The Business Of The Benevolent Person
“It is the business of the benevolent man to seek to promote what is beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful, and to provide a model for the world. What benefits he will carry out; what does not benefit men he will leave alone” – Mo Di, 5th century BC
Mohism was a philosophical school founded by Mo Di (also referred to as Mo Zi, Master Mo) that for 700 years rivaled Confucianism in what would become China. Though the whole ‘school’ of Mohist thought covers a lot of area (as does Confucianism), one principle, and the one I wish to focus on here is that of Jianai: “impartial caring” or universal benevolence.
Mohists believed that all people deserve benevolence, versus the teaching of Confucius that loyalty to hierarchical commitments such as parent, boss and ruler was most important. Mohists were less interested in ceremony and ritual and believed that goodwill must be universal in nature. It is not enough—in fact it is wrong to just love your family, tribe, or nation (or then, kingdom) but your compassion must be universal. “The benefit of all under heaven,” and that everyone, no matter class, status or ethnicity deserved heaven’s (Tian) blessings.
The Mohists of that time were rather ascetic: They were not fans of luxury or even musical performances, saying such efforts are better directed towards feeding and clothing of the populace. They opposed aggressive war, but volunteered as warriors for states being attacked. Remember, this was during the historical period called “Warring States” in China.
Asia would likely be quite different had Mohism not died out—quite literally it seems, in the Qin dynasty when scholars were buried alive and books were burned. Like Confucianism, it was more of a philosophy than a religion.
Beyond anything else, the central tenet of Mohism remains true today.
“It is the business of the benevolent man to seek to promote what is beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful, and to provide a model for the world.”
Image: (Pictured sideways for formatting!) Text of 7th volume of Mozi, public domain