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From the Chinese Classics

From the Chinese Classics

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03/18/2014

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From the Chinese Classics

The thought of ancient China seems to have been less obviously religious, and more man-centered, than that of Palestine or India. The Analects of Confucius contain much about ethics and politics, and only a little about "Heaven." There is more about human nature in the sayings attributed to Mencius (Meng K'o), a teacher in the Confucian tradition who lived in the fourth century B.C. The selected sayings clearly express an optimistic view of the natural goodness of man, and a concern with the conditions that will allow this goodness to flourish (in "humanheartedness"). The recommendation to “nourish the vastflowing vital energy in man" may be somewhat vague, but the absence of all reference to any God or Soul or life after death, or even Buddhist renunciation, suggests a more this-worldly diagnosis and prescription than any of the religious traditions considered so far. These extracts are from the translation by E. R. Hughes, in Chinese Philosophy in Classical Times (Everyman's Library: Dent and Dutton, 1942; in the United States, E. P. Dutton). THE GOODNESS OF HUMAN NATURE, AND THE CONDITIONS FOR IT TO FLOURISH Master Kao said that that which is born in men is their nature, and when Master Meng asked him whether the meaning of this statement was like the meaning of "white is white," Kao answered that that was his meaning. Master Kao said, "Men's nature is like a current of water. If you open a channel for the current to the east, it will flow east. If you open a channel to the west, it will flow west. Men's nature makes no distinction between the good and the not good, just as water makes no distinction between east and west." Master Meng replied, "Water can be trusted not to make a distinction between east and west: but is this so in relation to up and down? Men's natural (end page 25) tendency towards goodness is like the water's tendency to find the lower level. Now if, for example, you strike the water and make it leap up, it is possible to force it over your head. . . . But this surely is not the nature of water, and it is only if force is applied that it acts in this way. That men can be made to do evil is due to their nature also being like this.". . . Kung Tu [a disciple of Mencius] said, "Master Kao says that men's nature is neither good nor evil . . . whilst there are others who say that some men have a good nature and some have an evil nature. . . , Now you [i.e. Mencius] say that men's nature is good. If this is the case, then are all these others wrong?" Master Meng replied, "Speaking realistically, it is possible for men to be good, and that is what I mean when I say that (men's nature) is good. If they become evil, it is not the fault of their natural powers. Thus all men have a sense of compassion, also a sense of shame over wickedness, a sense of reverence, and a sense of truth and error. The sense of compassion is equivalent to individual morality, the sense of shame to public morality, the sense of reverence to ritual propriety, and the sense of right and wrong equals wisdom. These four, individual morality, public morality, ritual propriety, and wisdom, are not fused into us from without. We invariably are possessed of them, and that without reflecting on them. This is why I maintain that if we seek for them, then we find them. If we neglect them, we lose them. That contrasts can be made between men of twice and five times and even to an incalculable degree is due to the fact that men fail fully to carry out their natural powers. . . ." Master Meng said, "All men have the sense of compassion for others. The former kings, having this sense of compassion, thereby ruled compassionately. Having the sense of compassion and practising this compassionate rule, their control of the Great Society was as easy as rolling things in the hand. What I mean by all men having a sense of compassion is

that if, for instance, a child is suddenly seen to be on the point of falling into a well, everybody without exception will have a sense of distress. It is not by reason of any close intimacy with the parents of the child, nor by reason of a desire for the praise of neighbours and friends, nor by reason of disliking to be known as the kind of man (who is not moved by (end page 26) compassion). From this point of view we observe that it is inhuman to have no sense of compassion, inhuman to have no sense of shame over wickedness, inhuman to have no sense of modesty and the need for yielding place to a better man, inhuman not to distinguish right and wrong. The sense of compassion represents the tender shoot of individual morality, the sense of shame that of public morality, the sense of modesty that of ritual propriety, the sense of truth and error that of wisdom. Men have these four tender shoots just as they have their four limbs; and the man who in spite of having these tender shoots in him says of his own accord 'I am unable,' that man plays the thief with himself; and when he says it of his ruler, he plays the thief of his ruler. . . . Every ‘I’ with these four tender shoots knows how to nourish and expand them, just like fire bursting into flame and a spring gushing forth on all sides. Let them expand to the full, and they alone suffice to protect all within the Four Seas. Should they be prevented from expansion, they do not suffice for the service of a man's father and mother." Master Meng said, ". . . With those who do violence to themselves it is impossible to converse, with those who throw themselves away it is impossible to act. The meaning of doing violence to oneself is contravention of ritual and righteousness, the meaning of throwing oneself away is inability in oneself to dwell in human-heartedness and follow righteousness. For human-heartedness is man's abode of peace and righteousness is man's true path. Alas, that that abode is left empty and desolate and that path is abandoned and not followed!" Kun-sun Ch'ou [a disciple] asked if he might learn from his Master what his idea of an unperturbed mind was and what Master Kao's was. The reply was, "Kao's idea is, do not try to

get in the mind what you cannot put into words: do not try to get from the vital energy in you what you cannot get from your mind. Now the second statement is permissible but the first is not. Purpose in the mind is the teaching power (needed by) the vital energy, as this energy is the power developing cohesion (needed by) the body; and of these purpose is of the first importance, the vital energy of secondary importance. The result is that I maintain that we have to hold fast to our purposes, but not if these injure the vital energy in us. ... If the purposes be integrated, they can stir up the vital (end page 27) energy in us; and (equally) if the vital energy in our limbs be integrated, it can stir up purpose in the mind. For example, when a man stumbles or gets hurried, this is due to (unintegrated) energy in his limbs, and it has a reversing {? paralysing] effect on the mind." Kung-sun Ch'ou then asked in what way (spiritual) growth was achieved. The reply was, "By our understanding (the significance of) speech, and by skill in nourishing the vastflowing vital energy in man." When Kung-sun Ch'ou asked him what he meant by "the vast-flowing energy,” the reply was, "It is difficult to put it into words. Such is the nature of this energy that it is immensely great and immensely strong, and if it be nourished by uprightness and so sustain no injury, then it pervades the whole space between the heavens and the earth. Such is the nature of this force that it marries righteousness with truth[Tao] and without it (material and spiritual) corruption would set in. It is the product of accumulated righteousness, though not of a righteousness handed down and casually caught at. (For) if human conduct be possessed of no (divine) discontent in the mind, then corruption would set in ... Here is a duty which must be accomplished, and that without ceasing. The mind must not forget it. And yet the mind must not deliberately help the growth, as the Sung farmer did. There was a man there who was vexed with his growing corn because it was not tall; so he pulled it up. When he returned home in a state of exhaustion he told his people, 'I am very tired to-day: I

have been helping the corn to grow.' His son ran out to see— the corn of course was all withered away. Now in our Great Society there are very few who (in relation to the vast-flowing vital energy) either do not help the corn to grow, or neglect it as being of no use… The people who help the vast-flowing vital energy to grow are the people who pull it up. Not only is their labour in vain, it is actually injurious." Master Meng said, "Those who have the Mean nurture those who have not, and those who have natural gifts nurture those who have not. Thus it is that men are glad over the possession of worthy fathers and elder brothers. If those who had the Mean and natural gifts were to forsake those who had not, the difference between the worthy and unworthy could not amount to the space of an inch." Master Meng said, ". . . An enlightened man builds on the deep (end page 28) foundation of the Way [Tao]. His wish is to possess it of himself. If he comes to possess it, then he dwells at peace in it and so comes to have a profound confidence in it, and so gets it on every hand and makes contact with its bubbling spring. This is the cause of an enlightened man's wishing to possess it of himself."

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