Chinese Idealist Neo-Confucian Philosopher, Official, Educationalist, Calligraphist, General and Writer
Wang Yang-Ming or Yangming, aka Wang Shouren or Wang Shou-jen, courtesy name Bo'an
Chinese Idealist Neo-Confucian Philosopher, Official, Educationalist, Calligraphist, General and Writer
The Teacher said, "Our nature is the substance of the mind and Heaven is the source of our nature. To exert one's mind to the utmost is the same as fully developing one's nature. Only those who are absolutely sincere can fully develop their nature and 'know the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth?.
A friend who was engaging in sitting in meditation attained some insight. He ran to make an inquiry of the Teacher. The Teacher said, "Formerly, when I stayed in Ch'u-chou seeing that students were mostly occupied with intellectual explanations and debate on similarities and differences, which did them no good, I therefore taught them sitting in meditation. For a time they realized the situation a little bit (they saw the true Way) and achieved some immediate results. In time, however, they gradually developed the defect of fondness of tranquillity and disgust with activity and degenerated into lifelessness like dry wood. Others purposely advocated abstruse and subtle theories to startle people. For this reason I have recently expounded only the doctrine of the extension of innate knowledge. If one's innate knowledge is clear, it will be all right either to try to obtain truth through personal realization in a quiet place or to discover it through training and polishing in the actual affairs of life. The original substance of innate knowledge is neither tranquil nor active. Recognition of this fact is the basis of learning. From the time of Ch'u-chou until now, I have tested what I said several times. The point is that the phrase 'the extension of innate knowledge' is free from any defect. Only a physician who has broken his own arm can understand the causes of human disease.
The Teacher said, "The highest good is the original substance of the mind. When one deviates a little from this original substance, there is evil. It is not that there is a good and there is also an evil to oppose it. Therefore good and evil are one thing." Having heard our Teacher's explanation, I know that we can no longer doubt Master Ch'eng Hao's sayings, "Man's nature is of course good, but it cannot be said that evil is not our nature" (1) and "Good and evil in the world are both the Principle of Nature. What is called evil is not originally evil. It becomes evil only because of deviation from the Mean."
A friend who was engaging in sitting in meditation attained some insight. He ran to make an inquiry of the Teacher. The Teacher said, "Formerly, when I stayed in Ch'u-chou seeing that students were mostly occupied with intellectual explanations and debate on similarities and differences, which did them no good, I therefore taught them sitting in meditation. For a time they realized the situation a little bit (they saw the true Way) and achieved some immediate results. In time, however, they gradually developed the defect of fondness of tranquillity and disgust with activity and degenerated into lifelessness like dry wood. Others purposely advocated abstruse and subtle theories to startle people.
The Teacher said, "The original mind is vacuous (devoid of selfish desires), intelligent, and not beclouded. All principles are contained therein and all events proceed from it." There is no principle outside the mind; there is no event outside the mind."
But people today distinguish between knowledge and action and pursue them separately, believing that one must know before he can act. They will discuss and learn the business of knowledge first, they say, and wait till they truly know before they put their knowledge into practice. Consequently, to the last day of life, they will never act and also will never know. This doctrine of knowledge first and action later is not a minor disease and it did not come about only yesterday. My present advocacy of the unity of knowledge and action is precisely the medicine for that disease.
The Teacher said, "The state of having neither good nor evil is that of principle in tranquility. Good and evil appear when the vital force is perturbed. If the vital force is not perturbed, there is neither good nor evil, and this is called the highest good."
Even Heaven and Earth cannot exist without the innate knowledge that is inherent in man. For at bottom Heaven, Earth, the myriad things, and man form one body. The point at which this unity manifests in its most refined and excellent form is the clear intelligence of the human mind. Wind, rain, dew, thunder, sun and moon, stars, animals and plants, mountains and rivers, earth and stones are essentially of one body with man. It is for this reason that such things as the grains and animals can nourish man and that such things as medicine and minerals can heal diseases. Since they share the same material force, they enter into one another."
The Teacher said, "Tzu-hsia (507-420 B.C.) had strong faith in the Sage whereas Tseng Tzu (505-c.436 B.C.) turned to seek the highest good in himself?. It is good to have strong faith, of course, but it is not as real and concrete as seeking in oneself.
How does man become mind? Clear intelligence and clear intelligence alone. We know, then, in all that fills heaven and earth there is but this clear intelligence. It is only because of their physical forms and bodies that men are separated. My clear intelligence is the master of heaven and earth and spiritual beings. If heaven is deprived of my clear intelligence, who is going to look into its height? If earth is deprived of my clear intelligence, who is going to look into its height? If earth is deprived of my clear intelligence, who is going to look into its depth? If spiritual beings are deprived of my clear intelligence, who is going to distinguish their good and evil fortune or the calamities and blessings that they will bring? Separated from my clear intelligence, there will be no heaven, earth, spiritual beings, or myriad things, and separated from these, there will not be my clear intelligence. Thus they are all permeated with one material force. How can they be separated??
