Mencius said, “I like fish and I like bear’s paw, but if I have to choose between them, I will let go of the fish and take the bear’s paw. I like life and I like Rightness. But if I have to choose between them I will let go of life and take Rightness.”
I want life, but there are things more important to me than life. Therefore there are things that I won’t do just to live. I hate death, but there are things that I hate more than death, and thus there are certain kinds of suffering that I won’t avoid.
If you teach a man to value nothing more than life, then what means will he not use in order to save his life? If you teach people to hate nothing more than death, then what will they not do, in order to avoid death?
But there are some things that people will not do to save their lives and some things that people will not do to avoid death. This means that there are things more important to them than life, and more hateful to them than death. It is not only the worthy who have this capacity. All people have it, but the worthy are able to be consistent in it.
When a bowl of rice or a cup of soup lies between life and death, and you offer it in a nasty way, even a bum off the street will not accept it. If you kick it at him with your feet, even a beggar will not take it.
Yet a man will accept a huge sum of money without any consideration of propriety. What can the money add to his person? I can beautify my house, gain the favors of wives and concubines, or gain the attention of greedy acquaintances. Yet before, I would not receive a bowl of rice to save my life, but now I will accept lots of money for the beautification of my home, for the favors of wives and concubines or to give to greedy acquaintances. Was it also not possible to decline this?
This is called “losing one’s original mind.”