Wang Yang-ming

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The Unity

Mind and Principles

Cultivating an Upright Mind     

The Great Learning     

Investigating Things

Affairs are Things

Virtue, Harmony, and Morality

Intuitive Faculty

Pride, Humility, Joy

Passion, Desire

Knowledge Implies Practice







Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529 CE) initially studied the philosophy of Chu Hsi (the official philosophy at the time), trying to follow Chu’s call to investigate things. In fact, Wang Yang-ming found he failed to achieve any enlightenment when he studied material things. Later, he came to redefine "things" more generally to include moral and intellectual things, making investigation of these— and carrying the resultant knowledge into action—the focus of his philosophy.


Wang Yang-ming graduated at age 21 and subsequently held some minor government posts, becoming a provincial judge at age 30. He resigned a year later and for some time followed Taoist practices and also Buddhism. Both of which he subsequently rejected. At 33 he was put in charge of officers of the army. Two years later, in writing a latter to the Emperor urging the release of two officials from prison, he offended a corrupt eunuch named Lie Tsing. This official disgraced Wang Yang-ming by having him beaten with bamboo and banished to the provinces to be put in charge of horses for dispatch riders.


In the primitive area to which he was sent, Wang Yang-ming had only his own intellectual resources for company. It was there that he developed his concept of the individual’s responsibility for investigating his own mind and developing his own knowledge to the utmost, although Wang also became an energetic teacher. He determined that what he called the intuitive faculty is the one thing an individual has to cling to. It is characteristic of all people. Though often obscured, it is hard to obliterate. It is not solely an intellectual function, but is manifested in sympathetic feeling, true sincerity and commiseration. Wang concluded that a person’s original nature is to be used in daily tasks in order to investigate and firmly grasp the truth. This is to be supported by development of the intuitive faculty, development of sincerity of purpose, and guidance of the mind into clear thinking.


Wang also concluded that knowledge implies action: that there can be no real knowledge without action. The individual should act in the ways that his intuitive knowledge of good enables him to do. In turn, these thoughts led Wang to argue that there is an all-pervading unity that encompasses heaven, earth, and the individual.


In advocating a person’s responsibility for seeking and following fundamental principles and moral laws, Wang Yang-ming strongly criticized the prevailing philosophy of rote learning of texts established by Chu Hsi and others. In this and in his emphasizing the strong moral obligation of the individual, he was in conflict with the corrupt philosophical and political circumstances of his own time.


Wang Yang-ming returned to Nanking to take up an official post when he was 42, by which time his ideas were attracting widespread attention. However, his presence became unacceptable again when he continued to emphasize that the original text of The Great Learning should be adhered to rather than the revision drawn up by Chu Hsi. Wang Yang-ming retired from public life to his native village, where he became a center of attraction for many scholars. In his final work, Wang Yang-ming summarized his doctrine through his comments on the classical text of The Great Learning.



The Unity


1   The mind of the philosopher considers heaven, earth, and all things as one substance. He makes no distinctions between the people of the empire. Whosoever has blood and life is his brother and child. There is no one whom he does not wish to see perfectly at peace, and whom he does not wish to nourish. This is in accordance with his idea that all things are one substance.


2   Mind, nature, and heaven are one all-pervading unity. Thus, when it comes to knowing them completely, it all amounts to the same thing. But with regard to these three, the actions of men and their strength have degrees, and the regular order should not be overstepped.



Mind and Principles


3   Heaven-given principles are the principles of the vital force. The vital force represents the functioning of the heaven-given principles. Without these principles there could be no functioning of the vital force, and without this functioning those things that are called principles could not be seen. Devotion to the essence of things (discrimination) implies mental energy and includes the manifesting of virtue. It signifies being undivided. It is mental energy and sincerity of purpose. Being undivided is devotion to the essence. It implies manifesting illustrious virtue. It is what is called being transformed. It is being sincere in purpose. They are not originally two things.


