Above, the text discussed how we should deal with matters that our parents like and dislike. This is a great challenge. The practice of filial piety requires not only patience, courage, and determination, but also wisdom. If we are the least bit careless, we may find ourselves in a dangerous, unreasonable or illegal situation. Then, though our intent was to be filial, we end up being unfilial.
What do I mean by this? If it is very difficult to obtain what our parents like or to get rid of what they dislike, we may take dangerous risks or even resort to theft, robbery, arson, murder, treason, or other crimes in order to please them. On a small scale, we endanger our own lives; on a larger scale, we destroy our family and country. Our parents are grieved and worried, and others ridicule them for not teaching their child well and for lacking virtue. They fall into eternal disgrace because of us!
Confucius said, "Our parents' worry only that we may fall ill." Our parents worry if our bodies, minds, or lives come to any harm. Taking care of ourselves is an indirect form of being filial to our parents. Confucius told Zeng Zi, "Not daring to harm our bodies, hair, and skin, which our parents gave us, is the beginning of filiality. Establishing ourselves, practicing the Way, and developing a good reputation so that our parents will be honored is the fulfillment of filiality." Staying physically and mentally fit so our parents will not worry about us is only the first step of being filial. To perfect filiality, we must develop good character and help the society and nation, thus bringing honor to our parents.
If this standard is too high, then at least we must refrain from evil deeds and unkind actions, so as not to disgrace our parents. The Bible says, "Love is unselfishness...it is to refrain from shameful deeds." During the Spring and Autumn Period [722-481 B.C.], Lord Xian of the State of Jin was infatuated with his concubine Li Ji. Li Ji wanted him to do away with his eldest son Shen Sheng and make her own son heir to the throne. Once when Shen Sheng sent an offering of meat to his father, Li Ji secretly put poison in the meat and then accused the eldest son of trying to kill his father and usurp the throne. Lord Xian, without looking into the matter carefully, was so furious he wanted to kill his own son. Shen Sheng thought: "My father would not be happy without Li Ji. If he wants me to die, how could I go against his wish?" Then, without defending himself, he committed suicide. One might think he would be praised as a filial child because he killed himself to comply with his father's wishes. It was not so. He only received a minor posthumous title of Prince Gong. Confucius' judgement was that while he was obedient, he didn't understand the real meaning of filiality. Not only did he injure his own body and take his own life, he caused his father to be seen as an unrighteous man. Others scolded his father for lacking wisdom and compassion. Thus he was truly unfilial.
Therefore, whether we are practicing joyful giving or giving of fearlessness to our parents, we must have wisdom. We should never injure our bodies or ruin our virtue. While we should be filial, we should not go overboard and be foolishly filial. The Venerable Master often taught, "As people we should love our country, love our family, and cherish our own bodies and lives." These are the words of a sage who has profoundly understood and truly practiced filial piety!