Liao Fans's Four Lessons

Original work by Liao Fan of the Ming Dynasty

The Fourth Lesson: The Benefit of the Virtue of Humility

Narrator: The third lesson taught us the ways to accumulate kind deeds. Naturally, it would be best if people would practice kindness, but as humans, we are social beings. It is impossible not to encounter others; therefore, it is important to know the ways to improve ourselves when interacting with others.

The best way to do this is to follow the virtue of humility. Humble people in society receive support and trust from the public. If they understand the virtue of humility, they also will understand the importance of constant self-improvement. This constant self-improvement not only includes the search for higher knowledge, but also encompasses the need to be more humane, to perform better in daily duties and to improve communication with friends.

Many benefits and rewards result from behaving with an understanding of humility. This lesson focuses on the benefits of virtue and humility, proven by Liao-Fan’s own experiences. A people will greatly benefit if they can thoroughly contemplate and understand these teachings.

Liao-Fan: In The I Ching/Book of Change, the hexagram of Humility stated…

Narrator: “The law of heaven takes from those who are arrogant and benefits those who are humble. The law of earth will not allow those who are conceited or self-content to always remain that way, but will bring change to them. The humble will not wither, but shall be replenished, just as flowing water fills lower places on the ground as it passes by. The law of spirits and gods brings harm to those who are arrogant and good fortune to those who are humble. Even the laws of people despise the arrogant and like the humble.”

Liao-Fan: Therefore, earth, spirits, heaven, gods and people all prefer humility to arrogance. In The I Ching, Book of Change, the sixty-four hexagrams talk about the constant changes and interactions of heaven and earth, yin and yang. The book teaches a person how to become more humane. Every hexagram contains both good and bad outcomes.

The bad outcomes of a hexagram warn people to stop doing misdeeds and to practice kind deeds. The good outcomes of a hexagram encourage people to diligently improve themselves and strive to be better. Only the Humility hexagram contains all good outcomes and no bad outcomes. The Chinese Book of History has also said…

Narrator: “One’s arrogance will bring one harm; humility will bring one benefit.”

Liao-Fan: I often went to take the exams accompanied by others and every time I would meet scholars who were very poor. I noticed that before they succeeded in passing the exams and became prosperous, their faces showed such humility, peace and harmony that I felt I could almost hold that quality in my hands.

Several years ago, I took my imperial exam in Beijing. Among the ten applicants from my village, Ching-Yu Ding was the youngest and extremely humble. I told one of the applicants, Jin-Po Fay, that this young man would definitely pass the exam this year. Jin-Po Fay asked…

Jin-Po: How can you tell?

Liao-Fan: I said, “Only those who are humble are qualified to receive good fortune. My friend, look at the ten of us; is there anyone as honest, generous and never tries to come in first, as Ching-Yu? Do you see anyone who is always respectful, tolerant, careful and humble like Ching-Yu? Do you see anyone like Ching-Yu, who, when insulted, does not talk back, or who, when slandered, does not argue? Any person who can achieve such a level of humility will receive protection from the earth, spirits and heavens. There is no reason he will not become prosperous.”

Narrator: Sure enough, when the test results came out, Ching-Yu Ding passed.

Liao-Fan: One year in Beijing, I was staying with my childhood friend, Kai-Zhi Fung. I noticed that he always carried himself in a humble way with a kind and accommodating appearance. He was not a bit arrogant, which was an immense change from his childhood ways. Kai-Zhi had a friend named Ji-Yen Li who was straightforward and honest. Ji-Yen often scolded him on his mistakes, but Kai-Zhi always accepted the accusations calmly without talking back.

I told him, “Just as there are signs that warn of coming misfortune, we can see that prosperity comes to those who have cultivated the cause for it. Heaven will help those whose hearts are humble. You, my friend, will definitely pass the imperial examination this year!” Later, he indeed passed the exam.

There was a young man from Santong Province named Yu-Fong Zhou who passed the first level of imperial examinations before he was even twenty. Unfortunately, try as he might, he could not pass the succeeding exams. When his father was moved to another post in the government, Yu-Fong went with him, and came to greatly admire a well-known scholar in that village named Min-Wu Chian.

Yu-Fong brought his essays to this man. He had no idea that Mr. Chian would pick up his calligraphy brush and blot out his entire essay. Not only was Yu-Fong not angry, he sincerely accepted all of Mr. Chian’s corrections and immediately changed his paper accordingly.

Narrator: A young man who could be that humble and who showed such willingness to improve himself was very rare indeed. The following year, Yu-Fong passed the imperial examination.

Liao-Fan: One year, I went to the Capital to pay my respects to the Emperor. I met a scholar named Jian-Suo Hsia who had all the qualities of a great man without a trace of arrogance. I felt the intense aura of his virtue and humility all about him.

When I returned home, I told my friend, “When heaven wants a person to prosper, it will first bestow him with wisdom. Wisdom can make a person honest and well disciplined. Heaven has already bestowed Jian-Suo with wisdom, or he could not be that gentle, kind and good. Surely, heaven will now make him prosperous.” Sure enough, when the test results came out, Jian-Suo had passed the exam.

There was a scholar named Wei-Yan Chang from Jiangying who was very learned and wrote good essays. He was also very well known among many scholars. One year he took his exam at Nanjing and stayed at a Taoist temple.

