The ancient Chinese honored and respected heaven's will. They believed that when one is attuned to heaven's will one can understand human affairs and act righteously. The ancients observed, studied, and hypothesized about the movement, changes, and rules that govern the universe and nature. The findings allowed them to understand the ever-evolving human society and the rules that govern humankind’s existence. Based on that, they deduced that the principles of moral conduct should harmonize with heaven and earth and prevent one from deviating from the righteous path.
In ancient times, the governments set up various official posts to observe phenomenon in the sky. These observations were used to predict and foretell auspicious or ominous events in the future. During the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC – 9 AD), there was a man named Sima Jizhu who discussed the heavenly principles and human affairs based on what he observed and predicted.
According to Shi Ji (Records of the Grand Historian), there lived a virtuous court official, Sima Jizhu, in the kingdom of Chu. He studied in Chang’an, an ancient capital of China during the Han, Sui, and Tang dynasties and now called Xi'an. He was well versed in The Book of Changes, and the teachings of the Yellow Emperor and Lao Zi. Besides that, he had broad knowledge and great foresight. One time, court officials Song Zhong and Jia Yi paid a visit to Sima Jizhu to ask his thoughts on human affairs. At the time, Sima Jizhu was having a discussion with three students regarding heaven and earth, sun and moon, yin and yang, and fortunes. When they noticed Song Zhong and Jia Yi, they invited them to sit and join the discussion. Song Zhong and Jia Yi responded that they only wished to listen. Sima Jizhu continued to talk about the movements of heaven and earth, the sun and the moon, and their relationship to benevolence and righteousness, as well as the good and the bad omens. Everything was explained in an organized and logical manner. Song Zhong and Jia Yi both listened attentively and with great respect.
Sima Jizhu said, "A gentleman is straightforward when offering good advice and does not expect to be repaid when giving praise. He kindly and honestly points out other's mistakes, keeping the nation and people's well-being in mind with utmost importance. A genuinely virtuous person will not accept a government position if he does not think he can perform it well, nor will he take a salary that exceeds his efforts. He is not ecstatic when offered a position, nor is he worried about losing his job; the key is that he does things conscientiously. On the other hand, a sly person who is hungry for power uses his authority to threaten others. He uses the law as a tool to force out the righteous person and exploits the common people. He will do anything for personal gain, and that is despicable. A wicked official does not enforce the law to prevent robberies, does not take care of and reform the neighboring barbaric tribes when they refuse to respect the government, and does not stop other wicked ones from uprising and obstructing the path of the sages. All kinds of disasters occur as a result of degenerated moral values."
Song Zhong and Jia Yi were impressed and humbled by Sima Jizhu's speech and commented, "It is true that good moral values lead to peace, whereas power and force lead to danger. One should learn and follow the laws of heaven in one's activities, and become a righteous instead of a sly person who caters to the powerful."
After the fall of the Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 BC), the Marquis of Dongling was relegated to the level of a common person. One day he visited Sima Jizhu to have his fortune told. Sima Jizhu asked, "What do you want to know about your future?" The Marquis of Dongling replied, "I've heard that when annoyance and depression reaches the extremes, ventilation will follow; when the temperature gets too hot, the wind will blow; and what is congested for a period of time will begin circulating. From winter to spring, what is curled up will become extended. Things rise and fall and they come and go. However, I still have doubts and would like to hear your advice."
Sima Jizhu said, "You seem to understand the principles, then why do you need me to talk about your future?" Marquis of Dongling replied, "I don't seem to thoroughly understand the profound meanings of what I have heard and hope you can guide me." Sima Jizhu responded, "Who does the heavenly law favor? It favors those who are virtuous. When a virtuous person conducts himself according to heavenly law and does things to benefit the common people, the gods will help him. From dusk till dawn, flowers wilt and bloom; winter departs and spring arrives; all things wane and will be reborn. There is always a calm and deep pool at the end of the rapid river water. There must be a deep canyon underneath the high mountain ridge. There is cause and effect, and all matters are predestined. When a person cultivates to become virtuous, good fortunes will follow."
Ancient Chinese have believed and followed the principle of "man and heaven are one." They knew that there was a direct relationship between cosmic changes and changes in human affairs, and that good deeds will be rewarded and bad deeds will receive retribution. Therefore, they placed great importance on elevating their moral standards.