THE BOOK OF MENCIUS

Book VI (Excerpts)

A:1. The philosopher Kâo said, “Man's nature is like the willow, and righteousness is like a cup or a bowl. Making benevolence and righteousness out of man's nature is like making cups and bowls from willow.” Mencius replied, “Can you leave the nature of the willow untouched, while you make it into cups and bowls? You must do violence and injury to the willow, before you can make cups and bowls with it. If you must do violence and injury to the willow in order to make cups and bowls with it, according to your principles you must in the same way do violence and injury to human nature in order to fashion from it benevolence and righteousness! Your words, alas, would certainly lead all men on to believe that benevolence and righteousness are calamities.”

A:2. The philosopher Kâo said, “Man's nature is like water whirling round in a closed area. Open a passage for it to the east, and it will flow to the east; open a passage for it to the west, and it will flow to the west. Man's nature is indifferent to good and evil, just as the water is indifferent to the east and west.” Mencius replied, “Water indeed will flow indifferently to the east or west, but will it flow indifferently up or down? The tendency of man's nature toward what is good is like the tendency of water to flow downwards. There are none that lack this tendency toward the good, just as all water flows downwards. Now by striking water and causing it to leap up, you may make it go over your forehead, and, by damming and leading it you may force it up a hill; but are these movements in accordance with the nature of water? It is the force applied [against its nature] which causes them. When men are forced to do what is not good, their nature is affected in this way.”

A:6. The disciple Kung-tû said, “The philosopher Kâo says, ‘Man's nature is neither good nor bad.’ Some say, ‘Man's nature may be made to do what is good, and it may be made to do what is evil; and accordingly, under Wan and Wû, the people loved what was good, while under Yû and Lî, they loved what was cruel.’ Some say, ‘The nature of some is good, and the nature of others is bad. Hence it was that under such a sovereign as Yâo there nevertheless appeared Hsiang; that with such a father as Kû-sâu there nevertheless appeared Shun; and that with Châu for their sovereign, and the son of their elder brother besides, there were Ch'î, the viscount of Wei, and the prince Pî-Kan.’ And now you say, ‘The nature of man is good.’ Then are all those wrong?”

Mencius said, “From the feelings proper to it, it is constituted for the practice of what is good. This is what I mean in saying that its nature is good. If men do what is not good, the blame cannot be imputed to their natural powers. The feeling of commiseration [compassion] belongs to all men; so does that of shame and dislike; and that of reverence and respect; and that of approving and disapproving [saying yes and no]. The feeling of commiseration implies [is the capacity for] the principle of benevolence (jen); the feeling of shame and dislike implies [is the capacity for] the principle of righteousness (yi); the feeling of reverence and respect implies [is the capacity for] the principle of propriety (li); and the feeling of approving and disapproving [saying yes and no] implies [is the capcity for] the principle of knowledge. Benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and knowledge are not infused into us from without. We are certainly provided with them. And a different view is simply owing to lack of thought. Hence it is said, ‘Seek and you will find them. Neglect and you will lose them.’ Men differ from one another in regard to them -- some as much again as others, some five times as much, and some to an incalculable amount. It is because they cannot fully develop their natural powers.”