4   The ears, eyes, mouth, nose and four members constitute the body, yet without the mind how can the body see, hear, speak, or move? On the other hand, if the mind wishes to see, hear, speak, or move, it is unable to do so without the use of ears, eyes, mouth, nose, and the four members. From this it follows that if there is no mind there is no body, and if there is no body there is no mind. If one refers only to the place it occupies, it is called body; if one refers to the matter of control, it is called mind; if one refers to the activities of the mind, it is called purpose; if one refers to the intelligence of the purpose, it is called understanding; if one refers to the relations of the purpose, it is called things. Yet it is all one. The purpose is not suspended in empty space, but is placed in some thing. Therefore, if one wishes to make the purpose sincere, it is necessary to correct the purpose, expel passion, and revert to natural law with special reference to the matter on which the purpose is fixed. He whose unobscured natural ability is devoted to this will develop it. This is what is meant by making the purpose sincere.


5   For instance, in the matter of serving one's father, one cannot seek for the principle of filial obedience in one's parent, or in serving one's prince one cannot seek for the principle of faithfulness in the prince, or in making friends or governing the people one cannot seek for the principle of sincerity and benevolence in the friend or the people. They are all in the mind, for the mind is itself the embodiment of principles. When the mind is free from the obscuration of selfish aims, it is the embodiment of the principles of heaven. It is not necessary to add one whit from without. When service to parents emerges from the mind characterized by pure heaven-given principles, we have filial obedience; when service to a prince emerges, faithfulness; when the making of friends or the governing of the people emerges, sincerity and benevolence. It is only necessary to expel human passions and devote one's energies to the eternal principles.


6   The word 'propriety' carries with it the connotation of the word 'principles.' When principles become manifest in action, they can be seen and are then called propriety. When propriety is abstruse and cannot be seen, it is called principles. Nevertheless, they are one thing. In order to keep one's self under the restraint of the rules of propriety it is merely necessary to have a mind completely under the influence of natural law (heaven-given principles). If a person desires to have his mind completely dominated by natural law, he must use effort at the point where principles are manifested. For instance, if they are to be manifested in the matter of serving one's parents, one should learn to harbor these principles in the serving of one's parents.



Cultivating an Upright Mind


7   The mind is one. In the case where it has not been corrupted by the passions of men, it is called an upright mind. If corrupted by human aims and passions, it is called a selfish mind. When a selfish mind is rectified it is an upright mind; and when an upright mind loses its rightness it becomes a selfish mind.


8   In a position of wealth and honor to do what is proper to a position of wealth and honor, in a position of sorrow and difficulty to do what is proper to a position of sorrow and difficulty, implies that one is not a mere machine. This can be accomplished only by the man who cultivates an upright mind.


9   I note that because of protracted illness, you are going to devote yourself to cultivating your health. Formerly because of frequent illness, I also devoted myself to the same task. Later I understood that the matter of nourishing one's life is really another affair. At that time I redirected my entire purpose to the learning of the philosophers and virtuous men. The nourishing of virtue and the nourishing of one's body are essentially the same thing.


10   A friend pointed to flowers and asked what relation they had to his mind, since they blossom and drop of themselves? Wang Yang-ming said, "When you cease regarding these flowers, they become quiet in your mind. When you see them, their colors at once become clear. From this you can know that these flowers are not external to your mind."



The Great Learning


11   The essential principle in The Great Learning is that of making the purpose sincere. The task of making the purpose sincere consists in investigating things. When the task of making the purpose sincere has reached its highest development, it gives what is designated as resting in the highest excellence. The rule which applies to resting in the highest excellence is that of extending knowledge to the utmost.

    By straightening out the mind, its original nature is re-instated; by cultivating the person, its function can be manifested. Referring to the self, this means manifesting virtue; referring to others, it implies loving the people; referring to the things included in heaven and earth, this is all-complete. For this reason, the highest excellence is really the original and fundamental nature of the mind. When once there has been the stirring of the passions, it is no longer in a state of excellence. But the knowledge of this fundamental nature of the mind is at no time absent.

    Purpose is the activity of the mind; things are the affairs of the mind. If one is developing the knowledge of the mind considered in its fundamental nature, then, whatever activity there is, is excellent. However, if it is not his own affairs that are investigated, it is not possible for the individual to develop his knowledge. For this reason the development of the intuitive faculty is the root of making the purpose sincere, while the investigation of things is the result of developing the intuitive faculty.


