Cultivating the Virtue of Benevolence


Epoch Times, Singapore Edition (Issue 495, Sept 19 – Oct 2, 2014)

Epoch Times Staff

Benevolence is usually defined as the desire to do good things and show kindness to someone. It can be a silent act of goodwill, like the sun shining on a plant and nourishing it. In ancient China, it originally referred to endearment between people, but eventually evolved into a profound moral value with infinite meanings.

The Five Constant Virtues
Over the past five thousand years, the Chinese created a sophisticated civilisation and culture. They concurrently formed their own moral code, which has played an important role in social development and progress.

These have developed into traditional virtues, where the Five Constant Virtues—benevolence (rén 仁), righteousness (yì 义), propriety (lǐ 礼), wisdom (zhì 智) and fidelity (xìn 信) are the most profound.

The Five Constant Virtues are derived from Confucianism, and they are widely acknowledged by Chinese and East Asian societies around the world.

Of the five virtues, Confucius regarded benevolence as the ultimate moral principle and standard. He believed that benevolence dwelled in the nature of everybody and could be reached by anyone who devoted himself to it.

The Cultivation of Benevolence
Benevolence manifests itself in the inner mind, as love and compassion for people, and as avoiding hatred, jealousy, and the intention to cause harm toward anyone.

Benevolence requires that one’s behaviour be amiable, and one should not engage in petty conflict nor do evil deeds.

To cultivate one’s attentiveness to benevolence, one should understand and follow the law of forgiveness. He needs to see the goodness and potential in all by cultivating the reverence of life.

To cultivate the virtue to the highest level, one should also work on purifying and expanding his heart by overcoming all hatred, dislike, and hardness of heart.

Furthermore, one should also apply the Confucian version of the Golden Rule, as stated in Lunyu or the Analects: “What one does not wish for oneself, one ought not to do to anyone else; what one recognises as desirable for oneself, one ought to be willing to grant to others.”

Virtue, in this Confucian view, is based upon maintaining harmony with other people, and is fuelled by a growing self-awareness of others’ interests over one’s own interests.

In short, just as parents care unconditionally for their children, the benevolent person spares no effort to help others. He can even lay down his life to this end, with no thought of being repaid.

From Family to Society
Benevolence arises from being able to connect with human feelings and relate to human suffering.

In a benevolent society, the people are able to empathise with each others’ feelings, and relate to each others’ suffering, giving rise to a general sympathy and sense of justice in society.

The foundation of benevolence is filial piety, which requires one to love his parents, brothers and the whole family. He learns to place the needs of others closest to him before himself.

Subsequently, he extends his benevolence to the wider circle of people around him—to his friends, colleagues, the community, and to society.

The benevolence advocated by Confucius was especially aimed at officials and men of honour. He required the integration of morality, talent, salary and status and the complementary functions of virtue and wisdom as well as internal benevolence and external beauty, thus promoting the happiness of ordinary people and social stability.

Han Xin Reciprocates the Kindness He Received
Han Xin (Hán Xìn 韩信) was a military general who lived more than 2,000 years ago. He served Liu Bang (Emperor Gaozu of Han) and contributed greatly to the founding of the Han dynasty.

Han Xin was extremely poor in his youth, and often couldn’t afford to eat. One day, while he was suffering from hunger, an old woman washing clothes beside a river offered him some food.

Han Xin was very grateful and said that he would reciprocate her kindness in the future. But the old woman said, “I offered you food not to obtain your repayment.” The old woman did not even tell Han Xin her name.

Several years later, after becoming the King of Chu, Han Xin returned to his hometown. He found the woman who fed him and rewarded her with 1,000 taels of gold.

Han Xin was also a man of excellent character with a very high level of benevolence and tolerance. Once, a hooligan saw Han Xin carrying a sword and challenged him to either kill him or crawl through between his legs.

Han Xin knew that he would become a criminal if he killed him, hence instead of responding to the taunts, he crawled through between the hooligan’s legs and was laughed at.

Many years later, when he became a general, Han Xin met the hooligan again. Instead of taking revenge, he appointed the hooligan as his lieutenant.

Moved by Han Xin’s forgiveness, the hooligan eventually became one of Han Xin’s best lieutenants, and served Han Xin loyally.

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