A Continuous Quest In An Ever Changing Universe

The universe is in constant flux and transformation. A moment by moment displacement and reformation.

The universe is everything which is known and experienced, and much more. Even the most knowledgeable among humanity regarding the happenings of our ever expanding universe are merely as a child on the beach looking across the ocean as far as one’s vision might allow. If we only knew what we don’t know, perhaps our ignorance would overwhelm our confidence.

Our concept of reality is limited in scope and to certain specifics. What we know amounts to perceptions as defined by our instincts and our experiences. Our instincts are innate, our experiences are an expanded context of the function of those instincts within the framework of the natural principles of the universe.

Our lives are a moment by moment quest for comfort. An instinctive effort from birth to death. The specifics as to how we achieve that ever elusive goal are limited to the framework of certain seemingly consistent principles within the context of the physical universe.

Our natural instinctive aversion to discomfort is complemented by a secondary instinctive sensitivity for the suffering of others. In fact, we become distressed and therefore internally uncomfortable at the mere sound of the suffering of any other sentient being.

Our instinctive aversion to suffering then seems to not only serve as a means of self preservation, but likewise as a basis for social interaction. Such seems to be the most fundamental principle of our very being as sentient beings within the the context of the constant flux and transformation of our niche of the known universe.

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On Innate Comprehension and Universal Aversion To Suffering

Lu Jiuyan taught that the mind is the universe, and the universe is the mind. Mencius taught that all things are complete in oneself.

There is a universal principle that suffering is not good.

It seems universally comprehended that the only suffering which is not bad is that which is inflicted for the purpose of preventing another and less desirable degree of suffering. Surgery for the purpose of preventing a painful or deadly disease comes to mind.

Our aversion to suffering is innate and instinctive. We are born with a natural aversion to discomfort, and we maintain that posture until we pass away. The innate and instinctive comprehension that suffering is bad allows for a spontaneous guide for self preservation and social conduct.

The innate comprehension of the universal aversion to suffering is indicative of Lu Jiuyan’s theory that the mind is the universe, and likewise the thoughts of Mencius that all things are complete in oneself.

Or so it seems to me.

On The Horizontal Nature of Humility

“Humility in a person of high position sheds luster on that position. Humility in a person of lower position no person can exceed.
Thus humility is the ultimate goal of the noble person, regardless of one’s class status or social position in any given context.”

(My paraphrase of the T’uan commentary on the 15th hexagram of Ch’ien of The Book of Changes; aka “The I Ching”)

Humility and deference are often thought of as a “downwards up” perspective. In other words, those who are traditionally regarded as “subordinates” are conditioned to defer to their “superiors” with an attitude of humility and respect.

Such a perspective is quite common in the Western world, and is conditioned into the fiber of our very thinking from an early age onward. Western folk are conditioned to be humble and to defer to all forms of authority figures, commencing from childhood with reference to parents, and continuing throughout our adults lives with reference to any number of a variety of such symbols of superiority. Yet symbols of superiority are all that a person of elevated social position actually represent, for in truth no individual of any setting is superior to any other, regardless of the context.

The natural equitable status of all people being the reality of an unconditioned perspective, then humility should be universal, and respect should be reciprocal in all situations and settings.

In this regard, it has become my observation based upon decades of experience in “the working world” that harmony in such a setting is best accomplished when people of all levels of management and manufacturing share common respect one for another. If the burden of respect for one another is reciprocal, then management and manufacturers share common concerns and seek the common good. This is but one example of an area where universal humility can lead to ultimate harmony, yet such is a most practical place for the application of the process.

Regardless then of one’s “position” or one’s “status”, humility is the ultimate goal of any such person who seeks to be noble and decent.

On Ruism and Humanism

Confucianist Ruism and Secular Humanism share common ground in that each ideology maintains that the human being is naturally equipped with the capacity to be kind, courteous, caring and compassionate. In essence, the theory is that goodness is naturally developed from within rather than being driven into the person from without.

The Confucian Ruist then does not depend upon being motivated or moved by an exterior being, but rather trusts the natural inner feelings of compassion and concern for others as an effectual guide for establishing a personal code of ethics (Note: The very term “Ru” means softness).

I believe this quality is very well termed by the Asian Studies scholar Philip Ivanhoe when he describes Confucian ethics as “virtue ethics”. Indeed, Confucian Ruism is the theory that all people have within the natural virtues necessary to be humane and to live in peace and harmony.

And so the daily walk of the Confucian Ruist and the Secular Humanist is that of seeking to cultivate and develop our natural virtues from within as we socially engage and casually interact with others without.

For such is the good and natural way of the person who trusts our natural sensitivity and softness as a reliable and reasonable social guide.

The “Me Within Me”

The Confucian thinker Mencius said “All humanity has the mind which cannot bear to see the suffering of others”
(Mencius 2A.6)

My thoughts:

Introspection is the key,
To realize the “Me Within Me”
A common mind we all share,
Upright, sincere, and based on care.

This mind I often throw away,
And act contrary to the Way.
This mind distressed at the pain of another,
I cherish more than any other.

