Things Japanese/Moral Maxims
Moral Maxims. Few Japanese books are more likely to please the foreign student than two small volumes of practical ethics, entitled respectively Jitsu-go Kyō, or "Teaching of the Words of Truth," and Dōji Kyō, or "Teaching of the Young." They are ascribed to Buddhist abbots of the ninth century; but the doctrine of both has a Confucian no less than a Buddhistic flavour, and many of the maxims are transcribed bodily from Chinese sources. Both collections were for many ages as familiar to the youth of Japan as the Sermon on the Mount is to us. The following may serve as specimens:—
"Treasures that are laid up in a garner decay: treasures that are laid up in the mind decay not.
"Though thou shouldst heap up a thousand pieces of gold: they would not be so precious as one day of study.
"If thou, being poor, enter into the abode of the wealthy: remember that his riches are more fleeting than the flower nipped by the hoar-frost.
"If thou be born in the poor man's hovel, but have wisdom: then shalt thou be like the lotus-flower growing out of the mud.
"Thy father and thy mother are like heaven and earth: thy teacher and thy lord are like the sun and moon.
"Other kinsfolk may be likened unto the rushes: husbands and wives are but useless stones.
"He that loveth iniquity beckoneth to misfortune: it is, as it were, the echo answering to the voice.
"He that practiseth righteousness receiveth a blessing: it cometh as surely as the shadow followeth the man.
"Be reverent when thou goest past a grave: alight from thine horse when thou goest past a Shintō shrine.
"When thou art near a Buddhist temple or pagoda, thou shalt not commit any unclean act: when thou readest the sacred writings, thou shalt do nothing unseemly.
"Human ears are listening at the wall: speak no calumny, even in secret.
"Human eyes look down from the heavens: commit no wrong, however hidden.
"When a hasty word hath once been spoken: a team of four horses may pursue, but cannot bring it back.
"The flaw in a mace of white jade may be ground away: but the flaw of an evil word cannot be ground away.
"Calamity and prosperity have no gate: they are there only whither men invite them.
"From the evils sent by Heaven there is deliverance: from the evils we bring upon ourselves there is no escape.
"The gods punish fools, not to slay but to chasten them: the teacher smiteth his disciple, not from hatred but to make him better.
"Though the sins committed by the wise man be great, he shall not fall into hell: though the sins committed by the fool be small, he shall surely fall into hell.
"Life, with birth and death, is not enduring: and ye should haste to yearn after Nirvana.
"The body, with its passions, is not pure: and ye should swiftly search after intelligence.
"Above all things, men must practise charity: it is by alms-giving that wisdom is fed.
"Less than all things, men must grudge money: it is by riches that wisdom is hindered."
Books recommended. Full translation of the Dōji Kyō in Vol. IX. Part III. of the "Asiatic Transactions," and of the Jitsu-go Kyō in the "Cornhill Magazine" for August, 1876.
- According to the Confucian ethical code, which the Japanese adopted, a man's parents, his teacher, and his lord claim his lifelong service, his wife standing on an immeasurably lower plane.