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East Asian History Sourcebook:
Wang Yang-Ming:
from The Philosophy, c. 1525 CE


From The Letters

Your letter says: "The philosopher Chu said, Let tranquillity and stillness be in control.' The philosopher Ch'eng said, Whether active or quiet, the mind should be fixed.' You say, The mind is ab initio fixed.' This implies that when the mind is at rest it is fixed; but it is not to be identified with the saying, Do not see, nor hear, nor think, nor act,' but with the saying, It always knows heaven-given principles, always cherishes them, and is always controlled by them.' This always knowing, always cherishing, and always being controlled by principles clearly implies that there is activity and that this is being manifested. How can this be called tranquillity, or be spoken of as the original nature of the mind? Does this tranquillity and fixedness also penetrate into and link up with the activity and tranquility of the mind?

Principles are not subject to being affected or moved. He who always know them, always cherishes them, and is always controlled by them, is said not to hear, see, think, or act. But this does not mean that he is dead and lifeless. If he sees, hears, thinks, and acts entirely in accordance with principles, but has had nothing with reference to which he sees, hears, thinks, or acts, there is activity present, but without excitement. In that state both the activity and the tranquillity of the mind are fixed. Both are a source of its natural functioning. . . .

The equilibrium in which there is no stirring of feeling is the intuitive faculty. It is not subject to the categories of time and space, but is all one structure and substance. One may say that activity and tranquility refer to the times when the mind is occupied and unoccupied; but when reference is made to the intuitive faculty, no distinction is made between the mind's being occupied or unoccupied. The states in which the mind is at rest or is excited may be said to represent activity and tranquility; but when reference is made to the intuitive faculty, no distinction is made between the mind's being at rest and its being active. When the original nature of the mind experiences activity and tranquility, it really makes no distinction between them. Principles are not subject to being affected or moved, for those conditions indicate the presence of desire. If the mind acts according to principles, though amidst ten thousand changes of pledging between host and guest, yet it has not been affected; if it follows desire, though it appears to be free from it, yet whenever it has thought there has been no tranquility. Why should there be any doubt that the mind may be tranquil while it is active, and active while it is tranquil? . . .

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 wise different 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 hinder its progress. It strives first for heaven-given principles and does not trespass them. How much more is this true in the instance of men, of spirits, and of gods! . . .The superior man learns for his own sake. He has not thereby considered or been anxious that others may deceive him, but perseveres rather in not deceiving his own intuitive faculty. He has not been anxious that others may not believe him, but perseveres in believing in his own intuitive faculty. He has not sought a previous realization of the deceit and unbelief of others, but constantly devotes himself to realizing his own intuitive faculty. Not deceiving himself, he keeps his intuitive faculty free from pretense and hypocrisy, and thereby is sincere. Being sincere, he is intelligent. Having faith in himself, his intuitive faculty is in doubt regarding no one and is therefore intelligent. Being intelligent, it is sincere. Intelligence and sincerity develop pari passu, and for this reason the intuitive faculty constantly realizes and constantly reflects. Since it constantly realizes and constantly reflects truly, it is like a suspended bright mirror. Whenever a thing appears before it, it cannot conceal beauty or ugliness. How is this? Not deceiving but always sincere, it does not permit anything to deceive it. If it is deceived, it realizes it. This means that it knows the dangerous path and whatsoever hinders its progress. . . .

Your letter says: "Recent scholars have devoted themselves to external things and have lost interest in the internal. They study extensively and get few fundamental principles. For this reason you (the Teacher) especially introduce the idea of making the will sincere. Thus to probe into fundamentals is truly a great kindness." My disciple, you thoroughly apprehend the defects of the present age. How shall they be removed? Moreover, my mind has been fully expressed by you in a sentence. Why should I elaborate it further?

