teachers and elders is equivalent to respecting our own parents.
First of all, we should be filial to our
and respectful to our brothers, sisters, and elders; secondly, we
should be cautious in our speech and behavior and be trustworthy.
In the Confucian Analects it says: “At home one should be filial, and
abroad, respectful to one’s elders.” The character ru 入 “enter” means
at home, chu 出 “go out” means going out, away from home. The character
ti 弟 “fraternity” was used in ancient times for the modern character ti
悌. Originally, it referred to the affection and respect that a younger
brother should have for his older brother; the meaning is extended to
include being respectful to elders. Our parents suffer great hardship
in bearing us and bringing us up. A poem in the Book of Odes of China
My father gave me life; my mother
Soothed me, raised me, helped me grow up, taught me,
Took care of me, looked after me constantly, and took me in her arms
wherever she went.
I wish to repay their kindness, but it is as high as the heavens.
Our fathers gave us life, and our mothers
nourished us and brought us up. The word for “to nourish” has the
meaning of bending over and picking up with both hands, like when our
parents hold us in their arms, fearing that we will freeze in the cold
or melt in the heat. They protect and cherish us as their dearest
treasures, and soothe us with gentle caresses. When a baby cries, his
mother gently pats him on back and coaxes him into a good mood. When
he’s cranky, his mother tenderly strokes his head and pities him. How
our parents love us and do their best to take care of us! They raise us
by feeding and rearing us. Every mother goes through unbelievable
suffering in feeding her baby, yet when she sees that baby is
nourished, she forgets all about the suffering! After undergoing much
hardship to bring up their child, the parents must still educate him in
the principles of being a person and handling matters in the world.
“Took care of me, looked after me constantly” describe how tenderly
parents care for and protect their children without ever becoming weary
or lax. The mother takes her child in her arms wherever she goes, not
minding the inconvenience. Ah! That is how parents bring up their
The energy and kindness that our parents
devoted to us is as boundless as empty space. When could we ever finish
repaying it? We could never finish, but we must still try our best.
Thus the verse says that of all rules, filial piety is the first
(literally “head”), which means the most important, just as the head is
the most important part of the body. Fraternity is an extension of
filial piety. Our parents gave birth to us, and so we are related to
our parents as the ten fingers are related to the hands. Although some
fingers are long and others are short, just as some children are good
and others are not, they cannot separate from or abandon each another.
Thus, only by loving and caring for our brothers and sisters can we set
our parents’ hearts at ease. Our elders include our teachers, who
nurture our Dharma-body and wisdom-life, as well as our relatives.
Respecting our teachers and elders is equivalent to respecting our own
parents. By doing so, not only do we gain benefit ourselves and bring
honor to our parents, we won’t disgrace our parents by giving others
cause to say that our parents don’t know how to teach their children.
Therefore, filiality and fraternity are the most basic and important
After filiality and fraternity, the next
we should have are cautiousness and trustworthiness. Even if a person
is sufficiently filial to his parents and respectful to his elders, if
he does things in a reckless manner and fails to be trustworthy, not
only will things go wrong for him, but he will bring trouble and
disaster upon himself. That would also be considered unfilial and
disrespectful. Therefore, cautiousness and trustworthiness are the next
virtues we should possess.
To be continued