12   Thus failure to devote one's self to making one's purpose sincere, while one merely investigates things, is spoken of as departing from the path; failure to practice the investigation of things, while one merely makes the purpose sincere, is abstraction; failure to begin with the developing of the intuitive faculty, while one merely investigates things and makes the purpose sincere, is absurd and false. Such departure, abstraction, and absurdity are very different from the highest excellence. When brought into relation with the text of The Great Learning, they are checked. . .he who seeks learning has the fundamental principles in The Great Learning. In extending knowledge, it is necessary to cherish the mind. Then the realization of what is meant be extending knowledge to the utmost is complete.


13   From the investigation of things for the purpose of developing the intuitive faculty to the utmost, to the principles which underlie all things up to the point of making the world peaceful and happy, is all merely a matter of manifesting one's illustrious virtue. Though loving the people is also illustrious virtue, the illustrious virtue here referred to is the original virtue of the mind, benevolence. He who is benevolent considers heaven, earth and all things as an all-pervading unity. If one thing loses its relative place, benevolence has not been wholly achieved.



Investigating Things


 14   The Great Learning says: "Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended their knowledge to the utmost. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things." 

    This saying is merely giving in detail the order of the task from the 'manifesting of illustrious virtue' on to 'resting in the highest excellence.' The person, the mind, thought, knowledge, and things constitute the logical order of the task. Though each has its particular place, they are in reality one thing. Investigating, extending, being sincere, rectifying, and cultivating are the task in its logical sequence. Though each has its name, in reality it is only one affair. What is it that is called the person? The form and body in its various exercises. What is it that is called mind? The intelligence of the person, which is called lord or master. What is meant by cultivating the person? That which is described by saying, 'Do good and expel evil.' That my person is able to do good and abhor evil is due to the fact that its masterthe will desires to do good and abhor evil. After that the body in its various exercises is able to do good and abhor evil. Therefore he who desires to cultivate his person must first rectify his heart. 


15   The common people say that in investigating things one should follow Hsi (the philosopher Chu), but where is there anyone who has been able to carry out his teachings in practice? I myself have tried to do so. In former years I discussed this with my friend Ch'ien saying, '"If to be a sage or a virtuous man one must investigate everything under heaven, how can at present anyone acquire such tremendous strength?" Pointing to some bamboos in front of the pavilion, I asked him to investigate them and see. Both day and night Ch'ien entered into an investigation of the principles of the bamboo. For three days he exhausted his mind and thought, until his mental energy was tired out and he took sick. At first I said that it was because his energy and strength were insufficient. Therefore I myself undertook to carry on the investigation. Day and night I was unable to understand the principles of the bamboo, until after seven days I also became ill because of having wearied and burdened my thoughts. In consequence we mutually sighed and said, "We cannot be either philosophers or virtuous men, for we lack the great strength required to carry on the investigation of things." While living among the savage tribes for three years, I clearly saw through this idea. I knew that there was really no one who could investigate material things under heaven. The task of investigating things can only be carried out in and with reference to one's body and mind.


16   What is called investigating does not consist in seeking within the realm of so-called external things. This excellency should be sought in extensive study of what is good, accurate inquiry about it, careful reflection upon it, clear discrimination of it, and earnest practice of it. This excellency is sincerity. In this way, these things may be considered as things. 


17   The controlling power of the body is the mind. The mind originates the idea, and the nature of the idea is knowledge. Wherever the idea is, we have a thing. For instance, when the idea rests on serving one's parents, then serving one's parents is a 'thing'; when it is on serving one's prince, then serving one's prince is a 'thing'; when it is occupied with being benevolent to the people and kind to creatures, then benevolence to the people and kindness to creatures are 'things'; when it is occupied with seeing, hearing, speaking, moving, then each of these becomes a 'thing.' I say there are no principles but those of the mind, and nothing exists apart from the mind.


18   A subordinate official having for a long time heard the expositions of the Teacher regarding learning said, "This is very good, but unfortunately I am not able to devote myself to learning, because of its difficulty and the number of my duties connected with accounts, letters, and litigation."

