As children, we should not follow
our own wishes and do as we please, without consulting our parents.
Otherwise, we will not be fulfilling our filial duties. The first two
lines emphasize that as children we should respect our parents.
No matter what we want to do, we
should first ask our parents. We should act only after we have received
their permission. We should not casually make decisions on our own,
thinking we have already grown up. After we receive an education, we
should not regard our parents as country bumpkins and be disrespectful
to them. Nor should we think that there is no need to bring small
matters to their attention and so only report major events to them. If
we act in this way toward our parents, we have been remiss in our
Filial piety is like a bright
pearl. It is the most precious jewel in the world. We cherish jewels
and protect them as carefully as our very lives, because we are afraid
of damaging them. Yet we fail to protect our filial piety, the bright
pearl within us; instead, we carelessly spoil it. Our priorities are
The previous section discussed how
we should handle matters. The next two lines discuss receiving things.
We shouldn’t casually take even a very small object, thinking our
parents won’t know about it or won’t care. Such behavior would actually
cause them a lot of grief. Anyone feels hurt when he is ignored, how
much the more so our own parents.
Filiality begins with respect. If
we feed our parents but don’t respect them, how is this different from
raising cats or dogs? We should show our respect by letting our parents
know about everything we do. We shouldn’t think, “Oh, I don’t want to
bother them with these small matters,” or “I’m just trying to be more
independent.” Such thoughts would only undermine the precious virtue of
filial piety and hurt our dear parents.
Confucius’ disciple Zeng Zi was
renowned for his filial piety. When his father Zeng Dian (one of
Confucius’ earliest disciples) was still alive, Zeng Zi would serve him
his food and then respectfully ask him who should eat the leftovers,
should there be any. While eating, his father would sometimes ask if
there was any more food. Zeng Zi would always say “yes,” so his father
could eat without worrying whether there was any food left.
Later, when Zeng Zi’s son Zeng
Yuan served Zeng Zi, after Zeng Zi finished eating, Zeng Yuan would put
away the food without asking about how to deal with the leftover food.
When Zeng Zi asked his son if there was any food left over, his son
would say “no.” Zeng Yuan did this because he wanted to save the food
and serve it to his father at the next meal. Mencius’ judgement of the
situation was that while Zeng Zi knew well how to serve his parents and
comply with their wishes, Zeng Yuan only knew how to feed his parents.
Think it over: Even in such a small matter—such a minor detail—Zeng Zi
dared not do as he pleased; he dared not keep anything for himself. No
wonder people praised Zeng Zi as the “greatly filial Zeng Shen” and
Confucius had no second thoughts about teaching the “Classic of
Filiality” to him.