A:7. Mencius said, “In good years the children of the people are mostly good, while in bad years most of them abandon themselves to evil. It is not due to any difference of their natural powers conferred by Heaven that they are thus different. The abandonment is due to the circumstances through which they allow their minds to be entangled and submersed in evil. There is, for example, wheat. Let it be sown and covered with dirt; the ground being the same, and the time of sowing likewise the same, it grows rapidly up, and, when the harvest time is come, it is all found to be ripe. Although there may be some inequalities, that is due to the difference of the soil -- rich or poor, to the unequal nourishment afforded by the rain and dew, and to the different ways in which man has worked in attending to it. Thus all things which are the same in kind are similar to one another. Why should we doubt this with regard to man’s nature, as if he were the sole exception to this? The sage and we are the same in kind. In accordance with this the scholar Lung said, ‘If a man makes sandals of hemp without knowing the size of people's feet, yet I know that he will not make them like baskets.’ Sandals are all like one another, because all men's feet are like one another. So with the mouth and flavors: All mouths relish the same tastes. Yî-yâ only apprehended before me what my mouth relishes. Suppose that his mouth in its relish for flavors differed from that of other men, as is the case with dogs or horses which are not the same in kind with us, why should all men be found following Yî-yâ in their relishes? In the matter of tastes all the people model themselves after Yî-yâ; that is, the mouths of all men are like one another. And so also it is with the ear. In the matter of sounds, the whole people model themselves after the music-master K'wang; that is, the ears of all men are like one another. And so also it is with the eye. In the case of Tsze-tû, there is no man who would not recognize that he was beautiful. Any one who would not recognize the beauty of Tsze-tû must be blind. Therefore I say, men's mouths agree in having the same tastes; their ears agree in enjoying the same sounds; their eyes agree in recognizing the same beauty. Shall their minds alone be lacking that which they approve of? What is it then that they approve of common? It is, I say, the principles of our nature, and the conditions [determinations] of righteousness. The sages only understood before me that which my mind approves along with other men. Therefore the principles of our nature and the conditions [determinations] of righteousness are agreeable to my mind, just as the flesh of grass and grain-fed animals is agreeable to my mouth.”

A:8. Mencius said, “The trees of the Niû mountain were once beautiful. Being situated, however, in the borders of a large state, they were hewn down with axes and hatchets. And could they retain their beauty? Still through the activity of vegetative growth during the day and the restorative quality of night, along with the nourishing influence of the rain and dew, they were able to produce buds and sprout forth. But then the cattle and goats came and grazed on them. This resulted in the bare and stripped appearance of the mountain, and when people now see it, they think it was never finely wooded. But is this the nature of the mountain? And so also of what properly belongs to man. Shall it be said that the mind [or heart] of any man was without benevolence and righteousness? The way in which a man loses his proper goodness of mind is like the way in which the trees are denuded by axes and hatchets. Hewn down day after day, can it -- the mind -- retain its beauty? But there is a development (and restoration) of its life day and night, and in the calm air of the morning, just between night and day, the mind feels to some degree those desires and aversions which are proper to humanity, but the feeling is not strong, and it is fettered and destroyed by what takes place during the day. This fettering taking place again and again, the restorative influence of the night is not sufficient to preserve the proper goodness of the mind; and when this proves insufficient for that purpose, the nature becomes not much different from that of the irrational animals, and when people now see it, they think that it never had those capacities which I assert. But does this condition represent the feelings proper to humanity? Therefore, if it receive its proper nourishment, there is nothing which will not grow. If it loses its proper nourishment, there is nothing which will not wither away. Confucius said, ‘Hold it fast, and it remains with you. Let it go, and you lose it. Its outgoing and incoming cannot be defined as to time or place.’ It is the mind [or heart – hsin] that he was talking about!”

A:11. Mencius said, “Humanity is man’s mind and righteousness is man’s path. Pity the man who abandons the path and does not follow it, and has lost his heart [mind] and does not know how to find it again. When people’s dogs and chickens are lost, they search for them; and yetm when they have lost their hearts, they do not go searching for them. The path of learning is none other than the path of searching for the lost [original] mind [heart].

A:15. Kung-tu Tzu asked, “Since we are all human beings, why do some become great while others become small?” Mencius said, “Those who follow the greater parts of their nature become great men, while those who follow the lesser parts of their nature become small men.” “But we are all human beings. Why do some follow their greater parts, while other follow the lesser parts of their nature?” Mencius answered, “When our sense of sight or hearing are used thoughtlessly [without awareness of what we are seeing and hearing] and are thereby obscured by material things, interest in material things leads the sense of sight and hearing astray. That is what happens. The purpose of the mind is to think [reflect]. If we think, we will grasp these things [the principles of things]. If we do not think, we will not grasp them. That is what Heaven has given to us. If we encourage the better part of our nature, then the lesser part cannot dominate it. This is what makes a man great.”