Since you have said that the cultivation and mutual manifestation of the internal (referring to knowledge) and the external (referring to practice), of the source and the result---once having been considered as a unity---are to be identified with the mutual advance of knowledge and practice, there should be no further doubt arising in your mind. Your sayings--that knowledge of food, for example, precedes eating it---are easily comprehended. But the individual must first have a desire for food, and after that he knows what it means to eat. Having this desire for food, he immediately gets the purpose to acquire it; and this is the beginning of the act. The good or evil taste of the food must first enter his mouth, and after that he knows it. One must first have the desire to traverse the road, and after that he may learn to know it. Having the desire to traverse it, he forthwith determines to do so; and this is the beginning of the act. That one drinks after one knows the soup, and wears the clothes after one knows them, all these usages cannot be doubted. . . .

When knowledge is genuine and sincere, practice is included; when practice is clear and minutely adjusted, knowledge is present. The two cannot be separated. Unfortunately, later scholars have separated them and thereby have lost the original character of knowledge and practice. It is for this reason that I say that they are united and advance together. Genuine knowledge is practice. Where practice is absent there is no real knowledge. . . .

The principles of things are not to be found external to the mind. To seek the principles of things outside the mind results in there being no principles of things. If I neglect the principles of things, but seek to attain the original nature of my mind, what things are there then in my mind? The mind in its original character is nature (disposition), and nature is principles. Since the mind has the experience of being filial, there is a principal of filial piety. If the mind lacks filial piety, there is no principle of filial piety. Since the mind has the experience of being loyal to the prince, there is a principle of loyalty. Without a mind that is loyal to the prince, there can be no principle of loyalty. Are these principles external to the mind? Hui-an said: "He who devotes himself to a study of the mind and of principles." Though the mind in one aspect controls merely the body, it really exercises control over all the principles under the heavens. Though these principles are distributed in ten thousand affairs, they do not exceed the mind of any man. Because one (the philosopher Chu Hsi) separates them and another (Wang Yang-ming) unites them, it is inevitable that students should enter into the mistake of making them (mind and principles) separate things. The later scholar's misfortune of merely seeking to attain to the nature of his mind, while losing the principles of things, arises out of his ignorance that mind is the embodiment of principles.

He who seeks the principles of things, arises out of his ignorance that mind is the embodiment of principles. He who seeks the principles of things outside the mind will inevitably become confused and unintelligent. The philosopher Kao spoke of the external character of righteousness, and for that reason Mencius said that he did not know what righteousness is. The mind is a unit. The feeling of commiseration of the entire mind is called benevolence (the highest virtue). If one refers to the mind's getting what rightfully belongs to it, one speaks of righteousness. When one refers to its order, one speaks of principles. One should not seek either for the highest virtue or for righteousness outside the mind. Is the search for principles an exception to this? To seek for principles in external things implies separating knowledge and practice. The instruction of the sages, that knowledge and practice are united, implies seeking for principles within the mind. What doubt can you, my disciple, have regarding this? . . .

The Teacher [Wang] was taking recreation at Nanchen. One of his friends point to the flowers and trees on a cliff and said: "You say that there is nothing under heaven external to the mind. What relation to my mind have these flowers and trees on the high mountains, which blossom and drop of themselves?" The Teacher said: "When you cease regarding these flowers, they become quiet with 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." He further said: "Perception has no structure upon which it depends: it uses the color of all things as its structure. The ear has no structure upon which it depends: it uses the sounds of things as its structure. The nose has no structure: it uses the odors of things as its structure. The mouth has no structure: it uses the taste of things as its structure. The mind has no structure: it uses the right and wrong influences of heaven, earth, and things as structure." . . .

