Righteousness, What Is It? A Confucian View on Why Being Who You Truly Are Is the Right Thing to Do

Mencius coined the term jen-i (humanity-righteousness), which has become recognized as the essence of Confucianism. He did so to use I, righteousness, as a bridge between the inside and outside of mind, between humanity and propriety. One of the most impressive and effective characteristics Mencius‘ philosophy is its capacity to show morality, or righteousness, as a faculty, an ability, of humanity. Another impressive characteristic is Mencius‘ ability to show the spiritual power of righteousness. The first characteristic Mencius shows that the humanity of Confucius, the natural ability and potential of each person to practice virtue, encompasses an innate sixth sense, of sorts, a sense of morality. Each person can cultivate this sense through practice. Righteousness is like a second sight; it is the ability to ’see‘ the right thing to do in each of life’s situations. Through contemplation, reflection, and continuous practice people can improve their dexterity in this skill. Through a better understanding of humanity and deeper sincerity, this skill can be applied instantaneously to seemingly complex scenarios. Mencius connected righteousness to humanity, because he understood that its skill was rooted in this vastness innate in the mind of humanity. As described in previous posts, this limitless Heavenly principle of endowed within all people, humanity, is a manifestation of Heaven. Cultivating humanity is like cultivating a Heavenly mind. This high view, this vastness, provides us time and space in the mind within which we can be free to contemplate, understand, and apply righteousness to each of our affairs. This process, through repetition and practice, can become natural and instantaneous.

The second impressive and effective characteristic of Menius‘ philosophy becomes apparent when we rest on this righteousness, when we take it as our life’s purpose. It is then that we find we have an energy, a ‚ch’i‘ that can merge with the universal. This energy of accumulated righteousness can go anywhere. With a clear conscience and sense of courageous confidence built up from continuing practice, we will be in the right place at the right time and be capable of understanding the right path, following it easily. This energy can ‚go anywhere‘, because it is built from past success leading us to the right place at the right time. This energy can go anywhere because it responds appropriately to the world around us. Our righteousness ch’i finds the right place and the right time and we accumulate even more every time we follow it. Cultivating this ability is of infinite, or ‚great,‘ benefit. Following righteousness has harmonious repercussions that reverberate through all our connections. The superior person is defined by their relationship to righteousness. They are of harmonious and great benefit to society.

While this righteousness is this grand, and powerful ability of each individual, it is not incompatible or contrary to others:

I (righteousness) originally meant expression of personal or individual attitude, because the character has the radical for „self,“ meaning self as a model. „I is self’s majesty“ (Hsu Shen, Explanation)…

Because of the relationship of i with self it is all too easy to judge another by one’s individual opinions…Two qualifications help in avoiding this situation and understanding the true meaning of i. (Yi Wu Chinese Philosophical Terms, 1986, 135)

Those two qualifications are ‚benefit‘, or ‚great benefit‘, and appropriateness. Wu points out that the first hexagram of the Classic Book of Changes, the I Ching, says ‚benefit is the harmonizer of all i‘, each person’s path of righteousness furthers harmonious benefit (1986, I Ching). All individuals‘ ‚righteousnesses‘ are united in this ability to harmoniously benefit all things. Each thing on this Earth has its function from Heaven and fulfilling Heaven’s mandate they are in harmony with the Heavenly principle of all other things. Fulfilling Heaven’s mandated function, each of us can embody and exhibit the virtues of Heaven in our lives. ‚Sublime beginning, perfect communication, harmonious benefit, and proper Way‘ are four characteristic virtues of the movement of Heaven as described in the I Ching (Hexagram 1). We manifest the movement of Heaven in our own affairs when we embody these four virtues; we manifest this ‚harmonious benefit.‘

The second qualification for avoiding self-righteousness, is the consideration of appropriateness in the practice of i. Because righteousness includes performing the right action at the right place and at the right time through the right relationships, it is appropriate and compatible. Following righteousness fits any situation because it takes appropriateness into consideration, and self-righteousness is never a useful tool and is never appropriate. Righteousness as described by Mencius, is a practice that takes all factors into consideration. It allows others the space for their own ‚i‘ to emerge. Actually, when we practice righteousness, we harmonize with the higher principles within others and open the Way for them to practice their i. This appropriateness is more than just compatibility with others, more than just being in harmony with others; it is of great benefit to others because it helps open the Way for them to see their own ability.

Following righteousness, following what is appropriate and of great harmonious benefit, one can know the path of the superior person:

„Humanity is the mind of man; i is the path of man“ (Mencius, Bk. VI, Part 1, Ch.11). „I is the path; propriety is the door“ (Mencius, Bk. V, Part 2, Ch.7). Here, Mencius saw i as the path which brings the humanity of mind to the door of propriety, through which it passes into action. To Mencius, i was the way to practice humanity. (Wu 1986, 136-137)

Seeing this path becomes easier and more alluring with practice, as its spiritual power becomes evident. For example, this path is easy to see in the most basic practice: When we wake up we walk through our house and begin making breakfast. We eat. We clean the dishes. Cleaning the dishes is the right action, the appropriate action to take after eating breakfast. While this is a very small and simple situation, it is in such situations where we learn to understand and build momentum for right action in all areas of life. While it may not seem like a great benefit that we clean our dishes in this example, cleaning the dishes trains our mind to follow righteousness, and in that place at that time it is our destiny to clean those dishes. When we follow our destiny, follow our righteousness, we do our unique part. Furthermore, as we take care of our own responsibilities like washing the dishes we open up to righteousness and accumulate energy, righteousness ch’i, in our lives. With a clean kitchen, we are unburdened with dirty ch’i. We can move on unencumbered to our next situation. Righteousness may dictate that we should sit for a minute and take a rest, or continue to tidy, for example. But in this simple act of learning what is appropriate according to our i we train ourselves, we work out this ‚righteousness muscle‘. We do what is timely, resting or continuing, and accumulate energy, as well as practice using our sense, our righteousness faculty. With the righteousness energy accumulated from such simple acts, we will have surplus energy to deal well with our family members. With the energy built up from dealing well with our family members, we will be able to go out and deal well with the day’s affairs. The more we practice righteousness, the more right things happen. The more right things happen, our destiny, the more righteousness energy accumulates and the better our ability, the stronger our sixth sense of righteousness.

With this connection to righteousness, Mencius gives a heroic energy to Confucian philosophy. By using righteousness in this way Mencius is honoring Confucius‘ emphasis on practice. Through repeated practice righteousness can break through all selfishness and all ignorance. Mencius puts up a strong barrier to selfishness by stating that righteousness and profit are mutually exclusive motivations. Selfish desire for personal profit is incompatible with righteousness, because righteousness is its own motivation. While profit may or may not come, it is not a consideration in the cultivation of righteousness. The superior person learns how to follow righteousness in all actions and by doing so becomes a pillar of society. The next chapter will show that in many ways righteousness defines superior people, it differentiates them from the inferior person. This righteousness is the standard by which superior people live their lives. Through repeated practice, they gain trust in getting the right result and from following righteousness and they are emboldened. This courage inspires them to consider only doing what is right and this becomes their path in life. Superior people continue to be in the right place at the right time with the right understanding and the right abilities. This appropriateness is beyond anything we can contrive. It is the way of humanity, mandated by Heaven.

Immobilienmakler Heidelberg

Makler Heidelberg

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