Achieving Universal Harmony through the Use of Propriety

First memorize it by heart, then deeply ponder it, and finally put it into practice.

“When the Great Way prevails, every person is a part of society, and the society belongs to everyone. The virtuous and the able are chosen for public office. Trustworthiness and friendliness are valued by all. People not only love their own parents and children, but love the parents and children of others as well. The elderly live their last years in happiness; able-bodied adults are usefully employed; children are reared properly. Widowers, widows, orphans, the childless aged, the handicapped and the ailing are well cared for. All men share their social responsibilities, and all women have their respective roles. Natural resources and commodities are not wasted or appropriated for selfish ends. People want to contribute their strength and ability to the society for public good, not for private gain. Deception and cheating cannot occur in such a society. Robbery, larceny, rebellions, and other crimes all disappear. Gates and doors are not locked; no one even thinks of stealing. This is a world where harmony, equality, and justice prevail.”

This “Essay on the Achievement of Universal Harmony, Equality, and Justice through the Use of Propriety” describes the ideal society of Confucius. If this world of harmony, equality, and justice is realized, peace will prevail under Heaven. Wars will disappear, and everyone will be friendly towards each other. People will be well fed and clothed, live peacefully, and be contented with their occupations. That was Confucius’ political strategy. Unfortunately, it could not be carried out because people were all selfish and concerned with personal gains.

Through the Use of Propriety: Everyone walks on the path of propriety, and the uses of propriety never cease. People understand propriety. They are brought to this understanding by observing the functioning of propriety.

Universal Harmony, Equality, and Justice: The whole world becomes one family. People love each other just as they love themselves. Cheating does not happen. People treat each other with sincerity and aid each other in times of need. Such universal harmony, equality, and justice is the blueprint for world peace. That was why Dr. Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yatsen) took this passage from the Book of Rites and advocated its ideal that “every person is a part of society, and society belongs to everyone.” In short, universal harmony, equality, and justice means that you and I are the same; there is no distinction of you and me, me and others, right and wrong. Everyone is free, and everyone is equal. This is the world of ultimate bliss.

When the Great Way prevails: The Great Way is the law that everyone upholds and abides by. This great, bright way is not a private path; you can walk on it and so can I. You cultivate your own great, bright way, and I cultivate my own. This broad, bright, and smooth path leads straight to the world of universal harmony, equality, and justice.

Every person is a part of society, and society belongs to everyone: If people don’t fight, seek, pursue personal advantage, or lie, and aren’t selfish or greedy, then naturally they will become just and impartial. In that case, every person will be a part of the society which belongs to everyone. That was the kind of democracy advocated by Confucius. He wanted to restore the policy of giving the throne to the able, which had been practiced by Emperors Yao and Shun.

The virtuous and the able are chosen for public office: When we choose the leaders for our country, we must choose people with virtue, ability, wisdom, and caliber. That kind of people will seek happiness for living beings and work to make the country affluent and strong.

Trustworthiness and friendliness are valued by all: This means dealing with neighboring countries in a trustworthy manner, getting along in a friendly way, and not cheating each other. Our conduct is consistent with our words. There is no trickery. There is harmony among people, among families, and among countries. Everyone is concerned with justice, not with advantages and disadvantages. At that point there naturally won’t be any wars.

People not only love their own parents and children but love parents and children of others as well: Because there is no partiality, people can all treat one another with care and affection. Be filial not only to your own parents, but to the parents of others as well. It is said, “ Care for your own elders and extend the same care to the elders of others.” Take the same heart that you have when serving your own parents to serve the parents of others, and make them happy as well.

Love not only our own children, but the children of others as well. It is said, “Look after your own children and extend the same concern to the children of others.” Take the heart that you have when educating your own youngsters to educate the youth of others, and cause them to acquire knowledge as well.

The elderly live their last years in happiness: There are nursing homes with good facilities to take care of elderly and make them happy. That way the old people will be able to enjoy their last years without impediments, worries, or afflictions. As a result, they will die a natural death and get reborn in the Western Land of Ultimate Bliss.

Able-bodied adults are usefully employed: Young people with strong bodies must work and serve the society, and do their best to contribute to their country. They should not live on social welfare or unemployment benefits, because those cause them to become a great burden to society. People should work hard and maintain order in society, and not idly hang around causing trouble within the country.