The saying of the philosopher Chu Hsi regarding investigation of things is to be found in the expression, "We must investigate the principles of all things with which we come into contact." This means that in all affairs and things the individual should seek for fundamental principles, and should use his mind in seeking these principles in affairs and things. Thereby mind and principles are separated. This seeking for fundamental principles in things and affairs is exemplified in seeking the principle of filial piety in one's parents. If a man seeks the principle of filial piety in parents, is it, then, really in his own mind or is it in the person of his parents? If it is in the person of the parents, is it true that after the parents are dead the mind in consequence lacks the principle of filial piety? If one sees a child fall into a well, there must be commiseration. Is this principle of commiseration present in the child or is it to be found in the intuitive faculty of the mind? Whether the individual is unable to follow the child and rescue it from the well, or seizes it with his hand and thus rescues it, this principle is involved. Is it, then, in the person of the child, or is it rather in the intuitive faculty of the mind? What holds here is true with reference to the principles of all affairs and all things. Thus you may know the mistake of severing mind and principles---a severing which is in accordance with the philosopher Kao's sayings that righteousness is external. This mistake Mencius fully exposed.

You are familiar with the matter of devoting one's self to external things and thereby losing sight of the internal, as well as that of studying extensively but with meager results. In what sense is this true? Would it seem improper to say that it implies finding amusement in things and thereby ruining one's aims? What I say about extending knowledge to the utmost through investigation of things means extending and developing my intuitive knowledge of good to the utmost on all affairs and things. The intuitive faculty and its knowledge of good are heaven-given principles. If I extend and develop the heaven-given principles of my intuitive faculty on affairs and things, then all affairs and things partake of heaven-given principles. That extending the intuitive faculty of the mind to the utmost is extending knowledge to the utmost, and that the condition in which all things and affairs partake of these principles is to be identified with the investigation of things, means that mind and principles are one. And if this is true, then what I have formerly said, and what the philosopher Chu formerly discussed, will be understood without further discussion. . . .

I must refute this defect of supporting and following the traditional sayings. 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. The earnest one, being sincere and honest, has already practiced his learning. Making his practice sincere and earnest, he does not cease from his work. . . .

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.

For this reason I hold and say that seeking to be able to do anything is learning; seeking to dissipate any doubt connected therewith is inquiry; seeking to understand the underlying principles is deliberation; seeking to carry out its genuineness in action is practice. Any discussion of the situation that splits the task gives us these five stages. If the whole affair is united, it is one. This is the substance of my saying that mind and principles are one; it is the task of mutually developing knowledge and practice. This is the real point at which my sayings are different from those of later scholars. . . .

You have especially selected study, inquiry, deliberation, and discrimination as the method whereby the principles of all things are to be thoroughly investigated, but you fail to reach the point of earnest practice. This means that you consider study, inquiry, deliberation, and discrimination as knowledge, but in this investigation of principles do not include practice. Is there a single instance in the Empire in which a person has learned without practice? Is there an instance in which there has been an actual investigation of principles without practice? . . . After virtue has reached its highest development, the individual may be said to be able to exhaust the principles of virtue in his investigation. After righteousness has reached its highest form, it may be said that he is able to exhaust in his investigation the principles of righteousness. When he has acquired the greatest development of virtue, he has exhausted that part of his nature which refers to virtue. Of righteousness the same holds true.

Is there such a thing as that the individual has reached the point where he is able to investigate exhaustively the principles of things and yet does not practice them? For this reason, if knowledge of principles without practice cannot be considered learning, knowledge without practice cannot be considered an exhaustive investigation of principles. If knowledge without practice cannot be considered exhaustive investigation, then you may know that in the unity and mutual development of knowledge and practice no distinction can be made. The principles of things and affairs are not to be found external to the mind. If anyone says that it is insufficient to use the intuitive faculty in making an exhaustive investigation of the principles of things, and that it is necessary to seek externally in the Empire so as to supplement and strengthen this, he thereby splits mind and principles into two things. As for study, inquiry, deliberation, discrimination, and earnest practice, it is true that, though the individual in his stupidity and in his expenditure of effort uses a hundred efforts where another man succeeds by one, but nevertheless advances until he exhausts his nature in knowing Heaven, he is in reality doing nothing more than develop the intuitive faculty of his mind. . . .

