Confucius on cultivating virtue

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Continuing our discussion on 仁, Confucius urges that it is important for one to be consistent in putting virtues into practice in all one’s interactions and that one should be kind and not malicious. Have there been times in one’s relationships (with parents, spouse, employers, siblings, friends) when one wishes them to be part of your life forever and at other times wish them out of one’s life to the extent of even wishing them dead?

Confucius was asked by a student how virtue can be cultivated and how one can distinguish right from wrong. In order to cultivate virtue, the master asserts, one must choose to surround oneself with honest trustworthy people who practice the eight virtues (discussed in earlier posts). In the classics is a well known story of the mother of philosopher Mencius moving abode three times when Mencius was a child, in order that he could find friends amongst an educated crowd. Confucius’ teaching is clear on the importance of drawing close to only those who are virtuous.

If one is surrounded by a fertile circle of righteous affiliations, it follows that one would wish them long life that the relationships would last forever. However, Confucius continues, if this love turns to hate and one’s wishes for their long life turns to wishes for instant death, then one is unable to distinguish between right from wrong. A self-actualized scholar understands and values the importance of righteousness. A knave on the other hand, will only comprehend profits or personal gain.