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In the history of ancient Chinese thought, one of the most memorable statements that has come of the Book

of Mencius is this: When Heaven chooses to burden a person with great responsibilities, IT would begin by frustrating his will, burden his sinews and bones, make his body hungry and exhausted, as well as interfering with his endeavors -- so as to activate his mind, temper his nature, and help him to overcome his inadequacies. (
Ibid. Chapter 11) Given the context within which this statement is

embedded, Mencius was not saying that ones destiny is pre-fixed by Heaven (as some might have presumed). What he meant rather is that the fixer of ones destiny is none other than oneself.
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Mencius on The Fixer of Ones Destiny


An excerpt from The Six Patriarchs of Chinese Humanism Author: Peter M.K. Chan All rights reserved
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With regard to the wherewithal of ones destiny, Mencius was clear about where he stood. Those who search for it will get it. Those who ignore it will lose it. It is something that one must require of oneself and for the betterment of oneself. This is the only way to search for and attain what is really ones destiny. ( Ibid. Chapter 13) Under this light, it is also to be understood that fortune and misfortune come from nowhere other than oneself. As it is said in Thai Ghia (a section in the Book of History), calamities sent from Heaven can still be changed; but no one is able to survive from calamities brought on by himself. ( Ibid. Chapter 3) This is why those who understand what destiny is would not stand under the wall of

a high cliff. Correct destiny is only to be had if one would exert oneself to the end of ones days and die. To die in handcuffs and chains is not ones correct destiny. (
Ibid. Chapter 13)

It is true that people will always err. But it is only after making mistakes that they can correct themselves. It is only when the mind is laden with difficulties and long deliberations that one can get things done. ( Ibid.) Take the case of Yao and Shun (two of the ancient sage-kings) for instance: The great Yao was great. He forsook himself for others. From the time when he was a farmer, a potter and a fisherman, up until he became emperor, he never stopped learning from others. ( Ibid. ) Similarly, Shun began his career in the grain fields, and was reported to have worked in construction sites. (
Ibid. Chapter 11)

What that shows, according to Mencius, is that when Heaven chooses to burden a person with great responsibilities, IT would begin by frustrating his will, burden his sinews and bones, make his body hungry and exhausted, as well as interfering with his endeavors -- so as to activate his mind, temper his nature, and help him to overcome his inadequacies. (
Ibid. Chapter 11) It also shows that it is for having spent a long

time in difficulty that people have come to possess virtuous wisdom and practical knowledge. ( Ibid. Chapter 13) Unfortunately, acting without being clear, doing things without close examination, and carrying on in this fashion until the end of life without ever knowing ones course is the way of many a man. (
Ibid. Chapter 11)

In short, it is only by doing ones best with ones mind

could one come to know ones nature. To know ones nature is also to know Heaven. To preserve the mind and nourish ones nature is to serve Heaven. It is by nurturing oneself, irrespective of the length of ones life, that ones destiny would come to be established. (;
Ibid. Chapter 13) That is also to say, only those who have pursued

their own path to the end could be said to have been right about their destiny. (Ibid.) This is the only way to search for and attain ones destiny. (
Ibid.)

Comment: What Mencius had in mind is basically this: Ones destiny is actually fixed by ones personal effort. Everyone is born with a bodymind and into a set of circumstances. Some of these may be unfavorable, as in the case of Yao and Shun. But this is to be looked upon as Heavens way of preparing them for great responsibilities. What was true of these ancient sage-kings is true of everyone. In other words, irrespective of natural endowment and circumstance, the fixer of ones destiny is none other than oneself. Let me also say that if what Mencius has just said about Heavens way of preparing someone for great responsibilities is anything to go by, kids should not be pampered for fear of repressive syndromes (as Freudians called). Instead, they should be trained to take no for an answer, and urged to become self-reliant. This will preempt the possibility of their becoming nothing more than spineless dragons of sorts, unable to strive and survive on their own in the competitive school of hard knocks. As Mencius had also taken the trouble to note: Orphaned servants and those born out of wedlock are more able to handle problems with caution and think deeply when distressed. This is also why they are able to get things done. (
Ibid.) ============================================================

Peter M.K. Chan is the author of The Mystery of Mind (published 2003), and Soul, God, and Morality (published 2004). Recently, he has also competed another work titled The Six Patriarchs of Chinese Humanism (available in ebooks, but not yet in print). For details regarding the above, please visit

http://sites.google.com/site/pmkchan/home https://sites.google.com/site/patriarchsofchinesephilosophy/home http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/petermkchan


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