive yourself." Whatever problems we see through our eyes in others should be treated as a good reference to remind ourselves not to commit similar mistakes. By practicing this, we can keep progressing. It's easy to forgive ourselves, but difficult to forgive others. If we can truly forgive others in the same way as we forgive ourselves, achieving the realm of saints is almost certain.

Quite frequently, we tend to boast of grandiose principles to cover up our own vexation and scrutinize others, hindering further enhancement of our own virtue. The first step in cultivating virtue is to painstakingly identify our own faults. Once we learn a principle, it is so easy to apply it in examining others, but rather hard to apply it in reflecting on ourselves. Only with great strength of mind can we turn the situation around. Moreover, it does not help too much if we end up just talking about the principles without actually applying them in our daily lives. Whenever tribulations or difficulties are encountered, it is always "I or we" who should think about rectification. We can't criticize or complain about others. If we can constantly examine ourselves and tolerate others' faults, our virtue will keep increasing, which ultimately will make it possible to influence others.