Cherishing Virtue: Behavior Should Correspond to What Was Ordained by Heaven
(Minghui.org) People in ancient times respected heaven, cherished virtue, and believed that one's behavior should correspond with what was ordained by heaven.
By carrying out the heavenly mandate and attaching importance to personal cultivation of character and behavior, traditional Chinese culture guided people toward kindheartedness and awareness of personal values. It freed people from the desire for self interest, fame and profit and emphasized instead, striving to perfect one's moral character so as to reach fulfillment and acquire heavenly blessings.
The stories in ancient books tell us that material possessions is not what one truly has to worry about. Back then, people put emphasis on virtue and maintaining good behavior. Ancient books state that one should be concerned about virtue that has not been established and that one should not worry about lack of necessities as without virtue, the more wealth one accumulates, the more problems one would incur. While on the contrary, a truly virtuous person could end up being blessed, even when facing a disastrous situation.
Below is a story that took place in China's Spring and Autumn period which spanned from approximately 771 to 476 BC.
Lofty Virtues Add to State's Glory
Ji Wenzi, who passed away in 568 BC, served as the prime minister of both the 20th and 21st rulers of Lu, which is today's Shandong Province. Yet, neither his wife nor his children wore silks and satins. The horses in his household were fed grass instead of millet.
Zhongsun, son of Meng Xianzi, who headed a renowned family in the territory of Lu, asked Ji, “You are the prime minister, yet your family doesn't wear silks or satins, your horses are not fed with millet. Others may think that you are stingy, which would not bring much prestige to the state.”
Ji Wenzi replied, “I, for one, would rather have my family dress nicely and my horses be well fed. However, many of the commoners in our state are having to eat poor food and wear worn clothes. I don't dare to differentiate my household from my fellow countrymen with fancy food and clothes, exactly because of my position as prime minister. Besides, I have heard that lofty virtues among people are what adds to a state's glory. I don’t believe that showing off with clothes and carriages would add prestige to the state.”
Upon hearing a recount of the dialog, Meng Xianzi became angry at his son. He put Zhongsun in solitary confinement for seven days. From then on, Zhongsun's family started to wear only plain clothes and his horses were fed grass instead of millet.
When Ji Wenzi heard about Zhongsun's change he observed, “One who is able to correct his mistakes is a worthy role model for others.” He appointed Zhongsun as a top tier middle-ranking official.
Ji Wenzi's devoting himself to the society's well being, loyalty to his duty, diligence in state affairs, and thriftiness in running his household helped shape the morals and customs of the Lu state. Generations have gone by, yet his virtue is still talked about today.
Adapted from the Analects of Confucius