THEOSOPHY, Vol. 15, No. 3, January, 1927
(Pages 113-118; Size: 20K)
(Number 12 of a 59-part series)


THE period immediately following the era of Lao Tzu and Confucius is of special interest to the student of Theosophy. An hundred schools and a thousand sects sprang into existence -- a few antagonistic to both, a few true to their teachings, and many playing and profiting with their names and sayings. We do not propose to deal with the first and the third. Our task is to point at the landmarks of the Wisdom-Religion and so we must now turn to the labours of those who carried on the work of the two great men.

Schisms arose as between the early apostles after the passing of Jesus. Mencius on the one hand, Lieh Tzu and Chwang Tzu on the other. If they and their immediate admirers had remained loyal to the Original Impulse which manifested in the works of Lao Tzu and Confucius they would have prepared the mind of their race to be fecundated by the philosophy of the Great Buddha himself which was presently to energize and build a spiritual structure in China. But the schisms produced sects, as they always do; and when in the first century of the Christian era Buddhism reached China, the mind of the people was not ready; and those who received it themselves became a sect.

Three important names emerge -- Mencius, Lieh Tzu, and Chwang Tzu. After them came degradation and corruption. In the sayings of these three the Theosophic influence of the two Sages is felt, but with 275 B.C. the force spent itself; there was hardly any in the public world to keep it focalized in his own life or school. Ambition for personal power and gain made the channels impure and unfit. Then arose temples and priests with ceremonies according to Confucius, in letter but contrary to the spirit; also the lower forms of magic and mediumism and psychical practices which were called the manifestations of Tao, but were as far away from the Tao of the great Classic as the Christian Churches are from the Sermon on the Mount or the psychism of Neo-Theosophy is from the Wisdom of the pure Theosophy of H.P.B.

These three, Mencius, Lieh Tzu and Chwang Tzu, may be correctly described as influences prevailing at a descending cycle of ancient China.

Mencius was a contemporary of Plato and utilized Confucian teachings to build an ideal state as Plato attempted in his Republic. Mencius moved from court to court in search of opportunities for the practical application of his political ideas and theories. But even in political doctrines the paradox was maintained, for Mencius preached in the same breath divine right of kings and democracy. He was more emphatic than Confucius himself in reference to the heaven-appointed sovereign, but he made it amply clear that people got as ruler what they deserved. He quotes as the Great Declaration -- "Heaven sees according as the people see; Heaven hears according as the people hear." (p. 357). Therefore "the people are the most important element in a nation; the spirits of the land and the grain are the next; the sovereign is the lightest." (p. 483). Mencius went so far as to advocate revolt against an unworthy sovereign -- raise a standard not of rebellion but of righteousness. He advises looking for the minister of Heaven when the sovereign has become worthless and useless; for, "it is not enough to remonstrate with a sovereign on account of the mal-employment of his ministers. Once rectify the prince and the kingdom will be firmly settled." (p. 310). Material well-being of the people was his one aim, and therefore he preaches that the state should supply the twofold nourishment, for body and mind, hence he recommends agriculture and education as of first rate importance.

The way of the people is this: if they have a certain livelihood, they will have a fixed heart; if not they will not have a fixed heart, and then there is nothing which they will not do in the way of self-abandonment, of moral deflection, of depravity, and of wild license. When they have thus been involved in crime, to follow them up and punish them -- this is to entrap the people. How can such an entrapping be done under the rule of a benevolent man? (pp. 239-240.)

Establish hsiang, hsu, hsio, hsiao -- all those educational institutions -- for the instruction of the people. The object of them all is to illustrate the human relations. When those are illustrated by superiors, kindly feeling will prevail among the inferior people below. (p. 242.)

The minister of agriculture taught the people to sow and reap, cultivating the five kinds of grain. Thus the people obtained a subsistence. But men possess a moral nature; and if they are well fed, warmly clad, and comfortably lodged, without being taught at the same time, they become almost like the beasts. This was a subject of anxious solicitude to the Sage Shun and he appointed Hsieh to be the Minister of Instruction, to teach the relations of humanity: -- how between father and son there should be affection; between sovereign and minister righteousness; between husband and wife attention to their separate functions; between old and young a proper order; and between friends fidelity. "Encourage them; lead them on; rectify them; straighten them; help them; give them wings; -- thus causing them to become possessors of themselves. Then follow this up by stimulating them, and conferring benefits on them." (pp. 251-2). Good government does not lay hold of the people so much as good instructions. Good government is feared by the people, while good instructions are loved by them. Good government gets the people's wealth, while good instructions get their hearts. (pp. 455-56.)

