Zeng Zi’s formal name was Shen, styled Ziyu. He lived during the Spring and Autumn period and was a native of the state of Lu. He was very filial to his parents. As a disciple of Confucius, he was ever mindful of the Master’s teachings and took upon himself the responsibility of propagating Confucianism. Everyday, he disciplined himself with the three introspections: “Am I honest in my dealings with others? Am I a trustworthy person to my friends? Have I put into practice whatever I have learned?” One day, Confucius exclaimed to Zeng Zi, “Shen! My teachings can be summed up by one principle.” Zeng Zi agreed. After the Master had left, the other students asked, “What is the explanation for this?” Zeng Zi answered, “The Master’s teachings are all about honesty and forbearance.” Putting in one’s best effort is to be honest in one’s undertakings; giving in to others is to show forbearance. He wrote
The Great Learning in which the Three Programs and Eight Articles are advocated as a method for acquiring knowledge. He was also the author of
The Classic of Filial Piety. Confucius said, “When one’s parents are alive, serve them respectfully. When they are dead, arrange for their funerals and perform memorials in accordance with the rites. This is called filial piety.” It is also said: “If one does not care for one’s parents when they are alive or bury them when they are dead, one is considered unfilial.” He also emphasized the ethical concept of arranging for the funeral rites of one’s parents and conducting memorials for them. Later generations honored Zeng Zi as the “Ancestral Sage”.
Zeng Zi’s surname was Zeng. His formal name was Shen and his style name was Ziyu. He lived during the Spring and Autumn period and was a native of the state of Lu. Confucius once said, “Shen is a straightforward person.” The character
lu refers to one who is very honest and straightforward. He was very filial to his parents and he transmitted the essentials of Confucius’ teachings to the senior disciples. As he was very concerned about keeping faith with others, he cultivated the skill of three introspections everyday. What is the skill of the three introspections?
“Am I honest in my dealings with others?” When I do things for other people, have I acted in good faith? Is there any hypocrisy? Did I cheat others? Did I discharge my responsibilities properly? “Am I a trustworthy person to my friends?” One should reflect thus: “In my daily interactions with my friends, have I acted in a deceitful manner?” “Have I put into practice whatever I have learned?” As for the principles that my teacher taught me, have I been able to constantly review his lessons? Do I still remember them? That was why Zeng Zi’s thinking and behavior displayed the three qualities of steadfastness, sincerity and perseverance.
The character jian means that he was diligent and steadfast; cheng means that he was honest and sincere in learning;
heng means that he would not deviate from what he had learned and would always abide by them. One day, while addressing his students, Confucius said, “Shen! My teachings can be summed up by one principle.” The principles that Confucius taught could be summarized by one single principle. In other words: “A single origin gives rise to the myriad things; the myriad things all return to the origin.” If you are able to penetrate one principle without any obstruction, then all principles will be penetrated without obstruction. This means that by understanding one theory, all theories will be understood. If you cannot understand a single theory, then you will not understand all theories.
What is the meaning of “a single principle”? This is the principle that enables us to break through our ignorance and reveal our dharma nature. However, in Confucianism, the principle of “breaking ignorance to reveal the dharma nature” is not explicitly stated. What does this signify? It signifies that a person does not have the mind of greed and self-benefit, nor any thoughts of desire. If you are devoid of any thoughts of desire, your wisdom will manifest and all problems will be resolved easily without any obstructions whatsoever. Hence, Confucius said, “Shen! My teachings can be summed up by one principle.” The principle that I teach is such that by penetrating one theory, all theories will be penetrated.
As the saying goes: “Once the fundamentals are acquired, there is no need to worry about the incidentals.” If you are able to grasp the fundamental dharma door, superficial matters will not present any problems.
To be continued