Throughout China's long history, respect for spiritual teachers has been a wonderful and virtuous tradition. In ancient China, people paid attention to the importance of respecting spiritual teachers and cultivating virtue. They set an excellent example for the following generations.
Yan Hui lived in a part of China's empire known as the nation of Lu during the Spring and Autumn Period (from the second half of the 8th century BC to the first half of the 5th century BC). He was a follower of Confucius. He spent his life dedicated to studying Confucius' teachings and was famous for his virtue.
Yan Hui began as a humble student, eager to learn. Very quickly he learned the profoundness of Confucianism. He said, "The more I study, the more I feel its profoundness. The more I learn, the more I find its sophistication. Although it is deep and profound, the teacher guides us gradually with all kinds of literature to enrich our knowledge so that we can improve. The teacher is also restrained in what he tells us so that it's impossible for us to stop learning. Through effort, I feel I have understood some of it. But if I want to continue to make progress, I need to continue to study and practice."
Another spiritual teacher was teaching his way in Lu nation at the time, competing with Confucius. He promoted evil doctrines and deceived many students. Many were distracted and there came a time where Confucius' class was full for three days and empty for the next three days. Only Yan Hui stayed and never left. Some asked him, "Why didn't you learn from the other teacher?" Yan Hui replied, "Being my teacher for one day is being my father for my entire life. In addition, Confucius respects heaven's order and promotes virtue. He teaches the righteous way. It is exactly what I want to learn. Why should I leave him?"
Yan Hui studied very hard. Although the conditions of his life were poor, he was content. He was diligent and reviewed the teachings repeatedly so that he could achieve "study one thing to learn ten things". Confucius praised him by saying, "Yan Hui is truly extraordinary. He only eats one bowl of rice and one bowl of soup for each meal, lives in a simple room and bears hardships that others cannot bear. He remains focused and studies persistently. He is truly great!" Yan Hui understood the "compassion" Confucius promoted and carried it out. He was humble, believing that one should "never vent anger to others, never remember others' mistakes". When Confucius asked him about the way of treating others, he replied, "When others are kind to me, I will be kind to them. When others are not kind to me, I will still be kind to them."
Confucius promoted governing with compassion and morality. Yan Hui took this to heart and adhered to it throughout his life. He followed Confucius to many countries to promote the righteous way. Yan Hui longed for a harmonious society where "Virtue is in everyone's heart, the governor and his people are in harmony. Everyone obeys the rules so that there will be no need for walls let alone the worry of wars." He believed that the way to a harmonious society was through teaching people about morality. He was determined and firm in promoting this. No matter how harsh the environment was, he still tried to achieve it.
When Confucius was stranded in between the areas of Chen and Cai and ran out of food, some disciples were perturbed. Only Yan Hui was calm and peaceful. He put some food in front of Confucius to show his respect and loyalty. He said, "Confucius has achieved a very high level. That's the reason why he cannot be accepted by some people. Even so, he still tried his best to promote and save people from suffering with his compassion. Although some people are jealous, what bearing does that have on the righteous way? Herein lies the very reason why it is so precious. Only a noble man can persistently uphold righteousness under all circumstances. It is our shame if we cannot do this. If some people cannot accept it when we are doing this, it is their shame." Confucius was very glad to hear it and praised him.
Yan Hui adhered to Confucius' teaching. He cultivated himself, restrained from all desires and tried to be compassionate. His spirit of seeking truth has encouraged Chinese people ever since.
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