It is not our object in this paper to deal elaborately with the political doctrines of Mencius. We are more interested in his special contribution to the psychologic and mystic lore as expounder of Confucian teachings. Sound as are many of his political and economic principles, more valuable are his psychological ideas. The most important contribution of Mencius is his doctrine of the innate goodness, in human nature, as treated in Book II, Part I, and Book VI, Part I. According to him there is the inner energizing Nature, whose chief constituent is the Will, and the outer acting nature in which appetites arise and develop. "The will is the leader of the passion nature. The latter pervades and animates the body. The will is the first and chief, and the passion nature is subordinate to it. Therefore I say -- Maintain firm the will, and do no violence to the passion-nature." (p. 188). He explained that the acting-nature was not to be destroyed but made to act by the energy of the higher. This higher nature in operation expresses four principles or essences:

I. Compassion is natural to man, e.g., "if men suddenly see a child about to fall into a well, they will without exception experience a feeling of alarm and distress. They will feel so not as a ground on which they may gain the favour of the child's parents, nor as a ground on which they may seek the praise of their neighbours and friends, nor from a dislike to the reputation of having been unmoved by such a thing." (p. 202). Because compassion is of the very essence of man's inner nature, he will be moved by it. Out of Compassion arises in the acting or lower nature -- Benevolence.

II. Shame--Dislike is natural to man. The former arises from one's own want of goodness; the latter because of the lack of it in others. Out of this second essence arises in the acting or lower nature -- Righteousness.

III. Modesty--Kindness is natural to man. But the first one unloosens and separates from one's egotism; by the second one comes into unison with others. Out of this third arises in the acting or lower nature -- Propriety (the basis for the ceremony of Right Conduct).

IV. Approval--Disapproval is natural to man. The one assents to the knowledge of goodness; the other dissents to the knowledge of evil. Out of this fourth arises in the acting or lower nature -- Right Knowledge.

Men have these four principles, just as they have their four limbs. When men say of themselves that they cannot develop them, they play the thief with themselves. (p. 203). These four are not infused into us from without. We are certainly furnished with them. Hence it is said, "seek and you will find them. Neglect and you will lose them." (p. 402.)

For the mouth to desire sweet tastes, the eye to desire beautiful colours, the ear to desire pleasant sounds, the nose to desire fragrant odours, and the four limbs to desire ease and rest; -- these things are natural. But there is the appointment of Heaven in connexion with them, and the superior man does not say of his pursuit of them, "It is my nature."

The exercise of love between father and son, the observance of righteousness between sovereign and minister, the rules of ceremony between guest and host, the display of knowledge in recognising the talented, and the fulfilling the heavenly course by the sage; -- these are the appointment of Heaven. But there is an adaptation of our nature for them. The superior man does not say, in reference to them, "It is the appointment of Heaven." (pp. 489-90.)

With those who do violence to themselves, it is impossible to speak. With those who throw themselves away, it is impossible to do anything. To disown in his conversation propriety and righteousness, is what we mean by doing violence to one's self. To say -- "I am not able to dwell in benevolence or pursue the path of righteousness," is what we mean by throwing one's self away. Benevolence is the tranquil habitation of man, and righteousness is his straight path. Alas for them, who leave the tranquil dwelling empty and do not reside in it, and who abandon the right path and do not pursue it. (pp. 301-302.)

There now is barley. Let it be sown and covered up; the ground being the same, and the time of sowing likewise the same, it grows rapidly up, and when the full time is come, it is all found to be ripe. Although there may be inequalities of produce, that is owing to the difference of the soil, as rich or poor, to the unequal nourishment afforded by the rains and dews, and to the different ways in which man has performed his business in reference to it. (p. 404). The great end of learning is nothing else but to seek for the lost mind. (p. 414). All men have in themselves that which is truly honourable. Only they do not think of it. (p. 419.)

Mencius discoursed on how the nature of man is good, and when speaking, always made laudatory references to Yao and Shun, and added -- The path is one, and only one. It was said of old, "They were men. I am a man. Why should I stand in awe of them?" and again -- "What kind of man was Shun? What kind of man am I? He who exerts himself will also become such as he was." (pp. 234-5).

This higher nature is a matter of culture, of continuous attention. Benevolence and the rest of the higher nature subdues each its own opposite "just as water subdues fire. Those, however, who now-a-days practice benevolence do it as if with one cup of water they could save a whole wagon-load of fuel which was on fire, and when the flames were not extinguished they would say that water cannot subdue fire. This conduct, moreover, greatly encourages those who are not benevolent. The final issue will simply be this -- the loss of that small amount of benevolence." (p. 420).

To illustrate the philosophy and discipline of Mencius we give below extracts arranged so as to give a connected view of the noble whole. The page number throughout is of The Chinese Classics, Vol. II, of James Legge.


