Mencius

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Authors born between 400 and 200 BCE

Chuang Tzu ] [ Mencius ] Bhagavad Gita ] Epicurus ] Asoka ] Euclid ] Xunzi ] Han FeiTzu ] Koheleth ] Polybius ]

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Contents

                Introduction

Benevolence, Righteousness, Propriety, Knowledge

How Men Are Similar

How Men Differ

Natural Passions

The Superior Man

On Government

Livelihood

Education

Source

 

Introduction

 

Mang tzu (370-286 BCE), known to the West as Mencius, was born in the principality of  Tsau, located in what is now the province of Shantung. Shortly after he was born, his father died, and he was subsequently brought up by his mother alone. A traditional account of her provides a rare opportunity to acknowledge the influence of a mother on a famous son. A summary provided by James Legge is contained in the Appendix to this chapter.

 Mencius served as counselor to princes in the state of Ch'i and later visited other states to advise on government. He received substantial gifts for this, which he considered proper for a man of his abilities [an opposing school of philosopy under Mo Tzu did not]. After about 15 years he appears to have concluded that while treated with respect, he was offering advice that was ignored. Many of the local kings and princes in China were interested in pleasure and conquest rather than theories of good government. Mencius therefore retired from active life and turned to philosophy and the compilation of the substantial book that bears his name. Before he died at age 84, he also said to have completed the editorial work of Confucius.

Mencius argued that all men have a mind that cannot bear to see the suffering of others. From this it follows that the feeling of commiseration, the feeling of shame and dislike, the feeling of modesty and complaisance, and the feeling of approving and disapproving are all essential to a human being. Mencius asserted that the feeling of commiseration is the principle of benevolence. The feeling of shame and dislike is the principle of righteousness. The feeling of modesty and complaisance is the principle of propriety. The feeling of approving and disapproving is the principle of knowledge. Mencius concluded that when men having these four principles say of themselves that they cannot develop them, they play the thief with themselves.

                    


Benevolence, Righteousness, Propriety, Knowledge

1     Mencius said, “All men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others.
    “My meaning may be illustrated this way: if men suddenly see a child about to fall into a well, they will without exception experience a feeling of alarm and distress—not so they may gain the favor of the child's parents, nor to seek the praise of their neighbors and friends, nor from fear of a reputation of having been unmoved by such a thing.

2     “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.
    “The feeling of commiseration is the principle of benevolence. The feeling of shame and dislike is the principle of righteousness. The feeling of modesty and complaisance is the principle of propriety. The feeling of approving and disapproving is the principle of knowledge.
    “Men have these four principles just as they have their four limbs. When men having these four principles, yet say of themselves that they cannot develop them, they play the thief with themselves; and he who says of his leader that he cannot develop them, plays the thief with his leader.
    “Since all men had these four principles in themselves, let them know to give them their full development and completion, and the result will be like a fire which has begun to burn, or a spring which has begun flow. Let them have their complete development, and they will suffice to love and protect all. Let them be denied that development, and they will not suffice for a man to serve his parents with.”

3     Mencius said, “All things are already complete in us. There is no greater delight than on self-examination to be conscious of sincerity.
    “If one acts with a vigorous effort at the [Confucian] law of reciprocity in seeking for the realization of perfect virtue, nothing can be closer than his approximation to it.
    “Let a man not do what his own sense of righteousness tells him not to do, and let him not desire what his sense of righteousness tells him not to desire: to act thus is all he has to do.
    “Benevolence is is the natural state of man's mind, and righteousness is his path. How lamentable is it to neglect the path, and not pursue it—to lose this mind, and not know how to seek it again!
    “When men's fowls and dogs are lost, they know enough to seek them again; but if they lose their mind, they do not know to seek it.
    “The great end of learning is nothing else but to seek the lost mind.”

4     Mencius said, “The trees of the Niu mountain were once beautiful. Being situated, however, in the borders of a large State, they were hewn down with axes and bills. Could they still retain their beauty? And yet, through the regenerative powers of the vegetative life, day and night, and the nourishing influence of the rain and dew, the plants were not without buds and sprouts springing forth. But then came cattle and goats, and browsed upon them. To these things is owing the bare and stripped appearance of the mountain which, when people see it, they think it was never finely wooded. But is what they see the nature of the mountain?”

5     “And so also of what properly belongs to man: shall it be said that the mind of any man was without benevolence and righteousness? The way in which a man loses his proper goodness of mind is like the way in which the trees are denuded by axes and bills. Hewn down day after day, can the mind retain its beauty? But there is a development of its life day and night, and in the calm air of the morning, just between night and day, the mind feels in a degree those desires and aver­sions which are proper to humanity; but the feeling is not strong, and it is shackled and destroyed by what takes place during the day. This destruction taking place again and again, the restorative influence of the night is not sufficient to preserve the proper goodness of the mind. And when this proves insufficient for that purpose, man's nature becomes not much different from that of the irrational animals. When they see this, people they think that the mind never had those powers which I assert. But does this condition represent the feelings proper to humanity ?”

