The Tower that Honors the Six Classics
Wang, Shou-ren 1 [王守仁]
The Six Classics reveal principles. When the principles are applied to
nature, they become the decrees of heaven 2. When the principles are
embodied in humans, they become human nature. When the principles control one's
body, they become one痴 mind. Minds, nature, and decrees are one. Those things
that apply to men and other objects, reach seven seas, fill the space between
Heaven and Earth, have existed since time immemorial, are contained in
everything, have the same essence despite different appearances, and never
change are our principles. When they respond to senses, they become natural
compassion, the sense of shame, the sense of humility, or the ability to
distinguish right from wrong 3. When they are manifest in affairs,
they become the bond between a father and a son, one's loyalty to one's king,
the distinctions between a husband and a wife, the precedence set between
seniors and juniors, or the trust between friends 4. Thus,
compassion, shame, humility, the ability to distinguish right from wrong, bonds,
loyalty, precedence, distinctions, and trust are one. They are the same as
minds, nature, or decrees.
The Book of Changes [易经]
discusses the ebb and flow of two opposing principles in nature. The Book of
Records [书经] discusses the
administration of laws, disciplines, and policies. The Book of Poetry [诗经]
describes how one display virtue sung from one's heart. The Book of Rites
[礼记] describes the levels and formalities
so that we may practice etiquette properly. The Book of Classical Music [乐经]
describes how we may generate peace and happiness through music. The Spring
and Autumn Annals [春秋] discusses how we
may use principles to distinguish truth from falsehood, and evil from justice.
Even though the topics of the Six Classics vary from the ebb and flow of two
opposing principles to the use of principles to distinguish between truth from
falsehood, and evil from justice, they are essentially the same as minds,
nature, or decrees. Those things that apply to men and other objects, reach
seven seas, fill the space between Heaven and Earth, have existed since time
immemorial, are contained in everything, have the same essence despite different
appearances, and never change are the Six Classics. The Six Classics are nothing
but principles existing naturally in our minds.
Thus, The Book of Changes records the ebb and flow of two opposing
principles in our minds. The Book of Records demonstrates the laws,
disciplines, and policies in our mind. The Book of Poetry describes how
our hearts sing in harmony with our temperaments. The Book of Rites
describes the manners and formalities in our minds. The Book of Classical
Music helps us restore peace and happiness in our minds. The Spring and
Autumn Annals discusses the wisdom and virtue in our minds. Scholars value
the Six Classics highly. In order to honor The Book of Changes, they
study the ebb and flow of two opposing principles in their minds and practice
virtue constantly. In order to honor The Book of Records, they study the
laws, disciplines, and policies in their minds and seek opportunities to put
them into practice. In order to honor The Book of Poetry, they seek songs
in harmony with their temperaments and then properly convey their feelings
driven by passion. In order to honor The Book of Rites, scholars study
manners and formalities in their minds and behave suitably. In order to honor
The Book of Classical Music, they pursue peace and happiness in their minds
and play music that is appropriate to circumstance. In order to honor The
Spring and Autumn Annals, they use their wisdom and integrity in their minds
to pursue truth and justice.
A father or grandfather in a wealthy family worries that his children or
grandchildren may lose his property or wealth, suffer hardship, and lack means
to thrive, so he keeps records of his possessions and leaves these records to
his posterity. In this way his posterity may safeguard and enjoy their heritage
that will free them from poverty. Like these fathers or grandfathers, ancient
sages worried about future generations, so they wrote the Six Classics to
promote human virtue. Thus, the Six Classics record our minds. The virtuous
contents of the Six Classics have existed in our minds such as all kinds of
items of one痴 property and wealth can be found in one's home. At the first
glance, the records seem to be just names, shapes, and numbers. In essence, they
are the nature of our minds. Scholars today are unaware that they should seek
the contents of the Six Classics in their minds. Instead, they search for and
examine shadows and echoes in vain, and are often bogged down by the minor
details such as definitions of words. They obstinately think that they have
grasped the precise meanings of the Six Classics. This is like the descendents
of a wealthy clan who fail to safeguard and enjoy their heritage. Their wealth
is gradually forgotten, scattered, and lost. Thereby, the descendents are
reduced to poverty. However, they still arrogantly point to the records and say,
"These are the property and wealth of our family." A scholar who fails to
understand the essence of the Six Classics acts just like a descendant described
above and suffers similar consequences. Alas!
Scholars have failed to understand the essence of the Six Classics for a long
time. It can be said that advocating the fallacy of material gain is tantamount
to passing off fake virtues as the genuine Classics; studying literal meanings,
teaching students to recite lessons from memory, and drowning in superficial
eloquence to deceive the public are insults to the Classics; exaggerating,
spouting wanton rhetoric, competing for sophistry, covering one's evil mind and
behavior, blindly following crowds, monopolizing the markets, and regarding
oneself as the master of the Six Classics are abuses of the Classics. Those who
advocate false virtues, insult or abuse the Six Classics tear up, discard, and
destroy even the records of their minds. These actions do not comply with the
goal of honoring the Six Classics.