    Wang Ming-yang said, "When did I teach you to drop these things and devote yourself only to the exposition of learning? Since you are engaged in trying law eases, you should devote yourself to learning in connection with these law cases, for thereby you will really be engaged in the investigation of things. For instance, when you judge an accused person, you should not become angry because his replies are disorderly, nor should you be glad because his arguments are well arranged; you should not despise those to whom he has entrusted his ease, and impose your own will in administering sentence; you should not, because of his pleading, bend your will and be influenced in favor of him; you should not, because of your own annoying and scattered affairs, judge him arbitrarily and carelessly; you should not, because of the praise, slander, and scheming of others, manage the case in accordance with the ideas of others. All these ideas are selfish. You need only know yourself. You should most carefully examine yourself and control yourself, lest your mind be prejudiced and misjudge the right or wrong of anyone. Then you will be investigating things for the purpose of extending your intuitive knowledge to the utmost. Though it is done while the duties of registering, writing, and litigation are pressing, it is real learning. If you leave your daily affairs in order to devote yourself to study, it will be in vain.



Affairs are Things


19   Again, if the individual wishes to extend his intuitive knowledge to the utmost, shall it be said that he, like a shadow and an echo, is vain and lacks genuineness? If in reality there is such an extension of intuitive knowledge, it must consist in investigating things. Things are affairs (experience). Whenever a purpose is manifested it certainly is relative to some affair and the affair toward which it is directed is called a thing. Investigating means rectifyingrectifying that which is not correct, that it may belong to the things that are correct, rectifying that which is not true, and expelling evil. It implies that turning to the true and the right is what is meant by doing good. This is called investigating.


20   Very many of those whom I describe as students of philosophy merely allow it to circulate in their ears and mouth. Would that those mouth and ear students might reverse their procedure! If by continual use of effort the minutiae of moral principles and of the passions of men are investigated and controlled, they may gradually be understood. Today at the very time they are discussing these principles, they do not realize that they already are subject to many selfish desires, which they are secretly and unwittingly manifesting. Though one make an effort to investigate them, it is difficult to understand them. Can it be that those who vainly speak about them are able to understand them completely? They pay attention only to the exposition of moral principles, and then lay them aside and do not act in accordance with them. They expound the meaning of passion, and then resting do not expel it from their minds. How can this be considered a type of learning which emphasizes the investigation of things for the purpose of extending knowledge?


21   From the opening (origination) of heaven and earth, in heaven above and the earth beneath everywhere there are things. Even the person who seeks for the path is a thing. Taken together they have coherent principles, namely in what is called the source of the doctrine. Since the high and the low, altitude and depth, together constitute the great round, unmoved stillness, from what other point can knowledge of the doctrine be gained? If the individual wishes to investigate conditions previous to heaven and earth, he will find it in the Taoist abstract learning of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu.



Virtue, Harmony, and Morality


22   Truth (the path) has no form; it cannot be grasped or felt. To seek it in a bigoted and obstinate way in literary style or expression only, is far from correct. It may be compared to men discussing heaven. As a matter of fact, when have they ever seen heaven? They say that sun, moon, wind, and thunder are heaven. They cannot say that men, things, grass, and trees are not heaven, while the doctrine is heaven. When the individual once comprehends, what is there that is not truth? People for the most. part think that their little corner of experience determines the limits of truth, and in consequence there is no uniformity in their discussions. If they realized that they need to seek within in order to understand the nature of the mind, there would be neither time nor place that would not be pregnant with truth. Since from ancient times to the very present it is without beginning and without end, in what way would there be any likenesses or differences in truth? The mind is itself truth and truth is heaven. He who knows the mind thereby knows both truth and heaven.

    Sirs, if you would truly comprehend truth, you must recognize it from your own minds. It is of no avail to seek it in external things.


23   The nature of all men is good. The state of equilibrium and harmony is originally possessed by all men. How, then, can they be said not to have it? However, the mind of the usual man has things that becloud, and therefore, though nature is manifested at times, the condition is such that it is sometimes manifested and sometimes extinguished. It does not represent the functioning of the entire being. When a condition has been reached in which there is a continuous state of equilibrium, it is designated as the great root (great fundamental virtue). When a condition of continuous harmony has been acquired, it is designated as the universal way. Only when a condition of the most complete sincerity under heaven is reached, is it possible for the individual to establish himself in this great fundamental virtue of humanity.


24   Nature is the highest good. Nature is in its original condition devoid of all evil, and for this reason is called the highest good. To rest in the highest good implies returning to one's natural condition.


25   The ability to distinguish between right and wrong is common to all men, so that it avails nothing to seek them in external things. Investigation implies appreciation of that which one's own mind experiences. It will not do to go outside of the mind for this, as though there were additional possibility of understanding.