6     “Therefore, if it receive its proper nourishment, there is nothing which will not grow. If it lose its proper nourishment, there is nothing which will not decay away.”

   

How Men Are Similar

7    Mencius said, “ In good years the children of the people are most of them good, while in bad years the most of them abandon themselves to evil. It is not owing to any difference of their natural powers conferred by nature that they are thus different. The abandonment is owing to the circumstances through which they allow their minds to be ensnared and drowned.  
   
“Take what happens to barley. Let it be sown and covered up. The ground being the same, and the time of sowing likewise the same, it grows rapidly up anywhere; and when the full time is come, it is all found to be ripe. Although there may be inequalities of produce, that is owing to the difference of the soil, as rich or poor, to the unequal nourishment afforded by the rains and dews, and to the different ways in which man has performed his business in reference to it.”

8   “Thus all things which are the same in kind are like to one another. Why should we be in doubt with regard to man, as if he were a solitary exception to this? The sage and we are the same in kind.

9    “In accordance with this the scholar Lung said, 'If a man make hempen sandals without knowing the size of his customers' feet, yet I know that he will not make them like baskets.' Sandals are all like one another, because all men's feet are like one another.
    “So it is with the mouth and flavors—all mouths relish the same thing. The famous cook Yi-ya knew well before I was born what my mouth enjoys. Suppose that his mouth in its taste for flavors differed from that of other men, as is the case with the way dogs or horses differ from us, why should all men be found following Yi-ya in their tastes? In the matter of tastes, the mouths of all men are like one another.
    “And so also it is with the ear. In the matter of sounds, the whole people model themselves after the music-master K'wang; that is, the ears of all men are like one another.
    “And so also it is with the eye. In the case of Tsze-tu, there was no man but would recognize his beauty. Any one who would not recognize the beauty of Tsze-tu must have no eyes.
   
 “Therefore I say, men's mouths agree in having the same enjoyment of tastes; their ears enjoying the same sounds; their eyes in recognizing the same beauty—shall their minds alone be without that which they similarly approve?

10  “What is it then of which they similarly approve? I say it is the four principles of our nature, and the guidance of righteousness. The sages knew before I was born that of which my mind approves, along with other men. Therefore the principles of our nature and the deter­minations of righteousness are agreeable to my mind, just as the flesh of grass and grain-fed animals is agreeable to my mouth.”

 

How Men Differ

11  Mencius said, “If a man love others and no responsive attachment is shown to him, let him turn inwards and examine his own benevolence. If he is trying to rule others, and his government is unsuccessful, let him turn in­wards and examine his wisdom. If he treats others politely, and they do not return his politeness, let him turn inward and examine his own feeling of respect. 
    “When we do not, by what we do, realize what we desire, we must turn inwards, and examine ourselves in every point. When a man's person is correct, the whole empire will turn to him with recognition and submission.”

12  Mencius said, “Here is a man whose fourth finger is bent and cannot be stretched out straight. It is not painful, nor does it incommode his business, and yet if there be any one who can make it straight, he will not think anywhere too far to go; because his finger is not like the finger of other people.
    “When a man's finger is not like those of other people, he knows to feel dissatisfied; but if his mind be not like that of other people, he does not know to feel dis­satisfaction. This is called ignorance of the relative importance of things.”

13  The disciple Kung-tu said, “All are equally men, but some are great men, and some are little men. How is this?”
    Mencius replied, “ Those who follow that part of themselves which is great are great men; those who follow that part which is little are little men.”

14  Kung-tu pursued, “All are equally men, but some follow that part of themselves which is great, and some follow that part which is little. How is this?”
    Mencius answered, “The senses of hearing and seeing do not think, and are obscured by external things. When one thing comes into contact with another, as a matter of course it leads it away. To the mind belongs the office of thinking. By thinking, it gets the right view of things; by neglecting to think, it fails to do this. These—the senses and the mind—are what heaven has given to us. Let a man first stand fast in the supremacy of the nobler part of his constitution, and the inferior part will not be able to take it from him. It is simply this which makes the great man.”

   

Natural Passions

15  Ch'au observed, “Since you say the will is chief and the natural passions are subordinate, how can you also say maintain firm the will and do no violence to the natural passions?”
     Mencius replied, “When the will alone is active, it moves the natural passions. When natural passions alone are active, they move the will. For instance now, in the case of a man falling or running, that is from the natural passions, and yet it activates the mind.”