When the results were posted, he found that he had not passed the exam. He became furious and loudly accused the examiner of being blind for not recognizing his obvious talents. At that time, a Taoist monk stood by smiling and Wei-Yan immediately directed his anger towards the monk. The monk said…

Monk: Your essay must not be good!

Liao-Fan: Wei-Yan got even angrier.

Wei-Yan: How do you know it is not good when you have not even read it?

Monk: I often hear people say that the most important element in writing good essays is a peaceful heart and harmonious temperament. Your loud and angry accusations just now clearly show that your mind is certainly not at peace and your temperament is violent. How could you possibly write good essays?

Liao-Fan: Wei-Yan acceded to the Taoist monk’s words and in turn asked him for his advice. The monk said…

Monk: Whether you pass or not depends on your fate. If you are destined not to pass, then no matter how good your paper is, you will still fail the exam. You yourself will have to make a few changes!

Wei-Yan: How can I change something that is predestined?

Monk: Though the power to form your destiny lies in the heavens, the right to recreate it is in yourself. As long as you are willing to do kind deeds and cultivate hidden virtues, you will receive what you ask for.

Wei-Yan: I am only a poor scholar. What good deeds can I possibly do?

Monk: Practicing kind deeds and accumulating hidden virtues all stem from the heart. As long as you constantly harbor the intent to practice kindness and accumulate virtues, your merits will be infinite and boundless! Take the virtue of humility for example, it does not cost anything; why can’t you be humble and reflect on your own essay instead of blaming the examiner for being unfair?

Liao-Fan: Wei-Yan Chang listened to the Taoist monk and from then on, suppressed his arrogant ways. He became very mindful of his own actions and tried not to make mistakes. Everyday he put forth additional effort to do more good deeds and accumulate more merits.

Three years later, he dreamed one night that he entered a very tall house and saw a book that contained all the names of the applicants who passed the exam that year. He saw many blank lines. Unable to understand what it meant, he asked the person next to him…

Wei-Yan: What is this?

Person: This book contains all the names of the applicants who passed the exam this year.

Wei-Yan: Why does it have so many blank lines?

Person: The spirits of the underworld check on the applicants every three years. Only the names of those who practice kind deeds and do not make mistakes are allowed to appear in this book. The blank lines used to bear the names of those who were supposed to pass the exam, but due to their recent offenses, their names have been erased.

Liao-Fan: Then, pointing to a line, the person said…

Person: Ah-ha, for the past three years you have been very careful and have exerted such self-control that you have not made any mistakes. Perhaps you should fill this blank. I hope you will cherish this opportunity and take care not to make any mistakes!

Narrator: Sure enough, Wei-Yan passed the exam that year and placed 105th.

Liao-Fan: From the examples given above, we know that spirits and gods are always watching our behavior.

Narrator: Therefore, we must immediately do whatever is beneficial to others and avoid doing whatever is violent, dangerous or harmful to others. These are all things I can decide for myself. As long as I harbor good intentions; refrain from wrongdoings; do not offend the earth, spirits, heavens, and gods; humble myself; am tolerant and not arrogant; then the earth, spirits, heavens and gods will constantly have compassion for me. Only then will I have a foundation for my future prosperity.

Those who are full of conceit are definitely not destined to be great. Even if they do prosper, they will not be able to enjoy their good fortune for long. Intelligent people would definitely not make themselves small and narrow-minded and refuse the good fortune they are entitled to.

Narrator: Besides, those who are humble always increase their opportunities to learn. If a person were not humble, who would want to teach him or her? In addition, humble people are always willing to learn the strengths of others. When others perform good deeds, humble people will learn and follow their examples. In this way, the kind deeds that humble people can accomplish are boundless! For those who wish to cultivate and improve upon their virtues, they especially, cannot do without the virtue of humility.

Liao-Fan: The ancients had and an old saying…

Narrator: “Those who have their hearts set on attaining success and fame, will surely attain success and fame. Those who have their hearts set on attaining wealth and position, will surely attain wealth and position.”

Liao-Fan: A person who has great and far-reaching goals is like a tree having roots. A tree with roots will eventually sprout into branches, leaves and flowers. A person who has set down great and far reaching goals must be humble in every thought and try to relieve another’s burden even if the occurrence is as insignificant as a speck of dust.

Narrator: If one can reach this level of humility, one will naturally touch the hearts of earth and heaven.

Liao-Fan: Furthermore, I am the creator of my own prosperity; if I truly want to create it, I will certainly succeed. Look at the applicants who sought fame and wealth. In the beginning, they did not harbor a sincere heart; it was only a passing notion. When they fancied it, they sought it. When their interest dropped, they stopped. Mencius once told Emperor Shuan Chi…

Mencius: Your Highness has a love for music. However, your love for music is only a personal pleasure. If you can expand from the heart, which seeks personal happiness to that of sharing happiness with all your subjects and make them just as happy as you are, then, surely the nation is bound to prosper!

Liao-Fan: I think it is the same for those who are seeking to improve their lives by changing their destiny. I, for example wanted to pass the imperial exams. If people can expand the heart to diligently do kind deeds, accumulate merits, and put forth their best efforts into character improvement, then both destiny and prosperity will be theirs to create.