Children are reared properly: Young children should be taught how to be filial to their parents, how to be loyal to their country, and how to fulfill their duties faithfully. Children growing up with that kind of education will surely be fine citizens in the future.

Widowers, widows, orphans, the childless aged, the handicapped and the ailing are well cared for: Be kind and compassionate toward, love and protect, and sympathize with widowers, old people who have no wives; widows, old people who have no husbands; orphans; childless seniors; the handicapped; and the ailing, people with sickness. Those six kinds of people are the most unfortunate ones in the world. They should live a secure and peaceful life that is free of any threats to their psychological wellbeing. Their lives should be protected. The government should set up various institutions to take them in and provide them with proper care.

All men share their social responsibilities: Men have their duties, positions, and responsibilities. They should fulfill their obligations to their families and their country. They cannot be lazy or become deadbeats.

All women have their respective roles: All women have families. They should assist their husbands, teach their children, and be able wives and good mothers. Those are the duties of women. Everyone is contented with his or her position or role, and doesn’t try to change it or abuse his or her rights. Men are in charge of external affairs and women of domestic affairs. Men and women shouldn’t fight with each other for their rights. They should each have their respective responsibilities and rights.

The Chinese prefer men and women be separated. In order to avoid suspicion, men and women do not chat with each other. It is said, “Never bend down and put on your shoes in the middle of a melon patch; never get up and touch your hat while standing underneath a plum tree.” In order to maintain propriety, men and women should keep some distance between each other. It is said, “A brother and a sister-in-law do not give things to or receive things from each other; adults and children do not walk side by side.”

Natural resources and commodities are not wasted: Natural resources and commodities refer to all kinds of food and commodities. We should not squander food or waste commodities. Countries with a surplus of agricultural product should not dump the excess in the ocean or burn it up. That would be wasting natural resources, and it would surely bring on a retribution in the future.

Or appropriated for selfish ends: Commodities should be circulated, not hidden for selfish ends, hoarded for higher prices, or monopolized. There should be fair trading of commodities. One country should exchange its surplus goods with other countries to get the things it lacks. That is benefiting both self and others. Isn’t that a positive thing to do? If we refuse to trade, it is the same as wasting goods or appropriating them for selfish ends.

People want to contribute their strength and ability to the society for public good: The knowledge and skills we have learned are not for our use. Instead, they should be used to serve the people of the world. That is called “learning in order to put to good use.”

Not for private gain: Never scheme for yourself. No matter what, you should make plans not just for yourself, but for all living beings. We must have this spirit of devoting ourselves to others; that is a basic principle of being a person.

Because of the reasons given above, people are frank with each other and do not scheme or fight against each other either openly or covertly.

Deception and cheating cannot occur in such a society: There is no more deception. The door of fighting and cheating is closed. Dishonest tactics to cheat people of their money are not used. Such improper conduct no longer prevails.

Robbery, larceny, rebellion, and other crimes all disappear: To take something by force is robbery; to steal it covertly is larceny; uprising against the government is rebellion. When there is unfairness, such as one person having things another doesn’t have, robbery and larceny will occur. If everyone lives a secure and peaceful life with adequate food and clothing, robbery and larceny will naturally disappear. People revolt when there are famines and they don’t have enough to eat. When it is impossible to make a living, nine out of ten houses are deserted, their occupants becoming homeless wanderers. Such misery is unspeakable. It is said, “The winner becomes the king, and the losers become bandits,” or rebels. If everyone is employed and well fed, rebels will naturally disappear.

Gates and doors are not locked: In this state of affairs, there are no internal troubles and no external calamities. Everyone abides by the law. At that time no one will take things found in the street that other people have lost. Since no one even thinks of stealing, doors and gates are not locked at night. The weather becomes temperate and the whole country becomes safe and peaceful.

This is a world where harmony, equality, and justice prevail. No one is selfish or pursues personal advantage. Everyone is honest, just, happy, and friendly, and so the world is peaceful.

[Editor’s note: This essay of the Book of Rites is required course material in all the schools of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. All students of Instilling Goodness Elementary School, Developing Virtue Secondary School, and Dharma Realm Buddhist University must first memorize it, then deeply ponder it, and finally put it into practice. This is the basis upon which Dharma Realm Buddhist Association establishes its free education, reformation of social morals, reversal of the decadent trends of society, and rectifying of people’s minds, in order to achieve a world of harmony, equality, and justice in the future.]

A talk given on September 28, 1983