Confucius said, “A superior person should restrain himself in three ways during his life. In his youth, when he is not yet physically mature, he should refrain from lust. In the prime of life, when his physical vigor is at its peak, he should refrain from fighting. In his old age, when his physical strength has declined, he should refrain from acquiring things.” This quote makes clear that a person creates karma throughout his entire life. There are millions of different kinds of people in the world, and they create millions of different kinds of karma. Yet these various kinds of karma can be divided into two main categories: one is karma created in the struggle for fame, and the other is karma created in the struggle for profit. Most people create both kinds. Intoxicated with the desire for fame and profit, they may even forsake the close ties of family, how much the more other things. Can the problem be solved by giving them more wealth and status? That would be like using firewood to put out a fire; it only makes the fire blaze higher. Their greed would only increase, making them strive all the more eagerly. As it's said, “People are never satisfied; they are like a snake wishing to swallow an elephant.” “Desire is like a bottomless pit.” The cause of their strife is not that they do not have enough, but that they are greedy. Therefore the fundamental solution is to teach children not to contend. This is the basic way to resolve personal problems, restore order in society, and stop war between nations.
No form of education is more important than the education given to young children. Such instruction begins at home. The ancient sages prescribed the following order of teaching: “From being filial to parents, one learns to be kind to all people. From being kind to all people, one learns to love all creatures.” Therefore, they first emphasized filiality and fraternal respect, and taught people to attend well upon their parents. Filiality involves a full set of duties including serving one's parents when they are alive and after they pass away, including making offerings to them. These are obligations that a child must diligently carry out for his whole life. People who are filial their whole lives will naturally be law-abiding citizens who show tender concern to all. Thus it is said, “Let there be careful attention to performing the funeral rites for parents, and let them be followed when long gone with the ceremonies of sacrifice; then the virtue of the people will resume its proper excellence.” The practice of filiality includes within it the practice of fraternal respect. As the text said earlier, “If brothers and sisters get along harmoniously, then it's clear they know how to be filial.” How can there be harmony among siblings? First, they must be taught not to contend. How can they be taught not to contend? They have to be taught to be patient--to have the patience to endure scoldings, sufferings, hardships, and all sorts of unfair treatment.
Many modern educators do nothing but warn parents to pay attention to their children's feelings. As a result of the overemphasis of this point, children have become spoiled to the point that they only think about whether or not things are fair to them, and they will not yield in the least. Only aware of their own discomfort, they never give any consideration to others’ difficulties. When they are growing up at home, they complain about small things, such as: “How come my brother can go out to play, and I can't?” “How come Sis has new clothes, and I don't?” They complain about every little thing that they think is “not fair.” What happens when they get upset over things not being fair? They fight! They argue! As children they bicker over small things, but by the time they grow up they contend over big things. At home they bicker with their brothers and sisters; at school they argue with their classmates; and in society they contend with their fellow citizens. With such competition over fame and profit at all levels of society, how can chaos not result? Therefore, only by starting at home and teaching children to lessen their desires, to be patient with unfairness, and to learn to take losses, can we stop people from contending.
I have a friend who has three daughters. Every time she gets paid, she goes out to buy toys or clothing for them. And when she buys clothes, she always gets three sets of the same thing. Thinking economically, I advised her, “Children grow very fast and outgrow their clothes almost immediately. Why don't you buy one of everything and let them hand it down from the older to the younger sisters?” I was taken aback by her sharp retort:“Why should the younger ones always have to wear hand-me-downs?”
I cautiously tried to make another suggestion:“Well, at least they could each buy a different style, couldn't they?”
“No. If the style is different, it's not fair either. If they thought someone else's was better than theirs, they'd start bickering. I had enough of my mother's unfair treatment, and I'll never let my own children undergo that kind of injustice.” Later I found out that she was the second of three sisters. Ever since she was little, she felt her parents had favored the eldest and adored the youngest, but had neglected her. That's why she had always quarreled with her mother and sisters, and had not communicated with them for many years. Ten years later, I heard that not only did her three daughters not get along, but they all blamed her, and so she was very lonely. From this, we can see that insisting on superficial fair treatment or trying to please kids with material things is not the way to teach them how not to contend. The fundamental solution is to work on their hearts and minds. If we can teach children to reduce their desires, what could they possibly contend about? If we can teach them to tolerate unfair treatment, how could they possibly get into arguments?
An ancient poem puts it well: “With patience, we can get along well with our brothers and sisters. Do not start fights over little things. As siblings, we ought to set a good example for our children and grandchildren to follow.” Little things means trivial matters. What is trivial? Wealth is trivial, and so is fame and romance, because none of them are lasting. What is important? Integrity and moral virtue are the most important things, because they never perish. The development of integrity and virtue begins with filiality and fraternal respect. If we ourselves do not understand how to be good to our own parents and siblings, then of course we can't teach our children to be good to their parents and siblings, and we'll have to suffer the bitter consequences. As is the cause, so will be the result. How can we not take heed?