Cultivating Virtue: Avoiding Disaster and Gaining Blessings by Abandoning Greed
(Minghui.org) The Huainanzi (Chinese: 淮南子), an ancient Chinese text from the Han Dynasty, said in Volume 41, “A venerated person preserves what he has, and does not pursue what he does not have. If one pursues what one does not have, then what one has will disappear. If one cultivates what one has, then what one wants will naturally appear.”
The above statements can be interpreted as: A venerated person preserves his virtue, and does not desire what does not belong to him. Whoever is greedy will in the end lose what he has, because greed and pursuit do not bring blessings. One who breaks the law and takes bribes will lose his blessings. If one cultivates virtue, however, then what he wants will come naturally, because virtue possesses mighty wisdom and can be transformed into blessings.
Three short stories illustrating ancient Chinese beliefs follow. Each shows the importance of letting go of greed and cultivating virtue, which in the long run will avoid disaster and result in blessings.
Prophet Dou Qie
Qunshu Digest, an ancient Chinese book written during the Tang Dynasty, tells a story that happened in the Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States Period. It tells how prophet Dou Qie viewed the importance of abandoning greed.
Dou Qie, an official of the Chu State, had a conversation with Zi Chang, the state's lingyin. Lingyin is the highest rank an official could reach at the time and is equivalent to today's prime minister.
Zi Chang inquired about savings and horses. On returning home, Dou Qie told his younger brother, “The Chu State is going to fall because the lingyin cannot avoid disasters. When I visited the lingyin, he inquired about material things and his expression looked like that of a hungry wolf. I am afraid the Chu State is doomed to fall.”
Dou Qie then talked about Zi Wen, one of Zi Chang's ancestors, “Zi Wen gave up the position of lingyin three times and never had any savings because he took people's needs into consideration. Every time King Cheng of the Chu State offered him a salary higher than the usual salary range, he refused to accept it. He would not return until King Cheng stopped talking about an increase in his salary.
Someone asked Zi Wen, 'People pursue treasure and wealth in life, but you stay clear of it. Why?' He replied, 'Government officials should protect ordinary people. Now, most people are poor. If I pursue and gain wealth, then what I gain is actually what was taken from others. If I did that, then I would suffer. Therefore, I am doing this to evade death, not wealth.' That's why the Ruo'ao family line died out during King Zhuang period. Yet Zi Wen's family line persists because they are good officials. Isn't this because he saw the people as his priority and put his own wealth in second place?”
However, the situation changed, as Dou Qie recounted, “Today, Zi Chang's (Zi Wen's descendant and King Chu's assistant) reputation is bad across the Chu State. Walls surround the area. People have no food and many have starved to death. Zi Chang doesn't care about them, but instead, he accumulates wealth and treasure. People have not stopped complaining about him. The more he accumulates wealth, the deeper the hatred and more the complaints! Isn't the Chu State close to its final breath?”
One year later, the Baiju War broke out between the Wu State and Chu State. The Chu State was defeated. Zi Chang escaped to the Zheng State and King Zhao escaped to the Sui State.
Shunning Greed: Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty Educates His Men
A book written in the Tang Dynasty, Zhenguan Political Digest, records a story about how Emperor Taizong of Tang explained to his men the importance of not being driven by greed.
He told his men, “If a person has a bright pearl, he would definitely regard it as a treasure. If he uses it to shoot sparrows, it would be a pity. Moreover, a person's life is more precious than a bright pearl.
“If an official forgets about the law and accepts bribes in whatever form, then he doesn't cherish his life. Even the bright pearl, an external thing outside one's body, shouldn't be used for shooting sparrows, not to mention a person's life, which is so precious. How can we use it in exchange for wealth and material things? If you make a great effort to remain loyal and upright, do good deeds for the country and people, then you will soon get promoted. However if you pursue prosperity and accept bribes, then once your behavior is discovered, your life would be in danger.”
“This also applies to the emperor. If he indulges in sentiments and comfort, demands that people do arduous labor, believes only petty officials, stays aloof of loyal and righteous officials, and so on. If he engages in anything of the above, how is it possible that the dynasty would survive? Emperor Yang of Sui Dynasty lived in luxury, yet he regarded himself as a venerated person. In the end, he died at the hands of an everyday person.”