26   The human mind naturally finds pleasure in the principles of righteousness, just as the eyes take pleasure in color and the ears in sound. He alone who is obscured and embarrassed by passion does not at first take pleasure in these principles. If the individual daily expels passion, he will daily be more imbued with the principles of righteousness. How can he then do otherwise than take pleasure in them?



Intuitive Faculty


27   The intuitive faculty is in man's mind. It has pervaded all generations of the immemorial past, filled heaven and earth, and was in no way different then from what it now is. It knows without any cogitation. Constantly and easily it knows dangerous paths. It is able to act without learning. Constantly and easily it knows what things tend to hinder its progress. It strives first for heaven-given principles and does not go against them.


28   I myself relied sincerely upon the influences of heaven, when suddenly I realized that the intuitive knowledge of good must be used instead, that thereby the Empire might be controlled. Whenever I think of the fallen, miserable condition of the people, I am distressed and sore at heart. Forgetting my own failings, I think of using my own person in serving them, even though I do not know its strength. When the people of the Empire see that I am about to act, they ridicule and slander me, considering me insane and out of my mind. Why should I care for this? Have I who feel sore and distressed in person time to consider the ridicule of others? Surely when a man sees his parent, son, or brother fall into a deep hole, he will cry out, crawl on his hands and knees, bare his feet, walk about wildly, drag himself down to the bank, and save the lost one. A scholar near by seeing it will, on the contrary, bow and smile and think that the other man has cast aside his politeness, and that he cries out and stumbles about thus because he is insane and out of his mind. The man who bows and smiles near the man in the pit and does not realize that he should rescue him, must be a traveler who lacks the feelings of genuine blood-relationship. Thus it has been said that he who lacks the feeling of commiseration is not a man.


29   Now, the intuitive faculty is by nature characterized by quick apprehension, clear discernment, far-reaching intelligence, and all-embracing knowledge. It is magnanimous, generous, benign, and mild; it is impulsive, energetic, firm, and enduring; it is self-adjusted, grave, correct, and true to the Mean; it is accomplished, distinctive, concentrative, and searching. All-embracing it is and vast; deep and active as a fountain, sending forth its virtues in due season. The intuitive faculty does not naturally long for wealth and honor, nor is it solicitous because of poverty and humble position. In its natural condition it is not delighted because of attainment, nor distressed because of loss, nor are certain things chosen because of fondness for them and others put aside because they are disliked. 

    Thus the ears could not be used to listen to anything were it not for the intuitive faculty. How could it be apprehended? The eyes could not be used to look at anything were it not for the intuitive faculty. How could it be clearly discerned? The mind could not be used in deliberating on and realizing anything were it not for the intuitive faculty. How could there be any far-reaching intelligence and all-embracing knowledge? Moreover, how could there be any magnanimity, generosity, benignity, and mildness if there were no intuitive faculty? How could there be impulsiveness, energy, firmness, and endurance? How could there be self-control, gravity, maintenance of the mean, correctness, accomplishment, distinction, concentration, and investigation? How could one say of any individual, "All-embracing is he and vast, deep and active as a fountain, sending forth his virtues in their due season"?


30   The good-evil mind does not need to deliberate in order to know, nor does it need to learn in order to be able to act. It is for this reason that it is called intuitive knowledge of good. It is the heaven-given nature—the original character of the mind. It is naturally intelligent and clearly conscious. Whenever any purposes or thoughts are manifested, they are all known and recognized by the intuitive faculty. If they be good, the intuitive faculty naturally knows. Are they evil? This, too, the intuitive faculty naturally knows. This shows that it is no concern of others. Therefore, though there is no evil to which the mean man will not proceed, yet when he sees a superior man, he will certainly disguise himself, conceal his evil, and display his virtue. In this it is manifest that his intuitive faculty does not leave him unenlightened. If he desires to distinguish between good and evil in order to rectify his purpose, there is but the one way, that of extending the knowledge of his intuitive faculty to the utmost.


31   The mind that distinguishes between right and wrong knows without anxious thought and reflection, and acts without having learned. This is what is meant by the intuitive faculty. It is present in the mind of man without distinction between sage and simple-minded, for all men both past and present have it. If the superior men of this world devote themselves to developing their intuitive knowledge of good, they will be able to be equitable in judging right and wrong, and will have common likes and dislikes; they will view others as themselves and the state as their home; they will consider themselves as one structure with heaven, earth, and all things. Then it will be impossible to see the Empire governed unwisely.


