This section discusses the points we need to pay attention to with regard to clothing. First of all, it emphasizes that we should put our clothes away in a neat and orderly fashion, and not be sloppy or messy. Making the most efficient use of limited closet space to organize clothing for the four seasons neatly and yet allowing clothes to be taken out conveniently, is a lesson in economics that isn't found in any book. "We're supposed to be talking about cultivation of virtue; what does that have to do with economics?" you might ask, thinking that people who value virtue aren't supposed to be concerned with such a worldly matter as economics! You're wrong on that one! People who truly understand the Way will cherish people's energy and want objects to last long; they are very concerned with economics. If we can practice in this way, then first of all our clothes will last longer, second of all we will look more well-dressed, and thirdly, we will lessen the time it takes to change clothes. Isn't that the "economic value" that economists are always stressing? How could a person of integrity who appreciates the quality of life disregard economic value in this sense? Since people of moral caliber are usually thrifty, they are often misportrayed as being dishevelled and sloppy, and even going around barefoot, with mussed up hair and grimy faces. This is an inaccurate picture. Virtuous people may be rich or poor, noble or common, but if they have reached sagehood, then no matter how rich or noble they may be, they would never be so extravagant and wasteful as to turn on the air-conditioning and wear a fur coat; no matter how destitute they are, they would never go to a formal place with messy clothes or a dirty hat. They always dress fittingly for their own position and for the situation or place they are in; that is the observance of etiquette and precepts.
As it's said, "If a poor household is swept clean and a poor girl combs her hair neatly, then although their appearance is not gorgeous, they will naturally have a pleasing air." That's what's meant by the carefreeness of poverty! As for hippies who make a pretense of being free and relaxed, or those hypocrites who deliberately dress in rags, not only are they not sages, they don't even match up to naturalists who have forgotten the mundane. They can only be called the outcasts of society. As for those who "slap their cheeks so they can pass for plump (affluent) people," those who spend all their time and money on clothing, or even worse, the leisurely rich or punks who insist on dressing in bizarre styles, there's no need to be surprised by them. They're to be pitied because their lives are spiritually empty and they don't understand themselves. So we must have proper knowledge and understanding, and even in the trivial matter of clothing, we have to be scrupulous and follow the Middle Way. It's said, "If we don't pay attention to small matters, we won't be clear about the big matters." Now that we know this, if we can correct our faults, we can be considered sages and worthies. We certainly shouldn't try to defend ourselves by saying, "In big endeavors, we shouldn't worry about details," or "Being muddled is a quality to be cherished."
Concerning the virtuous daughters of ancient China, there's a beautiful story called "Returning Home in a Deer Cart." In the Han Dynasty, there was a diligent student named Bao Xuan who came from a poor family. His teacher admired him for maintaining his resolute integrity despite his poverty and low social class, and gave him his daughter Yuan Shaojun to be his wife, as well as servants and a large fortune as a dowry. The day after the wedding, the new wife dressed up in embroidered finery and bedecked herself with glittering jewelry, but to her surprise her husband became sullen and gave her the cold shoulder. Being a refined lady, Shaojun dared not get angry, but humbly asked her husband whether she had done something wrong. Bao Xuan said, "You come from a rich family and are used to wearing fancy clothes, but my family is poor and your attire is not appropriate."
Shaojun said, "Because of your virtue, my father asked me to serve you; I will certainly honor your family's ways."
Bao Xuan happily said, "I really hoped you would be able to do this." Shaojun immediately sent back all the servants and dowry and changed into a short jacket and cotton skirt. Then she and Bao Xuan piled their simple possessions on a deer-drawn cart and went to the Baos' home in the countryside. After paying respects to her mother-in-law, Shaojun took the water pail and went to draw water to do the cooking. Later she proved to be a virtuous wife and worthy daughter-in-law to the Bao family. She earned the praise of all her fellow villagers.
In today's society, we see many fashionably dressed and yet terribly vulgar people, who blindly strive to be in style without considering whether their attire is appropriate for their age and position. They are like the ugly lady who tried to imitate the pout of a beautiful lady, and only ended up looking more ugly. Some people are so deluded by their materialistic desires that they outspend their budget and ruin their own lives and families. How many girls have spoiled their reputations and lives because of their extravagant taste in clothing? Women like Yuan Shaojun are truly rare. We should certainly take her as our inspiration!