The Great Learning |
What the Great Learning teaches, is to illustrate illustrious
virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence.
The point where to rest being known, the object of pursuit is then
determined; and, that being determined, a calm unperturbedness may
be attained to. To that calmness there will succeed a tranquil repose.
In that repose there may be careful deliberation, and that
deliberation will be followed by the attainment of the desired end.
Things have their root and their branches. Affairs have their end
and their beginning. To know what is first and what is last will
lead near to what is taught in the Great Learning.
The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue
throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own states. Wishing
to order well their states, they first regulated their families.
Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their
persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified
their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be
sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts,
they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of
knowledge lay in the investigation of things.
Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their
knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their
thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. Their hearts
being rectified, their persons were cultivated. Their persons being
cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families being
regulated, their states were rightly governed. Their states being
rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy.
From the Son of Heaven down to the mass of the people, all must
consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything besides.
It cannot be, when the root is neglected, that what should spring
from it will be well ordered. It never has been the case that what was
of great importance has been slightly cared for, and, at the same
time, that what was of slight importance has been greatly cared for.
In the Announcement to K'ang, it is said, "He was able to make his
In the Tai Chia, it is said, "He contemplated and studied the
illustrious decrees of Heaven."
In the Canon of the emperor (Yao), it is said, "He was able to
make illustrious his lofty virtue."
These passages all show how those sovereigns made themselves
On the bathing tub of T'ang, the following words were engraved:
"If you can one day renovate yourself, do so from day to day. Yea, let
there be daily renovation."
In the Announcement to K'ang, it is said, "To stir up the new
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Although Chau was an ancient
state the ordinance which lighted on it was new."
Therefore, the superior man in everything uses his utmost endeavors.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "The royal domain of a thousand
li is where the people rest."
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "The twittering yellow bird rests
on a corner of the mound." The Master said, "When it rests, it knows
where to rest. Is it possible that a man should not be equal to this
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Profound was King Wan. With
how bright and unceasing a feeling of reverence did he regard his
resting places!" As a sovereign, he rested in benevolence. As a
minister, he rested in reverence. As a son, he rested in filial piety.
As a father, he rested in kindness. In communication with his
subjects, he rested in good faith.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Look at that winding course of
the Ch'i, with the green bamboos so luxuriant! Here is our elegant and
accomplished prince! As we cut and then file; as we chisel and then
grind: so has he cultivated himself. How grave is he and dignified!
How majestic and distinguished! Our elegant and accomplished prince
never can be forgotten." That expression-"As we cut and then file,"
the work of learning. "As we chisel and then grind," indicates that of
self-culture. "How grave is he and dignified!" indicates the feeling
of cautious reverence. "How commanding and distinguished! indicates an
awe-inspiring deportment. "Our elegant and accomplished prince never
can be forgotten," indicates how, when virtue is complete and
excellence extreme, the people cannot forget them.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Ah! the former kings are not
forgotten." Future princes deem worthy what they deemed worthy, and
love what they loved. The common people delight in what delighted
them, and are benefited by their beneficial arrangements. It is on
this account that the former kings, after they have quitted the world,
are not forgotten.
The Master said, "In hearing litigations, I am like any other
body. What is necessary is to cause the people to have no
litigations." So, those who are devoid of principle find it impossible
to carry out their speeches, and a great awe would be struck into
men's minds;-this is called knowing the root.
This is called knowing the root. This is called the perfecting of
What is meant by "making the thoughts sincere." is the allowing no
self-deception, as when we hate a bad smell, and as when we love
what is beautiful. This is called self-enjoyment. Therefore, the
superior man must be watchful over himself when he is alone.
There is no evil to which the mean man, dwelling retired, will not
proceed, but when he sees a superior man, he instantly tries to
disguise himself, concealing his evil, and displaying what is good.
The other beholds him, as if he saw his heart and reins;-of what use
is his disguise? This is an instance of the saying -"What truly is
within will be manifested without." Therefore, the superior man must
be watchful over himself when he is alone.
The disciple Tsang said, "What ten eyes behold, what ten hands point
to, is to be regarded with reverence!"
Riches adorn a house, and virtue adorns the person. The mind is
expanded, and the body is at ease. Therefore, the superior man must
make his thoughts sincere.