32   The little intuitive knowledge of good you have is your own standard. If your thoughts are right it is aware of it, and if they are wrong it also knows. You must not blind it nor impose upon it, but must truly follow its lead. Whatever is good should be cherished; whatever is evil should be discarded. What confidence and joy there is in this! This is the true secret of the investigation of things, and the real method of extending knowledge to the utmost. If you do not depend upon these true secrets, how will you carry on an investigation of things? I, too, have appreciated only in the past few years that this is the explanation. At first I doubted that a simple obedience to the intuitive faculty would be sufficient, but when I had very carefully examined it I found that it is deficient at no point whatsoever.


33   However, the ordinary man is subject to the obscuration of private aims, so that it is necessary to develop the intuitive faculty to the utmost through investigation of things in order to overcome selfishness and reinstate the rule of natural law. Then the intuitive faculty of the mind will not be subject to obscuration, but having been satiated will function normally. Thus we have a condition in which there is an extension of knowledge. Knowledge having been extended to the utmost, the purpose is sincere.


34   Rest at night has always been a period of building up ,and creating. When night comes, heaven and earth are confused and hard to distinguish, form and color are obliterated, and man's eyes see nothing and his ears hear nothing, and all the channels of the mind are closed. This is the time when the intuitive faculty is renewed. When day returns and multitudinous things are disclosed, and man's eyes can see and his ears can hear and all the channels of the mind are open, the wonderful use of intuition is revealed. From this you can see that man's mind is a unity with heaven and earth, for its (mind's) manifestations follow the movements of heaven and earth.


35   The intuitive knowledge of good does not come from seeing and hearing, and on the other hand all hearing and seeing are functions of the intuitive faculty. For this reason, the intuitive faculty does not rest with merely seeing and hearing, nor does it separate itself from them. Confucius said, "Have I knowledge? I have not." Apart from the intuitive faculty there is no knowledge. For this reason, extending intuitive knowledge to the utmost is the fundamental principle of learning, and the foremost idea of the instruction of the sages. To say that the individual seeks the result of seeing and hearing, implies that the fundamental principle has been lost and that he has fallen into the alternative idea (that knowledge comes from experience).



Pride, Humility, Joy


36   When you study you must introspect. If you merely reprove others, you see only the faults of others and do not come to a realization of your own mistakes. If you bring your study to bear upon yourself, you will realize that you are in many respects imperfect. How will you find time to reprove others?


37   The great disease of the present time is, for the most part, pride and arrogance. Evil and misery of many kinds take their departure from these. Pride and arrogance imply self-exaltation, self-righteousness, and unwillingness to yield to those of humbler circumstances. For this reason a proud, arrogant son cannot be filial; a proud, arrogant younger brother cannot be respectful; a proud, arrogant minister cannot be loyal. Hsiang lacked virtue, and Tan Chu was degenerate, simply because of their pride. Thus they ended their lives.

    When a man is extremely wicked and criminal, there is no way of escape. In devoting ourselves to self-cultivation and study, we should first extract this root of disease, and then we can make progress. Pride should be superseded by humility, for the opposite of pride is humility. Humility is the appropriate remedy. Not only should the external bearing be lowly and humble, but the mind itself should be reverent, respectful, and obliging. Such individuals continually see their own faults and are able to empty themselves and receive instruction from others. Therefore the humble, respectful son is able to be filial; the yielding, retiring younger brother to be respectful; and the unassuming, reverent minister to be loyal.


38   Sirs, you should appreciate that the mind of man is from the beginning natural law. It is discriminating, clear and without the least spot of selfishness. Selfishness should not be cherished in one's breast, for its presence engenders pride. The many good characteristics of the philosophers of most ancient times were due to a selfless mind. Being selfless they were naturally humble. Humility is the foundation of all virtue; pride is the chief of vices.


39   If during the day one feels that work is becoming annoying, one should sit and rest. But one should study though one feels an aversion to it. This is also giving a remedy for disease. In having intercourse with friends, mutually strive to be humble; for then you will derive benefit from your friendship. In case you strive for superiority you will be injured.


40   In general it may be said that friends should seldom admonish and warn one another, but should lead, support, exhort, and encourage one another. . .When you discuss learning with your friends, you should be long-suffering, unassuming, and magnanimous.



