On The Original Mind (Wang Yang Ming)

The 4 Axioms of the teachings of the Chinese humanists Wang Yang Ming (1472-1529) intrigue me. I believe that he was on to something. Ming’s Axioms as translated into English:

“In the original substance of the mind
there is no distinction of good and evil.

When the will becomes active, however,
such distinction exists.
The faculty of innate knowledge
is to know good and evil.
The investigation of things
is to do good and remove evil.”

As to the mind in its original state, I believe that Ming was spot on. On the day of our birth, were our thoughts either good or bad? Granted, we cannot know with any certainty the thoughts of an infant, but it seems by observation that the thoughts of a new born are to basically request harmony and balance.

When the new born feels hunger, the child’s harmonic balance has been disrupted, thus the newborn disrupts our harmonic balance by crying until we feed the child.  When the new born is cold, the child’s harmonic balance has been disrupted, thus the newborn disrupts our harmonic balance by crying until we cover the child.  When the new born has a dirty diaper, the child’s harmonic balance has been disrupted, thus the newborn disrupts our harmonic balance by crying until we change the child’s diaper.

Yet, the newborn is never preoccupied with the race of the person feeding her bottle. Nor is the child preoccupied with the person’s sexuality who covers him with a blanket.  Furthermore, the newborn does not plot an opportunity to corner the financial market on milk, so as to exploit the other babies for money. Nor does the newborn plot an opportunity to force others to labor so as the newborn can market a new line of milk.

The newborn is socially neutral, for the child has yet to develop the prejudices and preferences which arise as the will develops. Nor does the baby struggle with covetousness or greed, for again, such qualities arise as the will arises.

Wang Yang Ming was right. The mind in its original state is neither good or bad.

I shall offer commentary on the other Axioms of Ming in separate posts.

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One thought on “On The Original Mind (Wang Yang Ming)

  1. Good post! Just a quick heads up though, his surname was Wang, not Ming; “Yangming” was not even his actual name, but a style such was used by gentlemen through most of Chinese history.

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