To nourish the mind there is nothing better than to make the desires few. Here is a man whose desires are few; -- in some things he may not be able to keep his heart, but they will be few. Here is a man whose desires are many; -- in some things he may be able to keep his heart, but they will be few. (p. 497)

The hungry think any food sweet, and the thirsty think the same of any drink, and thus they do not get the right taste of what they eat and drink. The hunger and thirst, in fact, injure their palate. Is it only the mouth and belly which are injured by hunger and thirst? Men's minds are also injured by them. (p. 465)

He who rises at cock-crowing, and addresses himself earnestly to the practice of virtue, is a disciple of Shun. He who rises at cock-crowing, and addresses himself earnestly to the pursuit of gain, is a disciple of Chih. If you want to know what separates Shun from Chih, it is simply this, -- the interval between the thought of gain and the thought of virtue. (p. 464)

Let a man not do what his own sense of righteousness tells him not to do, and let him not desire what his sense of righteousness tells him not to desire -- to act thus is all he has to do. (p. 457)

If you know that the thing is unrighteous, then use all despatch in putting an end to it; -- why wait till next year? (p. 278)

Men who are possessed of intelligent virtue and prudence in affairs will generally be found to have been in sickness and troubles. (p. 457)

The path of duty lies in what is near, and men seek for it in what is remote. The work of duty lies in what is easy, and men seek for it in what is difficult. (p. 302)


Mencius said to a disciple, "There are the footpaths along the hills; if suddenly they be used, they become roads; and if, as suddenly they are not used, the wild grass fills them up. Now, the wild grass fills up your mind." (p. 487)

A disciple said, "I shall be having an interview with the prince of Tsau, and can ask him to let me have a house to lodge in. I wish to remain here, and receive instruction at your gate." Mencius replied, "The way of truth is like a great road. It is not difficult to know it. The evil is only that men will not seek it. Do you go home and search for it, and you will have abundance of teachers." (p. 426)

He who has exhausted all his mental constitution knows his nature. Knowing his nature, he knows Heaven. When neither a premature death nor long life causes a man any double-mindedness, but he waits in the cultivation of his personal character for whatever issue; this is the way in which he establishes his Heaven-ordained being. (pp. 448-49)

There is an art in the contemplation of water. -- It is necessary to look at it as foaming in waves. The sun and moon being possessed of brilliancy, their light admitted even through an orifice illuminates. Flowing water is a thing which does not proceed till it has filled the hollows in its course. The student who has set his mind on the doctrines of the sage, does not advance to them but by completing one lesson after another. (pp. 463-64)

The ability possessed by men without having been acquired by learning is intuitive ability, and the knowledge possessed by them without the exercise of thought is their intuitive knowledge. (p. 456)


Wide territory and a numerous people are desired by the superior man, but what he delights in is not here. To stand in the centre of the kingdom, and tranquilize the people within the four seas; -- the superior man delights in this, but the highest enjoyment of his nature is not here. What belongs by his nature to the superior man cannot be increased by the largeness of his sphere of action, nor diminished by his dwelling in poverty and retirement; -- for this reason that it is determinately apportioned to him by Heaven. What belongs by his nature to the superior man are benevolence, righteousness, propriety and knowledge. These are rooted in his will; their growth and manifestation are a mild harmony appearing in the countenance, a rich fullness in the back, and the character imparted to the four limbs. Those limbs understand to arrange themselves, without being told. (pp. 459-60)

Wherever the superior man passes through, transformation follows; wherever he abides, his influence is of a spiritual nature. It flows abroad, above and beneath, like that of Heaven and Earth. How can it be said that he mends society but in a small way! (p. 455)

When one by force subdues men, they do not submit to him in heart. They submit, because their strength is not adequate to resist. When one subdues men by virtue, in their hearts' core they are pleased, and sincerely submit, as was the case with the seventy disciples in their submission to Confucius. (pp. 196-7)

We cannot close this article on Mencius without paying a tribute to the lady Chang-Shih, the moulder of her son's mind and life. It was she who encouraged Mencius in his resolve to leave his native place. Struck by his sorrowful aspect as he stood leaning against a pillar she asked him the cause of it. "I have heard" he said "that the Superior man occupies the place for which he is adapted, accepting no reward to which he does not feel entitled, and not covetous of honour and emolument. Now, my doctrines are not practised here in Chi. I wish to leave it, but I think of your old age and am anxious." Came the quick reply -- "It does not belong to a woman to determine such things for herself; she is subject to the rule of the three obediences. When young -- she obeys the parents; when married the husband; when a widow, her son. You are a man in your full maturity, and I am old. Do you act as your righteousness tells you, and I will act according to the righteousness which belongs to me. Why should you be anxious about me?"

And so Mencius went out to preach the doctrines of Benevolent Government and the Good Nature of Man.

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