On The Root of Humaneness and The Rudiments of Harmony

The Confucian thinker Mencius maintained that “all things are complete in oneself”. Confucius himself said that “Humanity is born with uprightness”.

It seems to me that within each person is the root of humaneness and the rudiments of a peaceful and harmonious way. The cultivation of such qualities is a daily endeavor accompanied by a host of distractions and obstructions.

I sincerely maintain that the cultivation of our nobler qualities, which should be our primary effort according to Mencius, is the most natural of all experiences and the most necessary of personal endeavors.

A daily work in progress.

The Practical And Adaptive Nature of Confucian Humanism

Among the qualities of Confucianism which appeal to me are the personal and practical nature of its teachings, and the ease with which such may be adapted to any circumstance or situation.

Confucianism is the self awareness of our natural qualities; and the subsequent application of such in any and all settings. In fact, when one comprehends the reality that the Confucian way is merely adaptation to and abiding in accord with the nature of all reality, then we can understand that the Way is not only always with us; but that in fact the Way is within us.

As Confucius said, “Humanity is born with uprightness” (Analects 6.17). And as Mencius said “All things are complete in oneself” (Mencius 7A.4). Again, Mencius said that “All humanity has the mind which cannot bear to see the suffering of others” (Mencius 2A.6).

The fact that such qualities are natural to our very being, and the fact that “all things are complete in oneself” then it follows that the realization of such is based upon a deriving such from within, rather than having these qualities driven in from without. Hence; the 12th Century Confucian Lu Hsiang-Shan said “Principle is endowed in me by Nature, not drilled into me from outside”. Thus, the Confucian way is to “build up the nobler part of our nature” (Mencius 6A.15) by way of honest introspection and sincere application of such in any and all settings in our lives.

And so it is that the Confucian way is merely self awareness of our natural humane qualities; and sincere application of such in our everyday lives.

The Confucian way then is applicable in any situation, and is adaptable to any setting.

Hence, when one looks within, and realizes our natural sensitivity for the feelings of all beings, and responds accordingly, then we are better people for the experience.

Confucianism is about human relations, regardless of the setting.

Confucianism is about self cultivation, and subsequent social engagement based upon a natural kindness and courtesy which is natural to our being.

The Confucian way is to be the best family member, citizen, employee, supervisor, neighbor, and friend; not due to rules and regulations, but rather based upon the realization that such is natural to our very being.

It is my personal view then that self cultivation is the most natural of all experiences, and the most noble of all endeavors.

And such is the Confucian way.

“If you can renovate yourself one day, then you can do so every day, and keep doing so day after day” (King T’ang of the Shang Dynasty)

On The Mind Which Cannot Bear The Suffering of Others (Mencius 2A.6)

From the moment of my birth I have been sensitive to discomfort of any degree, and have from that very moment asserted my will to seek comfort as my preferred state of being.

From an early age I was sensitive to the suffering of other sentient beings. The cry of a stray dog in pain or suffering would have been such a discomfort to my inner being, that my own comfort would have depended upon the comfort of that dog.

I aspire to never lose my original mind which has always had such an aversion to discomfort that my own comfort depends upon the comfort of others.

I cannot help but believe that everyone is born with this same natural aversion to discomfort of any degree for self and others, yet I can only speak for myself in so affirming that such was the case for me.

In the words of the Confucian scholar Mencius (371-289BCE):

“All people have the mind which cannot bear to see the suffering of others”

“The good person is the one who does not lose his originally good child’s heart”

The Way of Humanity

The Hebrew Bible (King James Version) says:

“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”   (Jeremiah 10:23)

With all due respect to the author of such a philosophy, it seems to me that nothing could be further from the truth.

The way of humanity (per the text: “man”) is within humanity.

And it is within the way of the human being to direct her/his own steps.

The way of all things is within all things:

 

The way of the seed is in the seed.

The way of the tree is in the tree.

The way of the dog is in the dog.

The way of the rock is in the rock.

The way of the human being is in the human being.

 

As to the way of the human beings, there are ways of humanity which are desirable, and there ways of humanity which are lacking:

The way of generosity is within the human being.

The way of greed is within the human being.

The way of friendliness is within the human being.

The way of hostility is within the human being.

The way of peace is within the human being.

The way of war is within the human being.

The way of cooperation is within the human being.

The way of competition is within the human being.

As to the way of the human beings, there are ways of humanity which are desirable, and there ways of humanity which are lacking.

It is within the way of the human being to direct his/her own steps:

Intellect for the reasoning is within the human being.

.Sensitivity for caring is within the human being.

Wisdom to distinguish desirable qualities from those which are lacking is within the human being.

The will to choose which qualities to fertilize and to foster is within the human being.

The cultivation of the way which is within includes the struggle to overcome the capacity for lesser desirable qualities, in order to assume more desirable qualities.

But even the struggle itself is the way of humanity.
The way of humanity is within the human being; and it is within humanity that walks to direct our steps accordingly.