16  “Natural passions are exceedingly great, and exceedingly strong. If nourished by rectitude, and sustaining no injury, they infuse into all between heaven and earth. . .”They are the helpmates and assistants of righteousness and reason. Without them, man is in a state of starvation.

17  “Natural passions are molded by the accumulation of righteous deeds; this is not obtained by incidental acts of righteousness. If the mind does not feel complacency in the conduct, man's nature becomes starved! I therefore said, 'Kao has never understood righteousness, because he makes it something external.'

18  “There must be the constant practice of  righteousness, but without the object of thereby molding the natural passions. The mind must not forget its own work; but there should be no assisting the growth of the natural passions.”

19  “Let us not be like the man of Sung. He grieved that his growing corn was not higher, and so he tried to pull it longer. Returning home, looking very stupid, he said to his people, 'I am tired today. I have been helping the corn to grow long.' His son ran to look at the field and found the corn all withered. There are few in the world who do not deal with their natural passions as if they were assisting the corn to grow long. They destroy their corn. What they do is not only of no benefit to the natural passions, but actually injures them. Others consider the natural passions of no benefit, and let them alone—they do not weed their corn.”

   

The Superior Man

20  Mencius said, “That whereby the superior man is distinguished from other men is what he preserves in his heart; namely, benevolence and propriety. The benevolent man loves others. The man of propriety shows respect to others. He who loves others is constantly loved by them. He who respects others is constantly respected by them.
    “Here is a man, who treats me in a perverse and unreasonable manner. The superior man in such a case will turn and say to  himself—'I must have been wanting in benevolence; I must have been wanting in propriety: how should this have happened to me?'
    “ He examines himself, and is specially benevolent. He turns to consider himself, and is specially observant of propriety. The perversity and unreasonableness of the other, however, are still the same. The superior man will again rebuke himself—'I must have been failing to do my utmost'“.

 21   “Never has there been one possessed of complete sincerity who did not move others. Never has there been one who had not sincerity who was able to move others.

 22   Mencius said “ The great man is he who does not lose his child's heart, the original good heart with which every man is born.”

23  Kung-sun Ch'au said, “ Your principles are lofty and admirable, but learning them may well be likened to ascending the heavens—something which cannot be achieved. Why not adapt your teaching so as to cause those who follow them to consider them attainable, and so daily exert themselves?”
    Mencius said, “A great artificer does not, for the sake of a stupid workman, alter or do away with the marking line. A skilled instructor of archery did not, for the sake of a stupid archer, change his rule for drawing the bow.
    “The superior man draws the bow, but does not discharge the arrow. The whole thing seems to leap before the student. Such is his standing exactly in the middle of the right path. Those who are able, follow him.”

   

On Government

24  Mencius said “The people are the most important element in a nation; the spirits of the land and grain are the next; the sovereign is the lightest.

25  Mencius, having an interview with the king Hsuan of Ch”i, said to him, “When men speak of an ancient kingdom, it is not meant thereby that it has lofty trees in it, but that it has ministers sprung from families which have been noted in it for generations. Your Majesty has no intimate ministers. Those whom you advanced yesterday are gone to day, and you do not know it.”
    The king said, “ How shall I know that they have not ability, and so avoid employing them at all?”
    The reply was, “The ruler of a State as a matter of necessity advances to office men of talents and virtue. Since this will cause the low to overstep the aristocratic, and the distant to overstep a ruler's near relatives, such advancements should be done with caution.
    “When all those near to you say, 'This is a man of talents and worth,' you may not therefore believe it. When your great officers all say,  'This is a man of talents and virtue,' neither may you for that believe it. When all the people say, 'This is a man of talents and virtue,' then look into the case, and when you find that the man is such, employ him.”

 26    Mencius said, “Shun rose from among the ditched fields. Fu Yueh was called to office from the midst of his building hut frames; Chiao-Ko from his fish and salt; Kwan I-wu from the hands of his gaoler; Sun-shuh Ao from his life by the seashore; and Pai-li Hsi from the market place.
    “Thus, when heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, hardens his nature, and removes his incompetence.
    “Men for the most part err, and are afterwards able to reform. They are distressed in mind and perplexed in their thoughts, and then they arise to vigorous reformation. When things have been evidenced in men's sight, and set forth in their words, then they understand them.
    “If a prince have not about his court families attached to the laws and worthy counselors then, even if abroad there are no hostile states or other external calamities, his kingdom will generally come to ruin.
    “From these things we see how life springs from sorrow and calamity, and death from ease and pleasure.”

27   On coming out from an interview with the king Hsiang of Liang Mencius said,  “From a distance, he did not appear like a sovereign; Close up, I saw nothing venerable about him.”
    Abruptly he asked me, “How can the kingdom be settled?”
    I replied, “It will be settled by being united under one sway.”
    He demanded, “Who can so unite it?”
    I replied, “He who has no pleasure in killing men can so unite it.”
    He said, “Who can give such a person the task?”
   
