The Concept of “Being Content with Poverty and Happily Pursuing the Way” (Part 3)
( 靖曄 攝影/看中國)The Concept of “Being Content with Poverty and Happily Pursuing the Way” (Part 3)
The Cheng Brothers Kept Their Noble Characters Amidst Poverty
Cheng Hao (1032 – 1085 AD) and Cheng Yi (1033 – 1107 AD), two brothers, were famous philosophers and educators in the Northern Song Dynasty. They both “learned diligently, loved history, were content with poverty, and kept their noble characters.” Although they had different life experiences, they continued learning throughout their lifetimes. They kept teaching and pursuing the same ideal. Cheng Hao worked as a local government official. He wrote, “Care for people as if they were patients” as a motto to caution himself. He also politely refused a gift of one hundred rolls of high quality, delicate silk from Prime Minister Lu Dafang (1027 – 1097 AD), saying that he was not the only poor man, rather “There are many poor people in the world.” After completing his government affairs, he always went to teach his students.
Cheng Yi served as a tutor to the emperor. He proposed to Emperor Zhezong (1077 – 1100 AD) that a gentleman should pay attention to “cultivating his character and nourishing his virtue.” He liked being close to those who had noble character and dared to admonish the emperor. These descriptions reflect that the two brothers were not disturbed by poverty, and they instead were concerned about the people than wealth. The two brothers later enraged the nobility and were forced to resign from their positions.
The Cheng brothers exhibited noble and moral character in the aspects of learning, governing and conducting themselves. They believed that the supreme goal of education is to have the students follow the heavenly principles, be benevolent to people, care about the world, and be in accord with the recognized principles. Although they lived a life of often “having no vegetables” for food, they never stopped teaching. Their noble characters were widely known, thus many people came to learn from them, even from a thousand miles away.
The famous classic stories of “Cheng (Cheng Yi) Men (door) Li (standing) Xue (in snow)” and “Ru (like) Mu (bathing) Chun (spring) Feng (breeze)” have become legendary for future generations. The first story tells of how a couple of students went to see Cheng Yi. Cheng was sitting there mediating with his eyes closed. They respectfully stood outside the door in the severe snowy weather. When Cheng woke up, the snow was already one foot deep. They second story describe how Cheng Hao’s students felt that they learned from him as if they were bathing in a spring breeze.
The Cheng brothers authored many writings. They once described their own experiences, “We studied under the direction of Zhou Dunyi. He often told us to find what Confucius and Yan Hui were content with and why they were happy.” They believed that assimilation to the Tao (heavenly principles) and unity of heaven and man are where spiritual happiness lies. Cheng Yi wrote, “Heavenly Tao and heavenly principles are the fundamental causes for the creation of everything in the world. They are inside everything and also above everything. Every existence has its own course. Why the sky is high above, why the earth is deeply beneath, why everything exists as it naturally does, they all have their own causes.” “A sagacious person follows the heavenly principles and also wants all living beings to follow the same.” Cheng Hao wrote in his poem, “Observing all things in tranquility, one will find joy and interest in each, everything feels and enjoys the four seasons as humans do. Tao reaches heaven and earth and beyond any material existence, ever-changing thought is as unpredictable as wind and clouds.” He understood Tao’s stateliness and sublimity. His joy lay in knowing the spirit of heaven and earth, and the thoughts of the immeasurable sentient beings, as well as everything in the universe. He also wrote the poem, “It has separated from the secular world that is thirty miles away. The white clouds and red leaves are floating far and near.” (“Autumn Moon”) The poem of “The clouds are leisurely reflected in the water; the sound of spring water flowing naturally comes in the quietness.” (“Walking on the Moon Slope”) depicts Cheng Hao’s inner peace, indifference to fame and interest, and calmness.
There is an ancient saying, “Only by not pursuing glory and wealth can one have great ideals, only by being in peace at heart can one think and see far ahead.” There were many individuals with high virtues in history, who were practitioners and promoters of the truth and heavenly principles, as well as exemplary individuals of personal cultivation. Cultivators have their own pleasure from cultivation. Cultivation in itself is a pleasure to them. They look lightly at poorness, richness, and nobility, as they want to cultivate away all kinds of material desires and human attachments, keep their inner peace, and feel fulfilled and contented. Their happiness is in their knowing the heavenly principles, understanding the truth of the universe and the meaning of life, and in having a bright future! The ideal of “being content with poverty while happily pursuing the Tao” symbolizes their pursuit for a sublime, spiritual realm. Regardless of what circumstances they are under, they firmly hold onto their inner noble characters and pursue the truth without reservation or slacking off!