Author Archives: Alvin feng

The principles of Mengzi

Mengzi believes that human nature is inherently good and we can become more virtuous through the practice of Ren Yi Li Zhi. First, Mengzi points out that the quality of Ren is the attitude of being kind and always thinking of others. For example, a person demonstrates the quality of Ren when he wants to help an elder lady who falls on the street. Interestingly, Mengzi believes that having the intention to be kind is actually more important than the act of kindness itself, which means even if the person does not end up helping the lady, the virtue of Ren is being demonstrated in the person. Readers can notice Mengzi’s philosophy which places primary importance on what the Chinese refer to as the heart (or mind), that every action is measured by the place it comes from. Similarly, the quality of Yi, which refers to having a sense of justice, is also an element of the virtuous heart inside us. On the other hand, Li, which refers to custom or ritual, is something in our outside reality. For example, if the prime minister of a country wears pajama to visit the president of another country, such action is not in accordance with Li. In order to act according to Li, apart from having Ren and Yi, one also needs to develop the quality of Zhi, which refers to wisdom.  If the prime minister of a country wants to build up friendship with the president of another country privately, it is a good idea for him to wear pajama and have a chat over the dinner table together. Since doing so will make the other person feel more at ease, however, if they were to meet publicly, it is then only appropriate to wear something formal. Mengzi suggests that it is this quality of Zhi which allows an individual to determine what action is appropriate under different circumstances. Once upon a time, Mengzi traveled with his students and they were met by a farmer who took their horse away from them. A student then walked up to the farmer and kindly asked the farmer to return the horse; the farmer ignored the student and kept walking. The student then walked back to Mengzi to seek help, Mengzi laughed at the student and told him what he did was like singing a song to the deaf. Mengzi then sent the horseman to fetch the horse back. Upon meeting the horseman’s aggressive attitude, the farmer quickly returned the horse. After the incident, Mengzi gave a quick lecture to his students on developing the virtue of Zhi. According to Mengzi, we need to enhance the goodness that we are born with and the way to do that is through developing the principles of Ren Yi li Zhi. From the qualities of Ren and Yi we become virtuous inside and through the application of Zhi we are able to appropriately act according to the Li outside.

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