Confucius Analects – 4 Stages of Virtue
15.13 Four stages of virtue (knowing, abiding, applying, integrating)
The Master said, ‘When a man’s knowledge is sufficient to attain, and his virtue is not sufficient to enable him to hold, whatever he may have gained, he will lose again.
‘When his knowledge is sufficient to attain, and he has virtue enough to hold fast, if he cannot govern with dignity, the people will not respect him.
‘When his knowledge is sufficient to attain, and he has virtue enough to hold fast; when he governs also with dignity, yet if he try to move the people contrary to the rules of propriety:– full excellence is not reached.’
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1st stage: knowing (understanding, thinking, talking)
2nd stage: abiding (holding the core intentions)
3rd stage: applying (in worldily roles)
4th stage: integrating (within propriety, in harmony with prevailing situation)
At the first stage, one knows what is and not virtue. At second stage, one not only knows about it, but can abide in it in one’s individual life. At third stage, one expands the practice of virtue from isolated individual to interacting with others through various worldly roles. At final stage, one succeeds in aligning with virtue without contradicting with propriety and prevailing social standards, e.g. final stage of life of Confucius.
Therefore, first stage practitioners are scholars, second stage practitioners are hermits and experts of the internal world, third stage practitioners are socialists and Bodhisattvas (masters of the internal world seeking to help the world); forth stage practitioners are full enlightened masters of internal and external worlds.