 I replied, “All the people of the nation will unanimously give it to him.
    “Does your Majesty understand the way of the growing grain? During the seventh and eighth months, when drought prevails, the plants become dry. Then the clouds collect densely in the heavens, they send down torrents of rain, and the grain erects itself, as if by a shoot. When it does so, who can keep it back?
    “At present, among the shepherds of men throughout the nation, there is not one who does not find pleasure in killing men. If there were one who did not find pleasure in killing men, all the people in the nation would look towards him with outstretched necks. Such being indeed the case, the people would flock to him, as water flows downwards with a rush, which no one can repress.”

28  Mencius said, “It is not enough to remonstrate with a sovereign on account of the wrong employment of ministers, nor to place blame for errors of government. It is only the great man who can rectify what is wrong in the sovereign's mind. Let the leader be benevolent, and all his acts will be benevolent. Let the leader be righteous, and all his acts will be righteous. Let the leader be correct, and everything will be correct. Once rectify the leader, and the state will be firmly settled.”

 

Livelihood

 29   Mencius said, “Without an established livelihood, only men of education are able to maintain a fixed heart. For other people, if they have not a certain livelihood, it follows that they will not have a fixed heart. And if they have not a fixed heart, there is nothing which they will not do in the way of self­abandonment, of moral deflection, of depravity, and of wild license.
    “When after a loss of livelihood they have been involved in crime, to follow them up and punish them is to entrap the people. How can such a thing as entrapping the people be done under the rule of a benevolent man?
    “Therefore an intelligent ruler will regulate the livelihood of the people, so as to make sure that they shall have sufficient means to serve their parents and to take care of their wives and children; that in good years they shall always be abundantly satisfied; and that in bad years they shall escape the danger of perishing. After this he may urge them to other things, and they will proceed to what is good, for in this case the people will follow after it with ease.

30  “At present, the livelihood of the people is so regulated that they have sufficient neither to serve their parents nor to support their wives and children. Even in good years, their lives are continually embittered, and in bad years they do not escape perishing. In such circumstances they only try to save themselves from death, and are afraid they will not succeed. What leisure have they to cultivate propriety and righteousness?
    “If your Majesty wishes to effect this regulation of the livelihood of the people, why not turn to that which is the essential step towards it?
    “Let mulberry trees be planted about the homesteads, and persons of fifty years may be clothed with silk. In keeping fowls, pigs, dogs, and swine, let not their times of breeding be neglected, and persons of seventy years may eat flesh. Let there not be taken away the time that is proper for the cultivation of the farm and the family mouths fed by it shall not suffer from hunger.

   

Education

31  “Let careful attention be paid to education in schools—inculcating in it especially of the filial and fraternal duties—and gray-haired men will not be seen upon the roads carrying burdens on their backs or on their heads.
    “It never has been that the ruler of a State where such results were seen—the old wearing silk and eating flesh, and the black-haired people suffering neither from hunger nor cold—did not attain royal dignity.”

32  The minister of agriculture taught the people to sow and reap, cultivating the five kinds of grain. When the five kinds of grain were brought to maturity, the people all enjoyed a comfortable subsistence. Now men possess a moral nature; but if they are well fed, warmly clad, and comfortably lodged, without being taught at the same time, they become almost like the beasts. This was a subject of anxious solicitude to the sage Shun, and he appointed Hsieh to be the minister of instruction, to teach the relations of humanity: how, between father and son, there should be affection; between sovereign and minister, righteousness; between husband and wife, attention to their separate functions; between old and young, a proper order; and between friends, fidelity.
    The meritorious emperor said to him, “Encourage them; lead them on; rectify them; straighten them; help them; give them wings: thus causing them to be­come possessors of themselves. Then follow this up by stimulating them, and conferring benefits on them.”

33  Mencius said, “Those who give counsel to the great should despise them and not look at their pomp and display.
    “Halls several times twelve feet high, with beams projecting several yards—these, if my wishes were to be realized, I would not have. Food spread before me over a fifteen foot square, and attendants and concubines to the amount of hundreds—these, if my wishes were realized, I would not have. Pleasure and wine, and the dash of hunting, with thousands. of chariots following after me—these, if my wishes were realized, I would not have. What they esteem are what I would have nothing to do with; what I esteem are the rules of the ancients. Why should I stand in awe of the great?”

Source

  Adapted from The Chinese Classics, Volume II, The Works of Mencius, translated by James Legge. Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1895

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  Mencius  translated by Charles Muller for the study of East Asian Language and Thought

      Selection, adaptation and introduction Copyright © Rex Pay 2000