Passion, Desire


41   If a person unceasingly applies himself truly and earnestly, he will daily better comprehend the subtle essence of the moral principles of the mind, as well as the subtlety of selfish desires. If he does not use his efforts in controlling himself, he will continually talk and yet never comprehend the meaning of moral principles or of selfish desire.


42   The seven passions—joy, anger, sorrow, fear, love, hatred, and desire—all have their origin from combinations within the mind. But you should understand intuitive knowledge clearly. It may be compared to the light of the sun. One cannot point out its location. Even when a little chink has been penetrated by the brightness of the sun, the light of the sun is located there. Although the fog of the clouds may come from all four sides, color and form can be distinguished. This, also, implies that at that point the light of the sun has not been destroyed. One cannot, for the simple reason that the clouds may obscure the sun, order heaven to desist from forming clouds. If the seven passions follow their natural courses, they all are functions of the intuitive faculty. They cannot be distinguished as good and evil. However, nothing should be added to them. When something has been added to the seven passions, desire results, and this obscures intuitive knowledge. Still, at the time that something is superimposed, the intuitive faculty is conscious thereof; and since it knows, it should repress it, and return to its original state. If at this point one is able to investigate carefully, the task is easily and thoroughly understood.


43   Joy is an original characteristic of the mind. Though this joy is not to be identified with the pleasure of the seven passions, it is not a joy over and beyond the joy of the seven passions. Though sages and virtuous men may have another true joy, ordinary people have it in common with them, but are not conscious of it. They bring upon themselves a great deal of sorrow and affliction, and increase their confusion and their self-abandonment. Even in the midst of sorrow, affliction, confusion, and self-abandonment, this joy is harbored in the heart. As soon as their thoughts have been cleared so that the person is sincere, this joy is at once apparent.


44   There are no crises and problems beyond those of passion and change. Are not pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy passions of men? Seeing, hearing, talking, working, wealth and honor, poverty and lowliness, sorrow and difficulty, death and life, all are vicissitudes of life. All are included in the passions and feelings of men. These need only to be in a state of perfect equilibrium and harmony, which, in turn, depends upon being watchful over one's self.


45   Can an evil spirit delude and confuse an upright man? Only this one thing need be the object of fear: that the mind is corrupt. Therefore, if anyone is deluded or confused, it is not that a spirit has deluded or confused him, but that his own mind has confused and deluded him. For instance, if a man is fond of women, it is the spirit of salaciousness that confuses; if he is covetous, it is the spirit of covetousness that deludes him; when a man is angry when he should not be angry, it is the spirit of anger that seduces him; and when a man is fearful at that which is not fearful, it is the spirit of fear that confuses and deludes him.


46   Pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are in their natural condition in the state of equilibrium and harmony. As soon as the individual adds a little of his own ideas, he oversteps and fails to maintain the state of equilibrium and harmony. This implies selfishness.

    In subduing one's self, one must clear out selfish desire completely, so that not a bit is left. If a little is left, all sorts of evil will be induced to make their entrance.


47   If in being fond of women one gives one's self completely to salaciousness, or in desiring wealth one devotes one's self entirely to covetousness, may these be considered as instances of mastering one's mind? This is what is called urging things and should not be considered as mastering the mind. To master one's mind implies mastering moral principles.


48   It is necessary to sweep out and wash out the every-day love of lust, fame, and similar things—a lot of passions—so that not the least bit will be retained. Then the mind will be completely filled with unmixed heaven-given principles. Thereupon it may be said to be in the state of equilibrium in which there are no stirrings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy; and this is the great fundamental virtue of humanity.


49   The individual must expel passion and cherish natural law before he really engages in a task. When in a state of tranquility, one should constantly meditate how to get rid of passion and how to cherish natural law; and when at work one should also strive for the same end. It makes no difference whether one be in a state of tranquility or not. If one depends upon the state of tranquility, the fault of loving tranquility and despising activity gradually develops, and in connection therewith a great many other faults that are hidden away in the mind and will never be dislodged. As soon as conditions are favorable, they flourish as of old. In the case where action according to principles is the motivating purpose, how can there fail to be tranquility? But if tranquility itself is made the purpose, there will certainly be no compliance with principles.



