Wisdom, Benevolence, Sincerity and Bravery
“These four words comprise the motto of Master Bok-Nam Park’s Pa Kua Kung Fu School and the Ch’iang Shan Pa Kua Chang Association. They represent four important ideals that Lu Shui-Tian believed all Pa Kua Chang (Ba Gua Zhang) practitioners must cultivate and embrace.”
– from the home page of Master Park’s website
This paragraph is not buried on a second or third level of the Association’s website, but rather is placed prominently, right on its very first page. Judging from this, it’s apparent that it is not meant to be taken lightly.
In reality, it is all too easy to read these words, feel momentarily inspired, but then to completely forget, once we are immersed in the difficult efforts to perfect our physical skills. But to forget these “important ideals” is to lose the internal Way of this art. And if that happens, we would lose an important opportunity to truly develop ourselves.
These four qualities are virtues and the cultivation of virtue is one of the central themes that run through Confucian philosophy. In the Confucian classics, many virtues are named and discussed in detail. For example, there are extended discussions on the meaning and practice of virtues like propriety, righteousness, filial piety, loyalty, sibling love, obedience, self-discipline and so on. This being the case, of all the virtues that could possibly be chosen as guiding lights, why would these four be expressly singled out? In fact, in one of the four great Confucian classics, The Doctrine of the Mean, we find the following:
“There are five universal ways [in human relations], and the way by which they are practiced is three. The five are those governing the relationship between ruler and minister, between father and son, between husband and wife, between elder and younger brothers, and those … between friends. These five are universal paths in the world.
Wisdom, humanity, and courage, these three are the universal virtues. The way by which they are practiced is one.” – chapter 20
While in this translation, the Chinese characters for the second and third virtues are rendered as “humanity” and “courage” due to the inherent difficulties of translation, these same characters may alternately be rendered as “benevolence” and “bravery”. So, in effect, these three “universal virtues” correspond to three of the words in our Association’s motto.
Later, towards the end of that same chapter, a fourth virtue – sincerity – is introduced separately and called “the Way of Heaven.” The exact context is this:
“Sincerity is the Way of Heaven. To think how to be sincere is the way of man. He who is sincere is one who hits upon what is right without effort and apprehends without thinking. He is naturally and easily in harmony with the Way… He who tries to be sincere is one who chooses the good and holds fast to it.” – chap. 20
Referring back to the first page of Master Park’s website, we find the virtue of sincerity explained this way:
“Without sincerity and a serious commitment to training, a student will not make sound progress and will not be able to develop his or her skill to a high level. The student must dedicate himself or herself to the art, and must honor the heritage of the Pa Kua Chang of Lu Shui-Tian and Master Park… Sincerity is required and grows with the cultivation of wisdom and benevolence.”
Here, it is evident that sincerity is not only a matter of being a nice person who is truthful in speech. Rather, it involves “commitment,” “dedication” and even “honor.” By this definition, sincerity is a difficult virtue that takes unrelenting effort to cultivate.
Going back to the previous quote, we can observe that there are two kinds of people mentioned. On one hand is the person who is sincere without conscious effort; on the other hand is the one who cannot do it effortlessly and who therefore wishes for and actively strives toward perfect virtue.
Is this a hard thing to do? Certainly. But is it an unattainable ideal that we can publicly admire, but privately dismiss as unrealistic? Definitely not. To achieve it, The Doctrine of the Mean advises:
“Study it (the way to be sincere) extensively, inquire into it accurately, think over it carefully, sift it clearly, and practice it earnestly. When there is anything not yet studied, or studied but not yet understood, do not give up. When there is any question not yet asked, or asked but its answer not yet known, do not give up.When there is anything not yet thought over, or thought over but not yet apprehended, do not give up. When there is anything not yet sifted, or sifted but not yet clear, do not give up. When there is anything not yet practiced, or practiced but not yet earnestly, do not give up. If another man succeed by one effort, you will use a hundred efforts.
If another man succeed by ten efforts, you will use a thousand efforts.
If one really follows this course, though stupid, he will surely become intelligent, and though weak, will surely become strong”. – chap. 20
These words are certainly complementary to the website’s exhortation to give “serious commitment to training” and that a student must “dedicate himself or herself to the art.” If we take these words to heart, then we will be practicing sincerity towards the motto that we recite before every practice. And in doing so, we would surely, however slowly, become better and finer people ourselves. So the next time we say “sincerity,” let’s try to think “I mean it: I won’t give up until all of this – both the skills and the virtues – becomes second nature.
Thanks to Gerard Servito for another excellent article. Anyone interested in guest posts please let us know.
Originally published February, 2000 under the title “On Sincerity”