The Teacher said, "When a good thought is retained, there is the Principle of Nature. The thought itself is goodness. Is there another goodness to be thought about? Since the thought is not evil, what evil is there to be removed? This thought is comparable to the root of a tree. To make up one's mind means always to build up this good thought, that is all. To be able to follow what one's heart desires without transgressing moral principles merely means that one's mind has reached full maturity."
I have said that knowledge is the direction for action and action the effort of knowledge, and that knowledge is the beginning of action and action the completion of knowledge.
The Teacher was roaming in Nan-chen. A friend pointed to flowering trees on a cliff and said, "[You say] there is nothing under heaven external to the mind. (1) These flowering trees on the high mountain blossom and drop their blossoms of themselves. What have they to do with my mind?" The Teacher said, "Before you look at these flowers, they and your mind are in the state of silent vacancy. As you come to look at them, their colors at once show up clearly. From this you can know that these flowers are not external to your mind."
I said, "The human mind and things form the same body. In the case of one's body, blood and the vital force in fact circulate through it and therefore we can say they form the same body. In the case of men, their bodies are different and differ even more from those of animals and plants. How can they be said to form the same body?" The Teacher said, "Just look at the matter from the point of view of the subtle incipient activating force of their mutual influence and response. Not only animals and plants, but heaven and earth also, form the same body with me. Spiritual beings also form the same body with me.
There is no human nature that is not good. Therefore there is no innate knowledge that is not good. Innate knowledge is the equilibrium before the feelings are aroused. It is the state of broadness and extreme impartiality. It is the original substance that is absolutely quiet and inactive. And it is possessed by all men. However, people cannot help being darkened and obscured by material desires. Hence they must study in order to get rid of the darkness and obscuration. But they cannot add or subtract even an iota from the original substance of innate knowledge. Innate knowledge is good. The reason why equilibrium, absolute quiet, broadness, and impartiality are not complete in it is that darkness and obscuration have not been entirely eliminated and its state of preservation is not yet complete. The substance and function [you refer to] are the substance and function of innate knowledge. How can it transcend them?
In the original substance of the mind there is no distinction of good and evil. When the will becomes active, however, such distinction exists. The faculty of innate knowledge is to know good and evil. The investigation of things is to do good and to remove evil.
When the mind is free from the obscuration of selfish desires, it is the embodiment of the Principle of Nature, which requires not an iota added from the outside.
It is not easy to find people of sharp intelligence in the world. Even Yen Hui (Confucius' most virtuous pupil) and Ming-tao (Ch'eng Hao) dared not assume that they could fully realize the original substance of the mind as soon as they apprehended the task. How can we lightly expect this from people? People's minds are dominated by habits. If we do not teach them concretely and sincerely to devote themselves to the task of doing good and removing evil right in their innate knowledge rather than merely imagining an original substance in a vacuum, all that they do will not be genuine and they will do no more than cultivate a mind of vacuity and quietness [like that of the Buddhists and Taoists]. This defect is not a small matter and must be exposed as early as possible." On that day both Ju-chung and I attained some enlightenment.
Not making special effort to like or to dislike does not mean not to like or dislike at all. A person behaving so would be devoid of consciousness. To say 'not to make a special effort' merely means that one's like and dislike completely follow the Principle of Nature and that one does not go on to attach to that situation a bit of selfish thought. This amounts to having neither likes nor dislikes.
The main thing is for the mind to make an effort to get rid of selfish human desires and preserve the Principle of Nature.
The man of humanity regards Heaven and Earth and all things as one body.
The sage, on the other hand, in his non-distinction of good and evil, merely makes no special effort whatsoever to like or dislike and is not perturbed in his vital force. As he pursues the kingly path and sees the perfect excellence, he of course completely follows the Principle of Nature and it becomes possible for him to assist in and complete the universal process of production and reproduction and apply it for the benefit of the people.
The substance of the mind is revealed through its tranquillity and its function through its activity." In that case, good and evil are not present in things at all. "They are only in your mind. Following the Principle of Nature is good, while perturbing the vital force is evil." "After all, then, things are devoid of good and evil?" "This is true of the mind. It is also true of things. Famous but mediocre scholars fail to realize this. They neglect the mind and chase after material things, and consequently get a wrong view of the way to investigate things. All day long they restlessly seek principle in external things. They only succeed in getting at it by incidental deeds of righteousness. All their lives they act in this way without understanding it and act habitually without examination.
The Teacher said, "Knowledge is the beginning of action and action is the completion of knowledge. Learning to be a sage involves only one effort. Knowledge and action should not be separated."
If you really want to find out something about immortality, you have to live in the mountain forests for 30 years. If you succeed in perfecting your eyes and ears there, if you harmonize the heart and the will so that your mind becomes clear and pure and free of all that is evil, you will be able to discuss the matter.