What is meant by, "The cultivation of the person depends on
rectifying the mind may be thus illustrated:-If a man be under the
influence of passion he will be incorrect in his conduct. He will be
the same, if he is under the influence of terror, or under the
influence of fond regard, or under that of sorrow and distress.
When the mind is not present, we look and do not see; we hear and do
not understand; we eat and do not know the taste of what we eat.
This is what is meant by saying that the cultivation of the person
depends on the rectifying of the mind.
What is meant by "The regulation of one's family depends on the
cultivation of his person is this:-men are partial where they feel
affection and love; partial where they despise and dislike; partial
where they stand in awe and reverence; partial where they feel
sorrow and compassion; partial where they are arrogant and rude.
Thus it is that there are few men in the world who love and at the
same time know the bad qualities of the object of their love, or who
hate and yet know the excellences of the object of their hatred.
Hence it is said, in the common adage,"A man does not know the
wickedness of his son; he does not know the richness of his growing
This is what is meant by saying that if the person be not
cultivated, a man cannot regulate his family.
What is meant by "In order rightly to govern the state, it is
necessary first to regulate the family," is this:-It is not possible
for one to teach others, while he cannot teach his own family.
Therefore, the ruler, without going beyond his family, completes the
lessons for the state. There is filial piety:-therewith the. sovereign
should be served. There is fraternal submission:-therewith elders
and superiors should be served. There is kindness:-therewith the
multitude should be treated.
In the Announcement to K'ang, it is said, "Act as if you were
watching over an infant." If a mother is really anxious about it,
though she may not hit exactly the wants of her infant, she will not
be far from doing so. There never has been a girl who learned to bring
up a child, that she might afterwards marry.
From the loving example of one family a whole state becomes
loving, and from its courtesies the whole state becomes courteous
while, from the ambition and perverseness of the One man, the whole
state may be led to rebellious disorder;-such is the nature of the
influence. This verifies the saying, "Affairs may be ruined by a
single sentence; a kingdom may be settled by its One man."
Yao and Shun led on the kingdom with benevolence and the people
followed them. Chieh and Chau led on the kingdom with violence, and
people followed them. The orders which these issued were contrary to
the practices which they loved, and so the people did not follow them.
On this account, the ruler must himself be possessed of the good
qualities, and then he may require them in the people. He must not
have the bad qualities in himself, and then he may require that they
shall not be in the people. Never has there been a man, who, not
having reference to his own character and wishes in dealing with
others, was able effectually to instruct them.
Thus we see how the government of the state depends on the
regulation of the family.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "That peach tree, so delicate and
elegant! How luxuriant is its foliage! This girl is going to her
husband's house. She will rightly order her household." Let the
household be rightly ordered, and then the people of the state may
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "They can discharge their
duties to their elder brothers. They can discharge their duties to
their younger brothers." Let the ruler discharge his duties to his
elder and younger brothers, and then he may teach the people of the
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "In his deportment there is
nothing wrong; he rectifies all the people of the state." Yes; when
the ruler, as a father, a son, and a brother, is a model, then the
people imitate him.
This is what is meant by saying, "The government of his kingdom
depends on his regulation of the family."
What is meant by "The making the whole kingdom peaceful and happy
depends on the government of his state," this:-When the sovereign
behaves to his aged, as the aged should be behaved to, the people
become final; when the sovereign behaves to his elders, as the
elders should be behaved to, the people learn brotherly submission;
when the sovereign treats compassionately the young and helpless,
the people do the same. Thus the ruler has a principle with which,
as with a measuring square, he may regulate his conduct.
What a man dislikes in his superiors, let him not display in the
treatment of his inferiors; what he dislikes in inferiors, let him not
display in the service of his superiors; what he hates in those who
are before him, let him not therewith precede those who are behind
him; what he hates in those who are behind him, let him not bestow
on the left; what he hates to receive on the left, let him not
bestow on the right:-this is what is called "The principle with which,
as with a measuring square, to regulate one's conduct."
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "How much to be rejoiced in are
these princes, the parents of the people!" When a prince loves what
the people love, and hates what the people hate, then is he what is
called the parent of the people.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Lofty is that southern hill,
with its rugged masses of rocks! Greatly distinguished are you, O
grand-teacher Yin, the people all look up to you. "Rulers of states
may not neglect to be careful. If they deviate to a mean
selfishness, they will be a disgrace in the kingdom.