The devotees of stupid abstraction and empty tranquility are unable to investigate the fundamental principles of the mind, as things and affairs are experienced. Thus what they attain is not the original intuitive knowledge of good. They lose or set aside their five human relationships. That they continually make use of vacuity and tranquility, shows that because they desire these, they cannot govern home, state, or Empire. Does anyone say that the learning of the sages, which inculcates thorough investigation of principles and the exhausting of one's mental constitution, also has this defect? The mind is lord of the body. Moreover, the abstract and pure intelligence and clear realization of the mind are the original intuitive knowledge of good. When this intuitive faculty with its abstract and pure intelligence and clear realization is influenced and active, it is called idea. . .

The intuitive faculty comes before the idea, and without it there would be no idea. Is not, thus, the intuitive faculty the body of the idea? When idea is manifested it is of necessity with reference to some thing, and that thing is an affair. When the idea is used in study, then study must be considered a thing; and when the idea is used in hearing litigation, then that is a thing. Wherever the idea is applied, there some thing is present. If there is a particular idea, there is a particular thing present corresponding to it; and without this particular idea the particular thing is lacking. Is not, then, a thing identical with the functioning of idea? . . .


From The Great Learning

If from the Great Learning the idea contained in "investigating things" is expunged, there will be no real starting point. There must be genuine investigation, before this can be appreciated. From the opening (creation) 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 coherence 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. This thing can be seen from the manifestations of the doctrine. This is in conformity with the saying of the Book of Changes: "When the form is directed upward it is called the doctrine; when it points downward it is called a finished vessel." If you cast aside the vessel, there is the more nothing that can be called the doctrine. The thing referred to is my nature, my heaven-decreed nature. It is in accordance with the saying of Mencius that "all things are already complete in us." . . .

Man alone knows what is meant by being enticed by the influence of things, but is unable to carry on self-investigation with full sincerity or to carry out vigorously the law of reciprocity. He stops with recognizing his body as the person and external objects as things, and forthwith separates things and himself into two distinct realms, so that in last analysis his person represents but one thing among ten thousand. How, then, can he extend his knowledge to the utmost, be sincere in purpose, rectify his mind, cultivate his person, regulate his family, govern the kingdom, and tranquilize the empire, in order to complete and exhaust the doctrine of the Great Learning? Therefore it is said that the task is exhausted in extending knowledge to the utmost through the investigation of things. . .

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. The manifesting of this excellency consists in knowing how to rest in the highest virtue. If one knows how to rest in the highest virtue, he will be able to attain the desired end. If thus understood, all nature will be comprehended in this. It is for this reason that the Doctrine of the Mean says: "Sincerity is the en\d and the beginning of things. The superior man regards the attainment of sincerity as the most excellent thing." Naturally he completes himself and things also. Once mentioned he employs them and does nothing that is not proper. The task of investigating things having been completed, all other things will be adjusted. Therefore, when the philosopher Chu in giving instruction regarding the investigation of things, said "to the utmost," he did that which was exceedingly proper. . . .

Whatever falls into the class of speculation or mere abstract thinking, as in considering extreme height, cannot be said to be to the utmost. What is here called the utmost means that the personality has developed to the utmost degree. Knowledge and practice also should be called activity and tranquility. This is what the Teacher refers to in the saying of the Book of Changes: "If you know the highest (utmost), attain to it." To attain to the utmost is the essence of staunch virtue. Beyond this there is no task which has reference to the essence, or is wonderful and godlike. But the people find too shallow a meaning in the "utmost" of the philosopher Chu and thus say: "When you take up anything, investigate it." This is the practice whereby the latest scholars branch off, though the philosopher Chu from the first gave no such explanation. Having received the plain exposition of the Teacher, I use it to explain the incomplete idea of the philosopher Chu. . . .


From Instructions for Practical Life

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 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. A man with his nostrils stuffed may see the malodorous object before him, but does not smell it. Under such circumstances it is a case of not perceiving it, rather than of disliking it. . . .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? This is their original nature before selfish aims have separated them. The sage instructs the individual that he must practice before he may be said to have understanding. If he fails to practice, he does not understand. How thoroughly important a task this is! . . .

