In the Commentaries on Hexagram 1 Qian / The Creative in the Book of Changes on righteousness/justice it is said:
“Because he furthers all beings, he is able to bring them into harmony through justice.”
Richard Wilhelm in the translation of the Zhouyi followed up with this explanation on righteousness: “Furthermore, as the foundation of social life there must be the greatest possible freedom and the greatest possible advantage for all. These are guaranteed by justice, which curtails individual freedom no more than is absolutely necessary for the general welfare.” [W/B Book III]
Although righteousness (Yi) also comes from the heart/mind (Hsin), it is more difficult to understand than benevolence (Ren). The uninitiated at times may think acts by the righteous outright foolhardy.
Since one has often quoted the Analects of Confucius and the Tao Te Ching on the subject, perhaps the following quite ‘well known’ episode more than seven centuries later can help some readers better understand righteousness:
After losing many men in the river battle at Red Cliff, Cao Cao had to beat a hasty retreat back to the Eastern Han capital. Chuko Liang (Kungming) having foreseen the likely routes that Cao would take, had placed generals and troops to block his attempts to escape. However Kungming did not allocate Guan Yu any place to guard. Since he knew Guan would allow Cao to pass because Cao was once very kind to him and Guan cannot help feeling grateful. When Guan insisted on guarding an escape route, to emphasize the seriousness of the matter, Kungming made him put in writing that he will be executed if he allowed Cao to pass.
Just as Kungming has foreseen Cao and his remnant troops were blocked at various escape routes and had to finally go through at Huayang Valley. When they saw Guan Yu and his men barring the way, Cao’s adviser, Cheng Yu said:
“I have always heard that Guan Yu is haughty to the proud but kindly to the humble; he despises the strong, but is gentle to the weak. He discriminates between love and hate and is always righteous and true. You, O Minister, have shown him kindness, and if you will remind him of that we shall escape this evil.”
Cao Cao managed to convince Guan Yu to allow him and his troops to pass unscathed. Upon receiving his report of his failure to kill Cao Cao and had instead allowed him free passage, Kungming called in the lictors and told them to take away Guan Yu and put him to death. Only when his elder brother Liu Bei spoke up for Guan Yu, was the sentence remitted.
Two poems honored Guan Yu for what he did:
“Cao Cao, his army lost, fled to the Huayung Valley;
There in the throat of the gorge met he Guan Yu.
Grateful was Guan, and mindful of former kindness,
Wherefor slipped he the bolt and freed the imprisoned dragon.”
“Guan Yu risked his life when he spared Cao
In direst need,
And age-long admiration gained
For kindly deed.”
Guan Yu later became a favorite Daoist deity, The God of War, honored for his righteousness (Yi). Although none became as famous as Guan Yu, many chivalrous heroes in ancient or later times had given up their lives for righteousness/justice.
This entry is written especially for a regular reader who has recently taken up a noble cause to further justice. Good luck.