In the Book of Poetry, it is said, "Before the sovereigns of the Yin
dynasty had lost the hearts of the people, they could appear before
God. Take warning from the house of Yin. The great decree is not
easily preserved." This shows that, by gaining the people, the kingdom
is gained, and, by losing the people, the kingdom is lost.
On this account, the ruler will first take pains about his own
virtue. Possessing virtue will give him the people. Possessing the
people will give the territory. Possessing the territory will give him
its wealth. Possessing the wealth, he will have resources for
Virtue is the root; wealth is the result.
If he make the root his secondary object, and the result his
primary, he will only wrangle with his people, and teach them rapine.
Hence, the accumulation of wealth is the way to scatter the
people; and the letting it be scattered among them is the way to
collect the people.
And hence, the ruler's words going forth contrary to right, will
come back to him in the same way, and wealth, gotten by improper ways,
will take its departure by the same.
In the Announcement to K'ang, it is said, "The decree indeed may not
always rest on us"; that is, goodness obtains the decree, and the want
of goodness loses it.
In the Book of Ch'u, it is said, "The kingdom of Ch'u does not
consider that to be valuable. It values, instead, its good men."
Duke Wan's uncle, Fan, said, "Our fugitive does not account that
to be precious. What he considers precious is the affection due to his
In the Declaration of the Duke of Ch'in, it is said, "Let me have
but one minister, plain and sincere, not pretending to other
abilities, but with a simple, upright, mind; and possessed of
generosity, regarding the talents of others as though he himself
possessed them, and, where he finds accomplished and perspicacious
men, loving them in his heart more than his mouth expresses, and
really showing himself able to bear them and employ them:-such a
minister will be able to preserve my sons and grandsons and
black-haired people, and benefits likewise to the kingdom may well
be looked for from him. But if it be his character, when he finds
men of ability, to be jealous and hate them; and, when he finds
accomplished and perspicacious men, to oppose them and not allow their
advancement, showing himself really not able to bear them: such a
minister will not be able to protect my sons and grandsons and people;
and may he not also be pronounced dangerous to the state?"
It is only the truly virtuous man who can send away such a man and
banish him, driving him out among the barbarous tribes around,
determined not to dwell along with him in the Auddle Kingdom. This
is in accordance with the saying, "It is only the truly virtuous man
who can love or who can hate others."
To see men of worth and not be able to raise them to office; to
raise them to office, but not to do so quickly:-this is disrespectful.
To see bad men and not be able to remove them; to remove them, but not
to do so to a distance:-this is weakness.
To love those whom men hate, and to hate those whom men love;-this
is to outrage the natural feeling of men. Calamities cannot fail to
come down on him who does so.
Thus we see that the sovereign has a great course to pursue. He must
show entire self-devotion and sincerity to attain it, and by pride and
extravagance he will fail of it.
There is a great course also for the production of wealth. Let the
producers be many and the consumers few. Let there be activity in
the production, and economy in the expenditure. Then the wealth will
always be sufficient.
The virtuous ruler, by means of his wealth, makes himself more
distinguished. The vicious ruler accumulates wealth, at the expense of
Never has there been a case of the sovereign loving benevolence, and
the people not loving righteousness. Never has there been a case where
the people have loved righteousness, and the affairs of the
sovereign have not been carried to completion. And never has there
been a case where the wealth in such a state, collected in the
treasuries and arsenals, did not continue in the sovereign's
The officer Mang Hsien said, "He who keeps horses and a carriage
does not look after fowls and pigs. The family which keeps its
stores of ice does not rear cattle or sheep. So, the house which
possesses a hundred chariots should not keep a minister to look out
for imposts that he may lay them on the people. Than to have such a
minister, it were better for that house to have one who should rob
it of its revenues." This is in accordance with the saying:-"In a
state, pecuniary gain is not to be considered to be prosperity, but
its prosperity will be found in righteousness."
When he who presides over a state or a family makes his revenues his
chief business, he must be under the influence of some small, mean
man. He may consider this man to be good; but when such a person is
employed in the administration of a state or family, calamities from
Heaven, and injuries from men, will befall it together, and, though
a good man may take his place, he will not be able to remedy the evil.
This illustrates again the saying, "In a state, gain is not to be
considered prosperity, but its prosperity will be found in
The Great Learning