The Minh Tâm Bảo Giám (明心寶鑑, also romanized as Minh Tâm Bửu Giám) is an anthology of aphorisms and quotations selected from various Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist sources. The compiler of the work is unknown, although many point to a Ming dynasty (1368-1644) scholar named Phạm Lập Bản (范立本 Fan Li-ben). The title of the work translates to “The Precious Mirror of the Enlightened Heart-Mind”. It was highly influential and widespread in the Sinosphere (China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan) and was also translated into European languages by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th century. Each chapter covers a separate topic, which vary from the duties of governing a nation to the virtues proper to house-wives. Vietnamese translations and printings of this book were common during the Nguyễn dynasty (1802-1945). It was used as an educational tool. Vietnamese translations and printings of this work can still be found today. The book used in writing this post is a modern reprinting of an edition originally published in 1968, which in turn used the translation of Jean-Baptiste Pétrus Trương Vĩnh Ký (張永記, 1837-1898), a scholar, linguist, and convert to Roman Catholicism, who played a tremendous role in promoting the romanization of the Vietnamese language (𡦂國語 chữ Quốc ngữ).
The following quotation is taken from the first chapter of the Minh Tâm Bảo Giám – Doing Good (繼善篇 Kế Thiện thiên).
凡人有勢不可倚盡, 有福不可亨盡, 貧窮不可欺盡, 此三者乃天地循環週而復始, 故一日行善, 福雖未至, 禍自遠矣, 一日行惡, 禍雖未至, 福自遠矣。行善之人如春園之草, 不見其長, 日有所增, 行惡之人如磨刀之石, 不見其損, 日有所虧。損人益己切宜戒之, 一毫之善與人方便, 一毫之惡勸人莫作, 衣食隨緣自然快樂, 算甚麼命？問甚麼卜？欺人是禍, 饒人是福, 天網恢恢, 報應甚速, 謹聽吾言神欽鬼伏。
Phàm nhân hữu thế bất khả ỷ tận, hữu phúc bất khả hưởng tận, bần cùng bất khả khi tận, thử tam giả nãi thiên địa tuần hoàn chu nhi phục thủy, cố nhất nhật hành thiện, phúc tuy vị chí, họa tự viễn hĩ, nhất nhật hành ác, họa tuy vị chí, phúc tự viễn hĩ. Hành thiện chi nhân như xuân viên chi thảo, bất kiến kỳ trưởng, nhật hữu sở tăng, hành ác chi nhân như ma đao chi thạch, bất kiến kỳ tổn, nhật hữu sở khuy. Tổn nhân ích kỷ thiết nghi giới chi, nhất hao chi thiện dữ nhân phương tiện, nhất hao chi ác khuyến nhân mạc tác, y thực tùy duyên tự nhiên khoái lạc, toán thậm ma mệnh? Vấn thậm ma bốc? Khi nhân thị họa, nhiêu nhân thị phúc, thiên võng khôi khôi, báo ứng thậm tốc, cẩn thính ngô ngôn thần khâm quỷ phục.
Now, men have power and authority but it cannot be fully relied upon. They have fortune and prosperity, but cannot enjoy it to the fullest. Whilst in poverty and hardship, their shame has no limit. In Heaven-and-earth these three circumstances cycle without end and return to the beginning to repeat once more. Hence, if today one performs good works and good fortune has not yet come, at least misfortune will remain far-off. If today one does evil, though disaster has not yet fallen upon him, good fortune has also taken flight. The man who does good is like the grass of a vernal garden. Though one cannot see its growth, it increases daily. The man who does evil is like a whetstone. Though one does not see him deteriorating, he daily falls deeper into ruin. One must guard against taking away from others to the benefit of oneself. Always be ready to perform even the smallest good deed for others, and never shrink from cautioning others against even the smallest evil. If one contents himself with the clothing and food allotted by fate, what need is there to consult fortune-tellers and divination? Despising others is the root of disaster and misfortune, forgiving and loving others is the source of good fortune and happiness. The net of Heaven is vast; reward and retribution are swiftly dealt. Listen carefully to my words, and even the spirits will respect you.
– the illustration used is a picture from a Nguyễn dynasty printing of the Minh Tâm Bảo Giám, printed in the third year of emperor Đồng Khánh (同慶, 1864-1889), temple name Nguyễn Cảnh Tông (阮景宗). The title of the printing is “The Precious Mirror of the Enlightened Heart-Mind Explained” (明心寶鑑釋義 Minh Tâm Bảo Giám thích nghĩa) and the text provides Vietnamese translations of various terms and quotations.