Wang Yang Ming

Wang Yang Ming, Neo-Confucian sage, enlightenment

Wang Yang Ming
Harvard Fogg Art Museum

On the Mind of a Sage

The student asked: “A sage's response to changing conditions
is unlimited. Does he have to study beforehand?”

The Sage replied: “How can he study everything? The mind of the sage
is like a clear mirror. Since it is all clarity, it responds to all stimuli as
they come and reflects everything. There is no such case as a previous
image still remaining in the present reflection or a yet-to-be-reflected
image already existing there. Scholars of later generations propagate
such a doctrine, and therefore they have greatly violated the teachings
of the Sage. Duke Chou instituted ceremonies and established musical
systems to provide the world with a culture. These are things that all
sages are capable of doing. Why didn't Yao and Shun do all of them
instead of leaving them to Duke Chou? Confucius edited and transmitted
the Six Classics as guidance for ten thousand generations. This is also a
thing that any sage can do. Why didn't Duke Chou do it instead of leaving
it for Confucius? From these we know that a sage does a thing when the time
comes. The only fear is that the mirror is not clear, not that it is incapable
of reflecting a thing as it comes. The study of changing conditions and events
is to be done at the time of response. However, a student must be engaged in
brightening up the mirror. He should worry only about his mind's not being
clear, and not about the inability to respond to all changing conditions.”

— Wang Yang Ming (1472-1529),
Instructions for Practical Living (1518), Part I.21

Translated by Wing-tsit Chan, Columbia University Press, NY, 1963

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