The last Confucian sage was Wang Yang-ming

The last Confucian sage was Wang Yang-ming, a universal genius who as a Minister occasionally commanded military campaigns. A master strategist and tactician, he lost very few men.

On one occasion, before an imminent battle, he made his dispositions and then in his tent began a lecture to his staff officers on strategy. The fighting began and after a time a courier rushed into the tent to report that the enemy had made a breach in the right wing of Wang’s forces. The officers jumped up in excitement, but Wang waved them back into their seats remarking: “The possibility has been foreseen, they know what to do,” and continued the lecture.

Again after a time another courier arrived to say that the enemy had been completely routed. Again the officers rose in excitement but Wang made them sit down and calmly finished his lecture. This famous incident from 15th century Chinese history is often cited as an example of the conduct of the sage who remains in society. He is concerned with success but not with triumph. Triumph or disaster are both ripples which break the surface of the mind and prevent the clear vision of the reflected sun and still more the final experience of the great sun.

He acquired his inner calm by meditation and study. When Wang by his righteous conduct incurred the jealousy of a high Palace official, who saw in him a potential rival, he had to leave the capital, but the official sent professional assassins after him. Wang set himself to meditate every evening in front of an open coffin. By this practice he finally freed himself completely from fear.

© 2000 Trevor Leggett

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