When the Great Way Declines, Humaneness and Righteousness Arise

When the great Way disappears, people start talking about humaneness and righteousness. When the great Way prevails, humaneness and righteousness are not obvious because everyone takes them for granted.

People no longer follow ancient ways;
Moral values have declined.

The world continues to decline, and there’s no sign of improvement. Although education is more widespread than before, people seem more confused and depraved than ever. Even with more schools and students, there are more wicked people.

The ancients studied in order to understand principles. They wished to understand how to be human, and how to refrain from evil and to practice good. They learned the virtues of filial piety, fraternity, loyalty, trustworthiness, propriety, righteousness, incorruptibility, and a sense of shame. Nowadays, people study in order to attain fame and profit. In Chinese, the phrases “to understand principles” and “fame and profit” sound similar (both are pronounced ming li), but their meanings are vastly different.

Those who crave fame and profit study medicine or science in order to make lots of money. They don’t think, “I’m studying so that I can benefit society. I’m studying medicine in order to save lives and benefit others.” Nowadays, many students are self-centered. They don’t think about benefiting others. Some professors even encourage students to take drugs, be promiscuous, or take part in socially disruptive activities. As a result, the world grows worse day by day. Lao Zi said,

When the great Way declines, there is humaneness and righteousness.
When wisdom appears, there is great deceit.
When the six types of relatives are not in harmony, there are filial children and caring parents.
When the country is in chaos, loyal ministers come forth.

When the great Way disappears, people start talking about humaneness and righteousness. When the great Way prevails, humaneness and righteousness are not obvious because everyone takes them for granted. When wise people appear, charlatans also show up.

When the six types of relatives are in ahrmony, there is no fighting in the family. Parents are loving and children are filial; elder siblings are friendly and younger siblings are respectful. Families are truly happy and harmonious. However, during a time when relatives are not harmonious, when parents are uncaring, children are unfilial, elder siblings are mean, and younger siblings are disrespectful, then truly caring parents and filial children will appear. Consider the case of Great Shun [Emperor of China 2255-2205 B.C.]:

His father was foolish, his mother licentious, and his younger brother arrogant,
Yet Shun was able to fulfill his filial duties to perfection.

The Great Shun’s father was an obstinate and bigoted man named Gu Sou (Blind Old Man), meaning that even though he had eyes, he was just like a blind man. He couldn’t tell white from black, right from wrong, straight from crooked, or good from bad. He didn’t realize what a fine son he had. Great Shun’s stepmother was a promiscuous, crafty, unreasonable, and prejudiced woman. His younger stepbrother, Xiang, was haughty and disrespectful. Even though his family was so terrible, Great Shun was filial to his parents and kind to his stepbrother.

One day his stepbrother and stepmother plotted to kill him. They told him to repair the granary, and after he stepped inside, Xiang set the granary on fire. The entire structure was soon in flames. Thinking that Shun would surely be burned to death, Xiang returned home, secretly delighted at heart. When Shun himself showed up a little latter, Xiang asked in astonishment, “You were repairing the granary – how come you didn’t get burned to death?” Shun replied, “When I saw the fire coming, I grabbed two stray hats and jumped from the roof. That’s why I wasn’t burned or hurt.” And so the incident passed.

On another occasion, his family plotted to kill him when he descended into a well to clean it. They blocked the well with a large stone. They were certain that this time, Shun would die. The Chinese expression, “ to throw a rock down on a person trapped in a well” comes from this story. There just happened to be a hole in the wall of the well, and Shun escaped through a tunnel which led from it. (Some say the tunnel was dug by a white fox who wanted to rescue the future Emperor, Shun.) Yet Shun did not hate his relatives for trying to kill him. Instead, he continued to be filial to his parents and affectionate towards his stepbrother.

Thinking that Shun was dead, Xiang had started to divide Shun’s possessions with his parents. He said, “My parentscan have the cattle and sheep. They can have the grain in the granaries, too, for I have no need of it. But I want Shun’s five-string lute, his flute, and his shield and sword. I also want his two wives. Tell them to come and attend upon me.” (Emperor Shun’s two wives were E Huang anf Nu Ying. Emperor Yao had proposely betrothed his two daughters to the future Emperor Shun so that they can wait upon him.) Having said this, Xiang went into Shun’s room, and there was Shun, sitting on his bed alive and well. Xiang was terrified, thinking it was Shun’s spirit coming for vengeance. Shun reassured him, telling him not to be afraid.

Even in the time of the Emperor Yao and Shun, there were such wicked people. Yet Shun was able to practice filial piety and behave as a filial child should. Thus it is said,

When the six types of relatives are not in harmony, there are filial children and caring parents.
When the country is in chaos, loyal ministers come forth.

Loyal ministers are not obvious in peaceful times. But in times of turmoil, they can be distinguished from the treacherous ones. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), a period when north and south China were divided and the country was in extreme turmoil, the treacherous official Qin Kui ahd General Yue Fei executed. Yue Fei’s glory and Qin Kui’s notoriety will both last forever.

Another example is that of Wen Tianxiang of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.), a minister who remained loyal to the emperor even when the country was thrown into chaos. From the beginning to the end, he protected the people and defended the country, refusing to surrender. Loyal ministers become apparent only in times of choas.

In these present difficult times as we struggle to establish this Way-place, we can see which Dharma protectors are real and which are phony. A real Dharma protector takes Buddhism as his personal responsibility. He regards protecting and upholding the Triple Jewel as his obligation. The City of Ten thousand Buddhas is expanding and needs people to support and protect it. Those who have strength can contribute their strength, and those who have money can donate money. People shouldn’t just stand around looking at each other. If we just stand around staring at each other, we certainly aren’t creating any sort of merit. We should consider it our personal responsibility to propagate and protect Buddhism so that it will flourish and prosper.

A talk given on June 5, 1982
At the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas