Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cultivating character

A person’s character or personality is developed over the years showing his or her mental or moral qualities and individuality. When a person is perhaps learned or cultured with good and kind qualities and helpful, the person can be considered a Junzi (Superior man) or even a Da Ren (Great man). However if the same person actually turns out to be quarrelsome, spiteful and more often than not brings harm to other human(s) with ill intent then he or she is considered a Xiao Ren (Mean man).

The ancients hold much concern for humanity, therefore they try to teach rulers and kings and the learned who listened to cultivate their character with virtues. Only when the rulers and those who help them rule are virtuous can the people enjoy their lives in peace and harmony, and not brought to harm or ruin.

However we know from experience and studies that it proves difficult for a person to change his or her character for the better. The Chinese adage: ‘changing a kingdom is easier than to move original character’ perhaps support the thought. (It has always been much easier by neglecting our own cultivation and changes it for the worse.) The adage could have been derived from the following conversation between Confucius and Duke Ai who asked about government (extracts):

The Master said "With the right men the growth of government is rapid, just as vegetation is rapid in the earth; and, moreover, their government might be called an easily-growing rush.”

"Therefore the administration of government lies in getting proper men. Such men are to be got by means of the ruler's own character. That character is to be cultivated by his treading in the ways of duty. And the treading those ways of duty is to be cultivated by the cherishing of benevolence.”

"Benevolence is the characteristic element of humanity, and the great exercise of it is in loving relatives. Righteousness is the accordance of actions with what is right, and the great exercise of it is in honoring the worthy. The decreasing measures of the love due to relatives, and the steps in the honor due to the worthy, are produced by the principle of propriety.”

"Hence the sovereign may not neglect the cultivation of his own character. Wishing to cultivate his character, he may not neglect to serve his parents. In order to serve his parents, he may not neglect to acquire knowledge of men. In order to know men, he may not dispense with knowledge of Heaven.”

The Master said, "To be fond of learning is to be near to knowledge. To practice with vigor is to be near to magnanimity. To possess the feeling of shame is to be near to energy.”

"He who knows these three things knows how to cultivate his own character. Knowing how to cultivate his own character, he knows how to govern other men. Knowing how to govern other men, he knows how to govern the kingdom with all its states and families.” [Doctrine of the Mean XX – Legge – Wengu - Resources link]

In case you think it is a waste of time to cultivate our character for the better, think again. It can help change our fate or our destiny. That is why we learn from the Zhouyi that with the proper conduct of a Junzi we can master our own fate. Do take note that cultivating character for the better takes a long time. It will be a gradual and continual process. And it forms part of the far journey.

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