T'ien Tzu-Fang was sitting in attendance on Marquis Wen of Wei. When he repeatedly praised one Ch'i Kung, Marquis Wen asked, "Is Ch'i Kung your teacher?"People need praise. It is a way of telling folks we think they are doing a good job or are comporting themselves in a benevolent manner. The child who never receives praise from his/her parents will grow up to become an individual filled with self-doubt or self-loathing.
"No," replied Tzu-fang. "He comes from the same neighborhood as I do. Discussing the Way with him, I've found he often hits the mark - that's why I praise him."
"Have you no teacher then?" asked Marquis Wen.
"I have," said Tzu-fang.
"Who is your teacher?"
"Master Shun from east of the Wall," said Tzu-fang.
"Then why have you never praised him?" asked Marquis Wen.
Tzu-fang said, "He's the kind of man who is True -- the face of a human being, the emptiness of Heaven. He follows along and keeps tight hold of the True; pure, he can encompass all things. If men do not have the Way, he has only to put on a straight face and they are enlightened; he causes men's intentions to melt away. But how could any of this be worth praising!"
Tzu-fang retired from the room and Marquis Wen, stupefied, sat for the rest of the day in silence. Then he called to the ministers who stood in attendance on him and said, "How far away he is - the gentleman of Complete Virtue! I used to think that the words of the wisdom of the sages and the practices of benevolence and righteousness were the highest ideal. But now that I have heard about Tzu-fang's teacher, my body has fallen apart and I feel no inclination to move; my mouth is manacled and I feel no inclination to speak. These things that I have been studying are so many clay dolls - nothing more! This state of Wei is in truth only a burden to me!"
~ Burton Watson translation ~
The idealistic sage would have no need for praise because the idealistic sage has no fixed egoic identity. While I don't think that idealistic sages exist, that doesn't mean we can't learn a thing or two from them!
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