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. That the ancients after having spoken of knowledge also speak of doing, is due to the fact that there is a class of people on earth who foolishly do as they wish and fail to understand how to deliberate and investigate. They act ignorantly and recklessly. It is necessary to discuss knowledge so that they can act correctly. There is another class of people who vaguely and vainly philosophize but are unwilling to carry it out in practice. This also is merely an instance of estimating shadows and echoes. The ancients of necessity discussed doing, for only then can such people truly understand. The language of the ancients is of necessity directed toward rectifying prejudices and reforming abuses. When one comprehends this idea, a word is sufficient. Men of the present, however, make knowledge and action two different things and go forth to practice, because they hold that one must first have knowledge before one is able to practice. Each one says "I proceed to investigate and discuss knowledge; I wait until knowledge is perfect and then go forth to practice it." Those who to the very end of life fail to practice also fail to understand. This is not a small error, nor one that came in a day. By saying that knowledge and practice are a unit, I am herewith offering a remedy for the disease. I am not dealing in abstractions, nor imposing my own ideas, for the nature of knowledge and practice is originally as I describe it. In case you comprehend the purport, no harm is done if you say they are two, for they are in reality a unit. . . .

Nature is the original character of the mind. Heaven is the source of Nature. To exhaust one's mind means to exhaust one's nature. Only he who is possessed of the most complete sincerity is able to exhaust his nature and understand the nourishing power of heaven and earth. He who preserves his mental constitution has not exhausted it. . . . 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." I say there are no principles but those of the mind, and nothing exists apart from the mind. . . .Knowledge is native to the mind; the mind naturally is able to know. When it perceives the parents it naturally knows what filial piety is; when it perceives the elder brother it naturally knows what respectfulness it; when it sees a child fall into a well it naturally knows what commiseration is. This is intuitive knowledge of good, and is not attained through external investigation. If the thing manifested emanates from the intuitive faculty, it is the more free from the obscuration of selfish purpose. This is what is meant by saying that the mind is filled with commiseration, and that love cannot be exhausted. . . .

The mind is one. In case 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. Originally there were not two minds. A selfish mind is due to selfish desire; an upright mind is natural law (is true to nature). . . .Someone said "All men have natural endowment (mind), and the mind is the embodiment of heaven-given principles (natural law). Why then do some devote themselves to virtue and others to vice? The mind of the evil man has lost its original nature. . . .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. . . .

Benevolence, justice, propriety, and wisdom are nature manifesting virtue. There is only one nature and no other. Referring to its substance, it is called Heaven; considered as ruler or lord, it is called Shang-ti (God); viewed as functioning, it is called fate; as given to men it is called disposition; as controlling the body, it is called mind. Manifested by the mind, when one meets parents, it is called filial piety; when one meets the prince, it is called loyalty. Proceeding from this on the category is inexhaustible, but it is all one nature, even as there is but one man (in the generic sense). As compared with his father, man is called son; as compared with his son, he is called father. Proceeding from this one may go on indefinitely, yet there is but one man and no more. Man should use his energy on his nature. If he is able to understand clearly the connotation of the word "nature", he will be able to distinguish ten thousand principles. . . .

The individual must know how to learn. Seeking includes the idea of cherishing. Lack of seeking implies that one does not cherish one's purpose with determination. One should know why he is learning and what is to be learned. 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. . . .