Emperor Taizong talked to his men about greed further in a subsequent year, “I've said that a greedy person doesn't know how to cherish wealth. Take a ranking official for example, whose annual earnings are quite considerable. If he accepts bribes, and it is discovered, he would not only lose his rank, but also his possessions would be confiscated. Does he cherish wealth, then?”
At another time, Emperor Taizong talked about Gongyixiu, a high ranking official in the Lu State, during the Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States Period. “Gongyixiu loved fish, but he never accepted fish from others. If the lord is greedy, he would lose his country. If the servants are greedy, he would die early.
“The Book of Songs, a famous book from Confucianism, has it that if a person is greedy, he would bring damage to many people. This is really true.”
Taizong then told his men, “King Hui of the Qin State planned to go to war against the Shu State, but he didn't know the route to the Shu State. Then he constructed five stone oxen and put gold behind the stone oxen. When people from the Shu State saw the gold, they believed that the oxen could produce gold. The King of the Shu State ordered five strong men to pull the stone oxen to the Shu state, thereby revealing the route to the Shu State. Soldiers from the Qin State followed the trail and defeated the Shu State.”
Taizong continued his talk by giving another example, “Tian Yannian, the Sinong (name of a high rank, equivalent to today's prime minister) of the Han Dynasty took bribes of 30 million. He eventually died at his own hands.”
Emperor Taizong told his officials to watch out for greed. He said, “There are many such stories that spoke of misery because one is greedy. Draw a lesson from the story of the King of the Shu State and Tian Yannian.”
General Guo Ziyi Maintains Peace by Abandoning Greed and Preserving Modesty
Guo Ziyi (AD 697-781 ) was a famous general in the Tang Dynasty. Guo Ziyi allowed no guards to stand in front of his gate. Everyone, from noblemen to average people and small businessmen, could enter and leave Guo's residence and nobody stopped them.
Everyone was in the know about Guo's family issues, no matter how small or how large.
For example, someone said, “Their sons were required to carry water and irrigate the field. They looked the same as ordinary servants and slaves.” This meant that there was nothing hidden by Guo and his family.
Guo Ziyi's children tried to persuade him to change his ways. Guo refused to accept their suggestion. They wept and said, “Your have merits, but you do not respect yourself. All people, regardless rich or poor, are under your protection. We believe even Yi Yin or Huo Guang, high ranking officials in the Han Dynasty, weren't so open and transparent. However, we feel pain because of you.”
Guo smiled and said, “It's not what you think. I own 500 horses and there are 1,000 people who are supported by the government. Many people are jealous and want to malign me. If we closed our door tightly, severing connection with the outside world, then as long as one person started to malign me and complain that I was not loyal, it would be easy to find those that want to harm me. Then my entire family would be killed. It would be too late for regret. Now, all doors are open, and no one can malign me. This is why I live this way.”
Treacherous court officials sent spies to monitor his family, but all returned with nothing. Finally, his children were convinced, too.
Guo Ziyi played a significant role in the survival of the Tang Dynasty during his 20 years as the general. He had much power, and no official at the court could find anything against him. He had accumulated much merit, and the emperor didn't suspect him of any wrongdoing. Treacherous court officials attempted many times to harm him, but without success.
He was noble and rich when he passed away. His prosperous descendants lived peaceful and joyful lives. This was possible because of his loyalty to the country, his rejection of greed, as well as being modest, humble, and generous.
Greed Drives the World
Human beings are very greedy. When one indulges desires without constraint, one can only sink down and be unable to rise again. Blessings and virtue would bypass him, and disaster would befall him.
On the contrary, if one cultivates one's heart, performs good deeds, abandons greed and does not live in delusion, he accumulates virtue. He would gain naturally without pursuit. This is called being wise.
As the ancients said, “If one is kind, disasters would stay away from him although blessings haven't arrived yet. If one is evil, one would not receive blessings and will have to face disasters.”
Abandoning greed and cultivating virtue could really help humans avoid disaster and gain blessings. We should reflect on that and be vigilant.
Adapted from:1. Qunshu Digest, an ancient Chinese book of the Tang Dynasty;2. Zhenguan Political Digest, an ancient Chinese book of the Tang Dynasty;3. Code of the Great Ming Dynasty