When the Foundation is Established,
the Way Comes Forth
A lecture at the University of Oregon on April 12, 1989
Confucius once said, "When there are three people walking, my teacher is bound to be among them. I select their good points and follow them. I take their bad points and change them in myself." From these words, we know that Confucius was a devoted scholar who was one of a kind.
He was also a great educator who was in a class by himself. He was also a great statesman without equal. From these words, we also know that Confucius was humble and not careless. He never became conceited and arrogant. Why do I say this? Because he said that if there were three people, then he would have two teachers: one would be a teacher for him to emulate, and the other would be a teacher he wouldn't want to emulate.
This is to select the good and follow it: If someone has good points, I will learn from him. If he has bad points, I will change them in myself and not imitate him. Those who are good can be our models, and we can emulate them. Those who are not good can be an example of what we should avoid. So if we can take this principle as our motto in being people, we will be at ease wherever we are. The ancients had this kind of humble and courteous virtue. Thus, it is not without reason that later generations have honored them as sages.
Someone also said, "All people are my teachers." Everyone is my teacher. "I am a teacher for all people." I am also everyone's teacher. Everyone is my professor, and I am also everyone's professor. We learn from each other and rub off on each other. "I always teach myself." I constantly act as my own teacher. E
very day, we should briefly reflect on what we have done that day. "Were the things that I did today appropriate? Were they reasonable? Did I do anything unreasonable?" We should frequently examine ourselves. Thus Zengzi said, "I daily examine myself on three points-- whether, in transacting business for others, I may have been not faithful; whether, in intercourse with friends, I may have been not sincere; whether I may have not mastered and practiced the instructions of my teacher."
Zengzi said of himself that he was not a very intelligent person. So the Classic of Filiality (Xiaojing) says, "Zhongni (Confucius) was seated and Zengzi was attending upon him. The Master said, ‘The ancient kings had the highest virtue and the essentials of the Way. If these are used among the people, they will dwell in harmony and no resentment will arise between the ruler and his subjects. Did you know this?’
Zengzi rose from his seat and said, ‘Seng is not smart. How could he know this?’" He stood up and respectfully said to his Teacher, Confucius, "I, Seng, am very dull-witted. I'm not able to know about the highest virtue and the essentials of the Way of the ancient kings." If the people can use this, then they will be in harmony and there will be no enmity between the government and the people. This is the great Dharma for governing a nation, cultivating oneself, and regulating the family. Zengseng said he was not intelligent enough to understand it. Then Confucius said, "We received our body, hair, and skin from our parents and dare not harm them. This is the beginning of filiality."
The Analects say, "A superior person attends to the foundation. Once the foundation is established, the Way comes forth. Are not filiality and fraternal respect the foundation of a person?" A superior person studies the fundamental principles. He devotes his attention to the fundamental principles. "Once the foundation is established, the Way comes forth." When the foundation is established, then the roots will be deep and strong, and the leaves and branches will flourish. The coming forth of the Way is also the coming forth of the root, the establishing of the foundation.
"Are not filiality and fraternal respect the foundation of a person?" We must trace back to the source and know what we should pay attention to in our human life. What are the roots that people should seek? Filiality and fraternal respect. We should be filial to our parents and respectful to our elders. This is the most important human obligation. The most important matter is not finishing our studies and making a lot of money. We must fulfill our obligations of filiality and fraternal respect--this is our top priority. If we are not filial to our parents, then we are said to have forgotten our roots. People who forget their roots basically don't understand what it means to be human. Therefore, our foremost human obligation is to be filial to our parents.
In the West, in English there isn't a very obvious explanation of what it means to be filial to one's parents. Being filial to parents means repaying their kindness, the fundamental kindness which ought to be repaid. Our bodies were given to us by our parents. Therefore, we must protect our bodies, making sure that our thoughts are wholesome, our bodies are healthy, our ideas are healthy, our conduct is healthy, and we are healthy all-around. We cannot harm our bodies. That means we cannot use our bodies, given by our parents, to do things that break the law or go against the rules of etiquette. We have to follow the rules, do things in the proper way, and be true and honest people.
What is the human foundation? It is humaneness, righteousness, the Way, virtue, loyalty, and filiality. From the time of our birth, the concept of filial piety should be instilled in each of us and we should pay attention to it. If you can be filial, Lord God will be pleased. If you can be filial, the Bodhisattvas will be pleased. If you can be filial, the Buddhas will be pleased. If you can be filial, your parents won't get mad at you for sure. If you can be filial, you certainly won't compete for advantages against your brothers and sisters. Filial piety is the spirit of heaven and earth and the human foundation.
We should be loyal to our country. To be loyal to the country, we have to be public-spirited and unselfish, perfectly fair and just. We should cherish and protect our own country and not think about invading other countries in thought after thought. If we only protect our own country, then we are being loyal. If we invade other countries, then we are not being loyal. Why is this? If you invade another country, you have to use the lives and wealth of your own country to fight, make war, and kill others.
There is a saying, "If war is waged over a piece of land, the slaughtered will fill the wilds. If war is waged over a city, the slaughtered will fill the city." If you fight over land, the ground will be covered with corpses. If you attack a city and massacre the people inside it, the city will be filled with the dead. This is known as "using the country's resources to devour people's flesh." It's the same as eating people! "Death is insufficient punishment for this crime." Ah! This is a capital crime. If you commit this capital crime, you are not being loyal to your own country, and you are not being wise in your dealings with other countries.
We should always maintain a kind and compassionate attitude and cherish all people. We ought to be benevolent towards everyone. We should take stock of what we do. We should do fewer things to benefit ourselves and not do anything that harms others. We have to develop and expand the qualities of humaneness, righteousness, the Way, virtue, loyalty, and filiality--these are the basic requirements for being a person.
We should establish this human foundation. Once we do that, we will be healthy all our lives. We'll be healthy in body and happy in spirit. It won't be the case that we're worried and afflicted to the point that our hair turns white, our eyes grow blurry, and our ears go deaf. It won't be that even when it's all over, we still don't wake up--we're still as puzzled as ever, having spent our entire lives in muddled confusion.