The former site of Ji-Shan Academy of Classical Learning [稽山书院]
in Yue-cheng City 5 is located on the western ridge of Wuo-long
Mountain 6. The academy fell to disuse a long time ago. After Da-ji
Nan 7, the Commissioner of Wei-nan County
8, provided a
benevolent administration to citizens, he lamented that scholarship had become
shallow and had been torn into pieces. He wanted to teach his people the
principles of virtue. Consequently, he ordered Ying Wu, the Mayor of Shan-yin
City 9 to expand the academy, remodel it, and build the Tower that
Honors the Six Classics behind it. Nan said, "If people understand the essence
of the Six Classics, they will prosper. If they prosper, they will not abandon
themselves to evil ways." After the tower was completed, Nan asked me to speak
at its opening ceremony. Since I could not decline, I wrote this essay as my
speech. It is my hope that scholars who listen to my view and seek virtue in
their minds may be closer to understanding why we honor the Six Classics.
Bo-an [伯安] was Shou-ren Wang's
alternate first name. He was a native of Yu-yao City [馀姚]
in Zhejiang Province [浙江] during the Ming
dynasty. He built a dwelling and gave lectures in Yang-ming Cave [阳明洞]
at the foot of Kuai-ji Mountain [会稽山] in
Shao-xing City [绍兴]. Scholars call him
Shou-ren was extremely clever and had a heroic spirit. When he was fifteen,
he visited Ju-yong Pass [居庸关] and Shan-hai
Pass [山海关] of the Great Wall. The grand
wall inspired his aspiration to administer China's frontiers. In 1499 CE, he
passed the Advanced Exam at the age of twenty-eight. Then he was appointed
Assistant Director of the Board of Punishments [刑部主事].
When he was thirty-five, he wrote a letter to his superior because he wanted to
rescue Xian Dai [戴铣], the Supervising
Censor of Nanjing City [南京], and more than
twenty other people. The letter offended Jin Liu [刘瑾],
a powerful but corrupt eunuch. As a consequence, he endured forty floggings and
was demoted to a low position at China's western border. This essay "Travelers'
Burial" was written during his exile. After Jin Liu was killed, Wang was
promoted to Assistant Director of the Board of Punishment at Nanjing, and then
Lord High Chamberlain's Censor. In 1516 CE, Shou-ren Wang was appointed to the
position of censor, in charge of patrolling the southern area of Jiangxi
Province [江西], along the Ting River [汀]
and the Zhang River [漳], and crushing local
insurgents. In 1519 CE, he also defeated the rebellion instigated by Chen-hao
Soon after he was promoted to the position of Director of the Board of War and
was made the Count of Xin-jian [新建伯]. In
1527 CE, Shou-ren Wang was appointed to the position of joint governorship of
Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces [两广总督], and
was in charge of crushing rebellions instigated by chieftains of the tribes in
Si-en City [思恩] and Tian-zhou City [田州].
Shou-ren Wang is regarded as a great philosopher both in China and in Japan.
He claimed that knowledge and action are two aspects of the same entity. He
advocated for developing one's talent to the utmost. His disciples were all over
China. Later generations called his school of philosophy "Yao-jiang School [姚江学派]".
His philosophy is similar to that of Jiu-yuan Lu [陆九渊]
of the Song dynasty. Scholars usually put their names side by side and call them
"Lu and Wang". The school led by Jiu-yuan Lu and Yang-ming Wang as well as the
school led by Hao Cheng [程顥], Yi Cheng [程頤],
and Xi Zhu [朱熹] were the two major schools
of Neo-Confucianism in modern China. Yang-ming Wang's essays are broad,
profound, and virtuous; his poems are graceful and exquisite.
2 "The decrees of heaven" refers to the principles of nature such as the
movements of celestial bodies, the changes of the four seasons, etc.
These four values are the virtues existing in our minds. In short, they are
benevolence, integrity, courtesy, and wisdom.
These five relationships are constant virtues. They are the foundation of
Yue-cheng City [越城] was Kuai-ji City [会稽]
and is located in present day Shao-xing-xian County [绍兴县].
Wuo-long [卧龙] Mountain was located in
Yuan-shan [元善] was Da-ji Nan's [南大吉]
alternative name. He passed the Advanced Exam during the Zheng-de [正德]
Period. He was a disciple of Shou-ren Wang.
Wei-nan County is now called Wei-nan-xian County [渭南县].
This county is located in Shaanxi Province [陕西].
Both Shan-yin City [山阴] and Kuai-ji
City are located in present day Shao-xing-xian County.