The previous section mentioned the four modes of deportment--walking, standing, sitting, and reclining--and said one should “walk like a breeze.” We can extend this a bit because the word xing (行) not only means walking, but also includes various motions such as opening and closing doors and windows, entering and exiting, turning corners, picking things up, handling things, and so forth. The way a person moves is a reflection not only of his character, but also of his ethical standards and his education.
In ancient times, in entrances where there were no doors, there would be a curtain to separate the inside from the outside. The curtains were made of various materials, such as cloth, gauze, bamboo, beads, crystal, and jade. In general, they were not as hard and solid as wooden doors or iron gates. If you roughly whisk the curtain aside, you might disturb the people or animals on the other side or startle those inside the room. The curtain will also fall apart more easily. If you lift the curtain and let it down slowly and gently, you won’t make any sound that would disturb other people, and the curtain will also last longer. Nowadays door curtains are seldom used, and doors made of various materials are more solid. However, the noise is also louder when you knock against them, and the injury is more serious. For those reasons, we should open and close them gently and slowly to avoid causing accidents, making a lot of noise, and damaging the doors. One who gently grasps the doorknob to open and close the door is a careful and responsible person. One who barges through a door and lets it slam shut by itself is someone who has plenty of daring and knowledge, but who doesn’t consider the consequences of his actions. Or he might be an irresponsible individual or a person who isn’t very considerate of others’ feelings. Someone who grasps the doorknob tightly, very slowly opens the door, and then closes it tightly behind him is a diligent and responsible person who is sometimes a bit timid or nervous. Someone who forcefully turns the doorknob to open the door, but then forgets to close it, is one who has good intentions but isn’t able to finish the jobs he starts. From the way a person opens a door, you can tell what his character and personality are like and judge what his future accomplishments might be. Similarly, if a person habitually bumps into things, knocks things over, or even hurts himself when he walks through a room or turns a corner, it reveals a rash and incautious personality. If someone carefully walks along the edges of the tables, chairs, and walls without leaving much room for himself, this shows that he is a little too uptight. The qualities of one’s movements being slow and spacious, like the qualities of being deep and full mentioned in the previous section, illustrate the natural ease and carefree air of a great person who is neither arrogant nor self-demeaning.
When we carry a container, regardless of whether it is empty or full, light or heavy, the best way is to hold it with both hands in front of our chest. This is the respectful way, and it also trains us to be careful from beginning to end and to focus our attention and not be glancing here and there. When we go into an empty room or stay alone in one, we should act the same as when there are people around; we shouldn’t be the least bit casual or lax; this is the essence of self-cultivation. The ancient sages put great emphasis on the inner cultivation of “making the will sincere and the mind proper,” which they thought should begin with being cautious when one is alone. Zeng Zi [a disciple of Confucius] said that when a person is alone, he should act as prudently as if there were ten eyes watching him and ten hands pointing at him. This describes the unique character of a superior person who maintains right thoughts and is proper at all times.
Why is a superior person able to be like this? Because he doesn’t have the two attachments to self and dharmas. The attachments to self and dharmas are the root of all evil. What are these two attachments? Actually, they are just a result of a lack of sincerity. When one is insincere, one is selfish and seeks after fame and profit. If a person is unselfish, how could he have the attachment to self? If he doesn’t seek fame and profit, what attachment to dharmas could there be? Because of these two fundamental attachments, all manner of fighting, scheming, gossip, and arguments arise. That’s why these two attachments to self and dharmas are the source of all evil. The degree of a person’s sincerity can be seen in his ordinary gestures. In front of others, he may be very alert and cover up his true thoughts, but when alone he is likely to relax and let his real self show through. Of course an intelligent person can see through his phoniness. Thus the Great Learning says, “When there is sincerity within, it manifests in one’s external appearance; hence the superior person must be cautious when he is alone.”
Why does the superior person want to be like this? The Great Learning says, “Riches enhance the household, while virtue enhances one’s self, so that one has a broad mind and a healthy body.” Think about it: All the riches, honor, and longevity that we enjoy in this world are like mere bubbles in the sea--how long do they last? There are many people who are incredibly rich, but who do no good deeds whatsoever and only indulge in all manner of evil. After they die, not only does their notoriety live on, but they may lose their human body and fall into the three evil paths of the hells, hungry ghosts, and animals forever. Conversely, those who conduct themselves ethically, avoiding all evil and practicing many good deeds, enjoy a smooth and carefree life, leave behind a good name, and are able to transcend the Triple Realm and enjoy eternal happiness. All of you are intelligent people. Compared to the prospect of enjoying momentary pleasure and then enduring scoldings and sufferings for many lifetimes afterwards, wouldn’t it be better to seriously uphold the precepts in this very life and quickly cultivate the unsurpassed Path?
In the Ming Dynasty, there was a great general named Jiguang Qi. Before he became an official, he went with a friend to the capital to take the civil examination. When they reached the capital they felt rather hungry, so they stopped by a roadside stand to get something to eat. After they had finished their meal, the food vendor accidentally dropped a coin on the ground. Qi’s friend quickly stepped on the coin and then picked it up when the vendor wasn’t looking. He thought no one, not even the ghosts, would know what he’d done, but actually his act had been observed by a passerby who happened to be the examination proctor. On the day of the examination, when Qi’s friend handed in his paper, the proctor silently noted his name. Later it turned out that Jiguang Qi passed the exam, while his friend did not. Actually, Qi’s friend should have passed, for his essay was better than Jiguang Qi’s. But the proctor had said, “He even wanted that food vendor’s one little coin. If we allow him to become an official, how could he not be corrupt?” Hearing this story, how can we not maintain an inner attitude of sincerity and not be cautious whenever we are alone?