On Benevolent Government and Social Harmony (Master Kong and Mencius)

The account of the Confucian vision of a benevolent government and social harmony…

Master Kong (aka Confucius; 551-479BC) was a teacher of the children of the elite of his day.  The times of Confucius were turbulent, that time period being known to the Chinese as The Warring States period.  And such it was, the area now known as China then being a region of fragmented regions whose process of existence was that of constant war and domination by those with the means of warfare, and hardship and oppression for the common folk.

Confucius realized that the problems were being instigated by those in power.  Thus he spent his life in the noble effort of trying to change the thinking of those who were creating the hardships by appealing to their sense of humaneness.  His years of private teaching were followed by decades of traveling the land in search of the ear of any leaders open to the concept of benevolence and kindness in lieu of war and domination.

Although Confucius did gather a following among his fellow philosophers, the numbers were but a few dozen and his influence to the intended end of the creation of a benevolent government and peaceful society never saw fruition during his lifetime.  Sadly, Master Kong died thinking he had failed; and such was the general perception of the idealist, nomadic teacher in the years that followed….

However few might have been his followers, those that remained faithful to his ideology passed his general teachings along.   Consequently, his  vision of social harmony fostered by benevolent government never completely died out.  Then, about 100 years after Confucius’ death, one was born who would take the torch of his dream so to speak, and not only continue the quest of Master Kong, but would furthermore qualify the concept of benevolence to a level of thinking heretofore unknown and unrealized.

Meng Ke (aka Mencius; 372-289BC) was an avid follower of the Confucian ideology, to the extent that he continued Master Kong’s mission in much the same fashion.  Like Confucius before him, Mencius traveled the land in an effort to gain the ear of those in power, in hopes of softening the hearts of the leaders of the land towards those whose meager living was dependent upon peace and harmony.

Mencius’ main teachings were those of the benefit of a benevolent government for leader and commoner alike, and he referenced such by a unique appeal to the basic qualities of human nature.  Indeed, although Master Kong had made references to the goodness of human nature (“Man is born with uprightness”; Analects of Confucius 6.17), Mencius based his entire case by appealing to the rulers of his day based upon the concept of the goodness of human nature.  Consider these references from “The Book of Mencius”:

“All men have the mind which cannot bear to see the suffering of others” (2A.6)

“The great man is one who does not lose his originally good child’s heart” (4B.12)

Based upon this notion of the basic goodness of humanity, Mencius built a case which he powerfully presented to the leaders of his day, challenging them to rule in accord with their own natural goodness.  In ways, his method was to shame the leadership into ruling in accord to goodness by being ashamed to do otherwise (Note: Oh what a message for our leaders today!!).  Consider the following dialogues which are alleged to have taken place between Mencius and several Kings of his day (references from The Book of Mencius):

“Mencius went to see king Hui of Liang.  The king said: ‘Venerable sir, since you have not counted it far to come here, a distance of a thousand li, may I presume that you are provided with counsels to profit my kingdom?’  Mencius replied:  ‘Why must your majesty use that word “profit?”  What I am provided with, are counsels to benevolence and uprightness, and these are my only topics” (1A.1)

“King Hsuan of Chi said: “I have a weakness.  I love wealth.”  Mencius replied, “If your majesty love wealth, let your people enjoy the same, and what difficulty then will there be for you to become true king of the empire?” (1B.5)

“Duke Wen of T’eng asked Mencius about the proper way of governing a kingdom.  Mencius said: “The business of the the people should not be delayed.  The way of the people is this:  If they have a secure livelihood, they will have a secure mind.  And if they have no secure livelihood, they will not have a secure mind.  And if they have no secure mind, there is nothing they will not do in the way of self-abandonment, moral deflection, depravity, and wild license.  When they fall into crime, to pursue and to punish them is to entrap them.  How can such a thing as entrapping the people be done under the rule of a benevolent man?” (3A.3)

Clearly, Mencius held the rulers of the land accountable to establish a society of provisions and peace.  In his mind the people were of primary importance, the land was of secondary importance, and the rulers were only third in terms of significance to society.  In fact, it would seem that in his opinion, the rulers were basically a necessary means to a desirable end; that end being a society of peace and harmony.  And he most assuredly maintained that such an end was possible only by means of a benevolent and kind government.

Conclusion:

Inasmuch as Master Kong (551-479BC) and Mencius (372-289BC) were allowed a certain hearing among the leaders of the land, there is little evidence of any major changes amongst the ruling class of their era.  What is abundantly clear to me is that the basic challenges which they issued to the leaders of that time dealt with problems and issues pertinent to any and all societies since.

The influence of the message of the need for a kind and benevolent government was mixed for the ensuing 400-500 years after the death of Mencius.  In another post, I shall discuss the radical reactions of the two regimes which ruled a newly unified China during that general time period, and how that such shaped the philosophy of Confucianism from that time even to the present.

“When wealth is equally distributed, there will not be poverty; when there is harmony there will be no problem of too few people, and when there are security and peace (for the people), there will be no danger to the state”  (Analects of Confucius 16.1)

Davey Lee