Liaofan Yuan

Fourth Lesson - Benefits of the Virtue of Humility

In I Ching, the Book of Changes, the combination for Humility stated that “The law of heaven takes from the arrogant and benefits the humble. The law of earth will bring flowing water from areas that are full to those that are lower as it passes by. The law of spirits brings harm to those who are arrogant and good fortune to those who are modest. Even the laws of people despise the arrogant and like the modest.” In I Ching, the Book of Changes, only the Humility combination contains all good and no bad outcomes. The Book of History explains that “Arrogance invites disaster and humility gains benefit".

I often went to take the examinations accompanied by others and every time I would meet scholars who were very poor. I noticed that before they succeeded in passing the examinations and became prosperous, their faces radiated such humility that I felt I could almost hold it in my hands. Several years ago, ten of us from the village went to take the preliminary imperial examination. Jing-Yu Ding was the youngest and extremely humble. I told one of the applicants, Jin-Po Fei, that this young man would definitely pass the examination this year. Jin-Po Fei asked how I could tell. I told him that "Only those who are humble receive good fortune. My friend, look at the ten of us; is there anyone as honest, generous and never tries to come in first, as Jing-Yu? Do you see anyone who is as respectful, tolerant, careful and humble like Jing-Yu? Do you see anyone like Jing-Yu, who when insulted does not talk back or who when slandered does not argue? Any person who can achieve such a level of humility will receive protection from the earth, spirits and heavens. There is no reason he will not become prosperous.” Sure enough, when the test results came out, Jing-Yu Ding passed.

One year in Beijing, I was staying with my childhood friend, Kai-Zhi Feng. I noticed that he always carried himself in a humble way with a kind and accommodating appearance. He was not a bit arrogant, which was an immense change from his childhood ways. Kai-Zhi had a friend named Ji-Yan Li who was straightforward and honest. Ji-Yen often scolded him for his mistakes, but Kai-Zhi always accepted the accusations calmly without talking back. I told him, “Just as there are signs that warn of coming good fortune or misfortune, we can see that prosperity or disaster comes to those who have cultivated the cause for it. Heaven will help those whose hearts are humble. You, my friend, will definitely pass the imperial examination this year!” Later, he indeed passed the examination.

There was a young man from Shandong Province named Yu-Feng Zhao who passed the preliminary level of the imperial examinations before he was even twenty. Unfortunately, try as he might, he could not pass the succeeding examinations. When his father was moved to Jiashan to accept another post in the government, Yu-Feng went with him and came to greatly admire a well-known scholar in that village named Ming-Wu Qian. Yu-Feng brought his essays to this man. (He had no idea that) Mr. Qian would pick up his calligraphy brush and blot out his entire essay. Not only was Yu-Feng not angry, he sincerely accepted all of Mr. Qian’s corrections and immediately made the recommended changes. The following year, Yu-Fong passed the imperial examination.

One year, I went to the capital to pay my respects to the emperor. I met a scholar named Jian-Suo Xia who had all the qualities of a great man without a trace of arrogance. I felt the intense aura of his virtue and humility all about him. When I returned home, I told my friend, “When heaven wants a person to prosper, it will first bestow him with wisdom. Such wisdom can make a pompous person honest and well disciplined. Jian-Suo is gentle, kind and good. Surely, heaven will now make him prosperous.” Sure enough, when the test results came out, Jian-Suo had passed the examination.

There was a scholar named Wei-Yan Zhang from Jiangyin who was very learned and wrote good essays. He was also very well known among scholars. One year while taking his examination in Nanjing, he stayed at a temple. When the test results were posted, he found that he had not passed. He became furious and loudly accused the examiner of being blind for not recognizing his obvious talents.

At that time, a Taoist monk stood by smiling and Wei-Yan immediately directed his anger towards him. The monk said the essay must not be good. Wei-Yan got even angrier and demanded how he knew it was not good when he had not even read it. The Taoist replied that he often heard people say that the most important element in writing good essays was a peaceful heart and harmonious disposition. Wei-Yan's loud and angry accusations clearly showed that his mind was not at peace and his disposition was violent. How could he possibly write good essays? Wei-Yan acceded to the Taoist’s words and in turn asked him for his advice. The Taoist said that whether or not one passes depends on destiny. If someone is not destined to pass, then no matter how good the paper is, he or she will still fail.

The Taoist concluded that Wei-Yan would have to make a few changes in himself. Wei-Yan asked how he could change destiny. The Taoist further explained that although the power to form our destiny lies in the heavens, the right to change it lies within us. As long as we are willing to do good deeds and to extensively cultivate hidden virtues, we will receive what we seek.

Wei-Yan said that he was only a poor scholar and questioned his ability to do good deeds. The Taoist explained that practicing good deeds and accumulating hidden virtues all stem from the heart. As long as we constantly have the intent to practice goodness and accumulate virtues, our merits will be infinite and boundless! He used the example of the virtue of humility. It does not cost anything. Wei-Yan should reflect within himself instead of berating the examiner for being unfair. Wei-Yan listened to the Taoist monk and from then on suppressed his arrogant ways. Everyday, he put forth additional effort to do more good deeds and accumulate more merits.

Three years later, one night as he slept, he dreamt that he had entered a very tall house and saw a book that contained many names/names of the applicants who had passed the examination that year. He saw many blank lines. He asked the person next to him what it was. The person replied that the book contained all the names of the applicants who passed the examination that year.

When Wei-Yan asked why there were so many blank lines, he answered that the spirits of the underworld check on the applicants every three years. Only the names of those who practice good deeds and are without faults are listed. The blank lines used to bear the names of those who were supposed to pass the examination, but due to their recent offenses, their names had been removed. Then, the person pointed to a line and said that for the past three years Wei-Yan had been very careful and had exerted such self-control that he had not made any mistakes. Perhaps his name would fill the blank. The person hoped that he would cherish his opportunity and take care not to make any mistakes. Indeed, Wei-Yan passed the examination that year and placed one hundred and fifth.

Those who are filled with conceit are doubtless not destined to be great. Even if they do prosper, they will not be able to enjoy their good fortune for long. Intelligent people would definitely not make themselves small and narrow-minded and refuse the good fortune they are entitled to. Besides, those who are humble always increase their opportunities to learn. In this way, the kind deeds that humble people can accomplish are boundless! For those who wish to cultivate and improve upon their virtues, they especially cannot do without the virtue of humility.

The ancients said that, “Those who have their hearts set on attaining success and fame, will surely attain success and fame. Those who have their hearts set on attaining wealth and position, will surely attain wealth and position.” A person who has great and far-reaching goals is like a tree with roots. A person who has set down great and far reaching goals must be humble in every thought and try to relieve other’s burdens even if the occurrence is as insignificant as a speck of dust.

If we can reach this level of humility, we will naturally touch the hearts of heaven and earth. Furthermore, I am the creator of my own prosperity. Look at the applicants who sought fame and wealth. In the beginning, they were not sincere, it was only a passing notion. When they wanted something, they sought it. When their interest waned, they stopped seeking it. Mencius once said (to Emperor Xuan of Qi), "If you can expand from the heart, which seeks personal happiness, to that of sharing happiness with all your subjects and make them just as happy as you are, then surely the nation is bound to prosper!" This is also true for myself in seeking to pass the imperial examination. (I and I alone can seek and thus change my destiny.)