Knowledge Implies Practice


50   No one who really has knowledge fails to practice it. Knowledge without practice should be interpreted as lack of knowledge. Sages and virtuous men teach men to know how to act, because they wish them to return to their original nature. They do not tell them merely to reflect and let this suffice. The Great Learning exhibits true knowledge and practice, that men may understand this. For instance, take the case of loving what is beautiful and despising a bad odor. Seeing beauty is a result of knowledge; loving the beautiful is a result of practice. Nevertheless, it is true that when one sees beauty one already loves it. It is not a case of determining to love it after one sees it. Smelling a bad odor involves knowledge; hating the odor involves action. Nevertheless, when one perceives the bad odor one already hates it. One does not determine to hate it after one has smelt it.


51   No one should be described as understanding filial piety and respectfulness, unless he has actually practiced filial piety toward his parents and respect toward his elder brother. Knowing how to converse about filial piety and respectfulness is not sufficient to warrant anybody's being described as understanding them. Or it may be compared to one's understanding of pain. A person certainly must have experienced pain before he can know what it is. Likewise to understand cold one must first have endured cold; and to understand hunger one must have been hungry. How, then, can knowledge and practice be separated?


52   I have said that knowledge is the purpose to act, and that practice implies carrying out knowledge. Knowledge is the beginning of practice; doing is the completion of knowing. If when one knows how to attain the desired end, one speaks only of knowing, the doing is already naturally included; or if he speaks of acting, the knowing is already included.


53   When I say that knowledge and practice are one, I wish others to know that at the very point at which thoughts are manifested, there is incipient action. If the inception is evil, the evil thought should be subdued. It is necessary to get at the root, to go to the bottom, and not allow evil thoughts to lurk in the breast. This is the thrust of my assertion.


54   By practice is meant that one really and earnestly does a definite thing. If one devotes himself to study, inquiry, reflection, and discrimination, he practices these things. Study implies studying how to do a definite thing, and inquiry implies inquiring how to do a definite thing. Reflection and discrimination imply reflecting and clearly discriminating how to do some definite thing. Thus practice also includes study, inquiry, reflection, and discrimination. If you say, "I first study, inquire, reflect, and discriminate, and thereafter practice," how can you genuinely study, inquire, reflect, and discriminate, so as to get knowledge? Moreover, when you practice, how can you attain what is called study, inquiry, reflection, and discrimination? Knowledge is to be defined as the condition in which one clearly recognizes and minutely investigates methods of practice; while practice is defined as the state in which knowledge is genuine and true. If one practices, but is unable to investigate minutely and realize clearly (what he is practicing), his practice is inaccurate and immature. "Learning without thought is labor lost." For this reason knowledge must be mentioned. If one has knowledge but is unable genuinely and truly to practice (what he knows), he is disorderly and incoherent in his thoughts. "Thought without learning is perilous." For this reason practice must be mentioned.


55   When knowledge is genuine and sincere, practice is included; when practice is clear and minutely adjusted, knowledge is present. The two cannot be separated.


56   Inquiry, deliberation, discrimination, and practice are all to be considered as learning. Learning and practice always go together. For instance, if the individual says that he is learning filial piety, he will certainly bear the toil of his parents, take care of them, and himself walk in the path of filial piety. After that he may speak of learning filial piety. Can he who merely says that he is learning filial piety, therefore be said to be learning? He who learns archery must certainly take the bow and fit the arrow to the string, draw the bow and shoot. He who learns writing must certainly straighten the paper and take the pen, grasp the paper and dip the pen into the ink. In all learning of the Empire, there is nothing that can be called learning unless it is carried out in practice. Thus the beginning of learning is surely practice.


57   Since doubt must arise in connection with learning, inquiry is necessarily present. Making inquiry, the individual forthwith learns and practices. Since doubt arises there is deliberation. Deliberating, the individual learns and again practices. Being in doubt, he also begins to discriminate, and thus both learns and practices. When discrimination is clear, deliberation careful and sincere, inquiry discerning, learning competent and skillful, and application, constant, practice is earnest. It does not mean that after study, inquiry, deliberation, and discrimination, one first is ready to practice.





Adapted from The Philosophy of Wang Yang-ming, translated by Frederick Goodrich Henke. Open Court Publishing Co., New York, 1916.


Extracts from this work are also available online the East Asian History Sourcebook.