Imagine yourself sitting cross-legged with the master Kongzi (Confucius), outdoors in his garden pavilion, watery sunlight filtering through the trees. After some time, he turns to you and says, “This is ‘The Way’ and it is indisputable”. Now, depending on your knowledge of the Confucian classics, you might be expected to meet him with a look of puzzlement, followed by a pregnant pause, “Ah…..”
Your enigmatic chum and his immediate followers are seen by many as the founders (or perhaps “popularisers” is a better term) of Confucian (Rujia) thought in China beginning around 500 BCE. His teachings in the “Five Classics” (Wujing) comprise the foundation of thought of a diverse group of scholars and sages who promulgated the idea of the “ren”, essentially a way to seek “human-ness” in everyday life.
Confucians sought self-cultivation through acquisition of knowledge, which informed a correct ethical code applicable to life. Through this correct direction and enlightenment of the mind (a finding and following of
“The Way” or Dao), ren or complete human-ness regarding others could be reached. The means of reaching such a state, while not open to all, could be achieved through self-discipline and education, principally following the teaching of an older master.
Reverence to the wisdom of age and the practice of following, rather than pursuing a more active individual style of self-development is typical of the structural hierarchies endemic to Confucian thought.
As the master says, “If your desire is for good, the people will be good. The moral character of the ruler is the wind; the moral character of those beneath him is the grass. When the wind blows the grass bends”.
Of central importance to Kongzi’s conception of a human, ethical society, is the idea of filial piety or devotion towards one’s family members. The family’s hierarchical structure mirrors the structured positions that people should occupy in society, with those that have found the path to the true Dao occupying the higher echelons.
A knock on the pavilion door, barely audible above the sound of Kongzi’s heavy breathing. A small impish face pokes through the doorway. Straightening his silk cap, he hurries forth, stumbling in his haste, before skidding on to his knees in front of master Kongzi and stooping immediately into an elaborate kow-tow “Master”, he splutters.
“You can bring the tea, Xunzi”, Kongzi says speaking as though addressing the open window.
“Right away master”, Xunzi hurries out again, giving his companion who has been waiting at the door a sickly leer.
To be continued in the September issue of The Nanjinger