Traditional Chinese Culture: A Paragon of Modesty and Humbleness

PureInsight | October 3, 2005

[] Su Wang (肅王) and Shen Yuanyong (沈元用) were both learned men from the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 A.D.) Once they both went on an official trip to northern China. During the trip, they stayed at the Minzhong Buddhist Monastery in Mount Yan. There they came across a stone tablet with inscribed words from the Tang Dynasty. The language was very elegant and beautiful. There were about 3,000 Chinese characters. Shen Yuanyong had a very good memory. After he memorized the inscription, he repeatedly recited it while they were walking. Su Wang listened as he continued to walk, looking as though he was not paying much attention.

After they returned to the monastery, Shen Yuanyong wanted to show off his excellent memory, so he wrote down the content of the inscription from his memory. He left out the words he couldn't remember. He forgot a total of 14 Chinese characters. Sun Wang took one look at Shen's writing. Then he picked up the brush pen and filled out the missing 14 Chinese characters. Then he corrected about five characters that Shen had remembered incorrectly. After he made the corrections, he put down the brush pen and went to talk to other people about different issues. He did not look proud or arrogant at all. Shen Yuanyong was astonished and grew to admire Sun Wang.

There is a Chinese saying, "I never brag that I am better than others because others are better than I am in many ways!" This is so true!

Chen Jiting (陳幾亭) was a scholar in a school devoted to studying the classics in a rational manner. He once said, "A gentleman must know about two types of shamefulness. One is to boast or show off his forte. The other is to hide his mistakes or weaknesses. A true gentleman must be humble about his forte and study diligently to overcome his weaknesses."

He also said, "There are two types of deficiencies that a gentleman should avoid. One is to be jealous of others' talents. The other is to broadcast others' inabilities. When someone else accomplishes something, a gentleman should celebrate it as though it was his own accomplishment. When someone else fails to do something well, a gentleman should learn it as a lesson in order to do well. A gentleman must eliminate the proud or arrogant mentality characterized as follows: 'Only I can do it well and no one else can.'"

Confucius said, "A gentleman follows other people's strengths and avoids making the same mistakes other people have made in order to improve himself."

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