That the sage is a sage is due solely to the fact that his mind is completely dominated by heaven-given principles, and not hampered by passion. As the gold is termed the finest when it has the quality and is free from brass and lead, so a man who has become fully dominated by heaven-given principles is a sage. When gold has the degree of quality required, it is the finest. The capacity of the sages varies just as the weight of the gold may be light or heavy. . . .Whosoever is willing to devote himself to study may become a sage, provided he devotes his mind to heaven-given principles. It is as if an ounce of gold be compared with two hundred thousand ounces. Though there is great difference in weight, yet if the ounce has the quality it is without fault. I venture to say that every man can be as Yao or Shun; for in learning to be a sage, the student need only expel passion and cherish natural law. It may be compared to refining gold and striving for proper quality. If one does not strive much for the quality, the work of refining will be comparatively light and easy; but if the quality is too low, the work of refining will be made over-difficult. The dispositions of men are bright and stupid, docile and contradictory. There are those who rank above the ordinary man, and those who fall below. As regards the truth, some are born with the knowledge of it; some practice it with natural ease; some know it by study, and practice it from a desire for advantage. The remaining ones surely belong among those who, if others succeed by ten efforts, must use a thousand. Nevertheless, when it comes to the matter of completing the task, the outcome is the same.

Later generations did not know that the point of departure in becoming a sage is in being completely dominated by heaven-given principles, but devoted themselves to seeking to become sages by means of knowledge and power; for they thought that sages are all-knowing and all-powerful. Each said to himself: "I must comprehend the exceedingly great knowledge and power of the sages, before I can rest." For this reason they did not devote themselves energetically to moral principles, but vainly dulled their mental energies and exhausted their strength that they might worm it out of books, or search it out of nature, or surmise it from various signs left by the sages. With greater increase in knowledge there came greater increase in passion; and the greater the power they attained, the more they obscured moral principles. It may well be compared to a man who has two hundred thousand ounces of the finest gold and fails to use his energies in refining the quality. He seeks freedom from reproach in the matter of fineness, but absurdly places his hope in the weight. They use their energies as this man his hundred thousand ounces of gold. The more the weight increases, the lower is the quality, until at last there is no gold left. . . .

Education means learning to expel passion and harbor natural law. If one occupies himself with expelling passion and cherishing natural law, he will rectify all that which those before him understood, and will test all admonitions of the ancients. He will in all his efforts of inquiry and criticism, deep meditation and comprehension, preservation and examination, subduing and governing himself, not go beyond a desire to get rid of passion and cherish natural law. If it should be said that imitation of the actions of those who have gone before refers only to the matter of learning the state of equilibrium, this, too, would appear to be seeking for culture in external things. He who learns with constant application how to sit as the image of an ancestor, applies himself not only to practicing how to sit, but at the same time to cultivating the correct attitude of mind; or he who stands as though he were respectful, applies himself not merely to standing, but while standing to practicing this attitude of mind. Pleasure here implies the pleasure arising out of righteous principles---the pleasure of the mind. 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? . . .

As he who grows a tree should not neglect to cultivate the roots, so he who desires to grow in virtue should develop his mind. If the tree is to grow, the branches must be reduced when they first appear in great number. If virtue is to flourish, love of external things must be expelled when the student first begins to learn. If he dotes on poetry and style, his mental energy will gradually be expended on poetry and style. The same holds true of all love of external things. . . .The seed of the tree should neither be helped nor forgotten, but banked up. Then it will naturally grow larger, and its growth will daily be more complete and its leaves more luxuriant. When the tree first begins to grow, it shoots forth many branches which must be cut off, in order that the roots and trunk may grow large. Thus it is when one begins to learn. Therefore in fixing the determination it is important to devote one's self to that one thing. . . .

Intuitive knowledge of good is characteristic of all men. The sage, however, guards and protects it so that nothing obscures it. His contending and anxiety do not cease, and he is indefatigable and energetic in his efforts to guard his intuitive knowledge of the good. This also involves learning. However, his native ability is greater, so that it is said of him that he is born with knowledge of the five duties and practices them with ease. There is nobody who does not in the period from his infancy to boyhood develop this intuition of good, but it is often obscured. Nevertheless, this original knowledge of good is naturally hard to obliterate. Study and self-control should follow the lead of intuitive knowledge. . . .

 


Source

From: Wang Yang-Ming, The Philosophy of Wang Yang-Ming, trans. Frederick Goodrich Henke, Intro. James H. Tufts, (n.p.: The Open Court Publishing Co., 1916), passim.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.


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