Sunday, April 08, 2007

Human nature is good

About 2,400 years ago, because Mencius clearly understood that people have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others, he gave a (by now) well known example to demonstrate that human nature (Ren Xing) is good, followed by an exhortation to develop its goodness:

What would people feel if they suddenly see a very young child about to fall into a well?

The people will without exception experience a feeling of alarm and distress. They will feel so, not as a ground on which they may gain the favour of the child’s parents, nor as a ground on which they may seek the praise of their neighbours and friends, nor from a dislike to the reputation of having been unmoved by such a thing.

From this case we may perceive that the feeling of commiseration is essential to man, that the feeling of shame and dislike is essential to man, that the feeling of modesty and complaisance is essential to man, and that the feeling of approving and disapproving is essential to man.

He then went on to explain how these feelings generate the four cardinal virtues or ethics:

The feeling of commiseration is the principle of benevolence (ren). The feeling of shame and dislike is the principle of righteousness (yi). The feeling of modesty and complaisance is the principle of propriety (li). The feeling of approving and disapproving is the principle of knowledge (zhi).

According to Mencius, these virtues form parts of human nature, yet people say that they cannot develop (or cultivate) them. Therefore such people play the thief with themselves. If only they can develop and complete the four virtues, they will suffice to love and protect all within the four seas (the world). Without that development, they will not suffice for a man to serve his parents with.
[Book II, Part 1. 5 – Legge]

More than two millennia later, man still do not quite understand the difference between good and evil. And what forms human nature.

Renowned Neo Confucians rejected the doctrines of Mohists and Xunzi (who propounded that human nature is evil) for the same reason, yet intellects from time to time questioned their very motive for the rejection.

Some Daoist and Yi students reject Confucian studies possibly following Zhuangzi because these students think it is hip and philosophical to do so. Female students at times reject the studies because Confucius and Mencius only talked about ‘man’ (Ren - people) occasionally translated as ‘men’; probably giving rise to a misconception that Confucians hated women!

If translators, professors, teachers, and ‘experts’ hold to wrong concepts and their pointing are not ‘corrected’, then their so called ‘wisdom’ get passed on to yet another generation. The reason I rant at their misleading statements and for providing inept translations for students. Perhaps, raising a cry of alarm to announce the danger!

Since people have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others (commiseration) which explains why human nature is good, perhaps Yi students, Daoists, Buddhists, and Confucians can understand why it is important to cultivate (develop) the four cardinal virtues to become a Junzi. After all, did the ancients not say as much in the Zhouyi, Tao Te Ching, Confucian books and the Buddhist scriptures?

Commiseration if expressed leads to compassion. Is original human nature, that of a baby or an innocent, not kind? Is human nature not therefore good?

If rulers of countries can lead by good example to display benevolence (ren) and justice (yi) in their every action for the people, perhaps then there can be lasting peace on earth.

Peace and prosperity have always been the top most wish of the ancients for the people of the world. Because these ancient sages and holy men cannot bear to see the sufferings of others!

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