On Benevolence

“…without benevolence, a student’s pride, ego or arrogance takes control. …Benevolence is required and grows with the cultivation of wisdom.”

— from the home page of Master Park’s web site (www.pa-kua.com)

 Of the four virtues which are part of the Ch’iang Shan Pa Kua Chang Association’s motto, the 2nd is benevolence. The Chinese character used to represent benevolence on the Association’s banner is pronounced “ren” in Mandarin. This notion of benevolence is essential to Chinese social philosophy. In fact, ren was considered so important by the preeminent Master Kung (Confucius) that he went so far as to say that it was the “central idea” which ran through his philosophy.

We can make a start at understanding benevolence by looking at the word ren itself because, in written languages based on pictures, insight can be gained by examining the symbols which comprise the word. Thus, on the Association’s banner, the Chinese ideogram for benevolence depicts the character for “people” combined with the character for “two.” This juxtaposition signifies that benevolence should be the natural quality of relationship between any two people. But what qualities are these? One modern Chinese scholar writes:

“Ren expresses the Confucian ideal of cultivating humanity, developing human faculties, sublimating one’s personality and upholding human rights… Confucius held that human relations should be based on the moral sentiment of ren, which leads to positive efforts for the good of others. He said ‘Ren consists in loving others.’ In fact, Confucius regarded ren not merely as a special kind of virtue, but as all the virtues combined.”

Thus, the virtue of benevolence is a central notion in the Confucianist social view. This matters for us because, as Master Park’s home page states, benevolence is one of the “four important ideals that Lu Shui-Tian believed all Pa Kua Chang practitioners must cultivate and embrace.”

Since benevolence is so important to the founder of our system, the question facing us as we practice Pa Kua Chang is: how do we go about cultivating and embracing the virtue of benevolence?

To get at this, another bit of information is helpful. When explaining the Oriental concept of natural law, the late Dr. Sang Hun Lee, a prominent Confucian philosopher, explained the central notions of order and position. There is a vertical order within the universe (e.g., between the Moon – the Earth – the center of the Galaxy – the center of the universe) as well as a horizontal order (e.g., between the planets Mercury – Venus – Earth – Mars – Jupiter – Saturn – Uranus – Neptune – Pluto). The vertical order is the axis of the structure; it is central. The horizontal order rests upon and revolves around it. As each of the heavenly bodies fulfills its position, the order of the system is sustained. Dr. Lee explained that this is how the principle of order governs nature and that humanity should observe and learn how this principle ought to operate in society.

For example, in a family, there is a vertical order between descendants (e.g., between grandparents, parents, and children) as well as a horizontal order between peers (e.g., between husband and wife, brothers and sisters).3 Accordingly, there are specific virtues which characterize and help define the different family relationships.

Benevolence is the one of these main virtues: it characterizes the type of care which elders give to their juniors. For example, the kind of love which parents and grandparents give to their descendants is benevolent—it is caring, committed, nurturing, cultivating, protective, observing, generous and even strict when appropriate. And here, we can recall the initial definition which was mentioned earlier, that is, that benevolence aims at “cultivating humanity, developing human faculties, sublimating one’s personality and upholding human rights” and that it “leads to positive efforts for the good of others.” (As an intriguing sidenote, it is worth mentioning that the prized virtues of loyalty and filial piety are seen as the natural response of grateful juniors towards benevolent elders.)

But how does this all apply to our study of Pa Kua Chang? Well, in classical martial arts, this benevolent, nurturing attitude is an essential part of the time-honored teacher—student relationship. As can be understood from the accounts of Sifu Lu’s tutelage of Sifu Park4, the teacher’s attitude toward his student went much deeper than just training in fighting skills. Rather, it was a deep and meaningful commitment to nurture the development of not only a skilled fighter but also of a virtuous individual—one who possessed wisdom, benevolence, sincerity and bravery, to be exact. (And it is evident from reading about Sifu Park that his response to Sifu Lu is clearly one of deference and loyalty. Note that, on his own book, Sifu Park displays the photo of Sifu Lu rather than himself and further, that he subtitles the book “The Method of Lu Shui-T’ien as Taught by Park Bok Nam”. The respect and deference here are obvious.)

This is surely why each class begins with a recitation of the Association’s motto: it is a reminder of Sifu Lu’s original hope that his descendants will “cultivate” and “embrace” these valued virtues and, likewise, transmit them to future generations of students. We can do this each time we teach, assist, demonstrate or simply correct or advise others—therein are golden opportunities to practice benevolence and to develop benevolent habits. In so doing, we not only train others, but we also cultivate ourselves.


1 Prof. Ch’u Chai, The Story of Chinese Philosophy, Washington Square Press, 1961, p. 24

2 Park Bok Nam and Dan Miller, The Fundamentals of Pa Kua Chang, High View Publications, 1993, p. 14

3 Dr. Sang Hun Lee, taken from unpublished lecture notes in Tokyo, 1985

4 Park Bok Nam, The Fundamentals of Pa Kua Chang, p. 7 – 20

Written by Gerard Servito

Originally Published October, 1999