Traditional Chinese Culture: Be Strict with Ourselves but Generous with Others

PureInsight | August 29, 2005

[] Fan Zhongxuan was also known as Fan Chunren. He was the son of Fan Zhongyan, a highly moral politician and literary giant in the Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127 A.D.) Fan Zhongxuan often taught his son, "Even the foolish man is very sharp when he reprimands others, but even a very smart man is muddle-headed when he forgives his own mistakes. If a man can reprimand himself in the same way he reprimands others and forgive others in the same way he forgives himself, he is bound to become a saint one day."

A man once asked Fan Zhongxuan's advice on how a man should conduct himself. He replied, "Being frugal is the only way to cultivate the sense of honor and integrity. Being generous and forgiving is the only way to attain kindness and morality." Fan Zhongxuan persevered in cultivating his morality throughout his life. He was not partial to any food. As soon as he returned home from work every day, he would change to outfit made of coarse fabric. In fact, he had the habit of wearing inexpensive clothes throughout his life. He grew up wearing clothes made of coarse fabric, and he continued to do so even when he advanced to a high place in the government.

Many people teach their children to be strict with themselves but generous with others, but it is easier said than done. When an average person sees others' imperfections, he will feel upset or feel anxious. He will feel like criticizing them and teaching them a lesson. This is why even a fool will become very sharp when he reprimands others. But a highly intelligent man becomes muddle-headed when it comes to his own flaws. This is why Fan Zhongxuan advised his son that he must reprimand himself in the same way he reprimands others and forgive others in the same way he forgives himself in order to become a highly moral person. When we notice others' flaws, we should remind ourselves not to repeat the same mistakes. If we keep prompting ourselves to do so, we will be able to improve our morality quickly. It is always easier to forgive ourselves than to forgive others. If we would forgive others the same way we would forgive ourselves, we won't have to worry about not being able to become a moral man or a sage.

Often times we will try to embellish or hide our problems with a lot of philosophical comments. Often times we will feel pleased with ourselves when we see other people's flaws. It is nearly impossible to make any progress in our cultivation of morality. The most important step to take in the journey of cultivation is to try hard to find our own flaws. It is very easy to learn a philosophy and use it as a microscope to judge and criticize others. But it is very difficult to use the same microscope to evaluate and judge ourselves. It is almost like trying to resist gravity at all times. It is not enough to make resolutions to search inward from now on. We must put it into actual action.

When we encounter conflicts or obstacles, we must always improve ourselves first and we must never criticize or complain about others. If we can search inward at all times and be generous and forgiving with others, we will be able to improve our morality and set good examples for others to follow.

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