Sunday, November 27, 2005

Hidden virtue

Over the past few years one has found that quite a number of Western Daoists earnest and sincere in learning Tao, the philosophical or religious way; because they spend much time and effort in studying Daoist texts and practices. The same can be said for those who study the Book of Changes. The World Wide Web has provided a good forum for the likeminded to discuss and further learn about ancient concepts and current practices. However some had strayed into bye-paths by concentrating on wrong books and practices effectively losing the way. Others mocked by Eastern Daoists as not serious because of incorrect understanding on Daoist (either philosophical or religious) concepts.

One fundamental concept which Western Daoist and Yi students tend to omit from their studies and practices is the cultivation of virtues, the foundation of humanity. When we study the Yi or Confucian ethics we try to become a Junzi, when we learn Tao we try to become a genuine or enlightened person (Zhen Ren). Both require the cultivation of virtues, by leaving it out of the equation totally; it would not be surprising if Eastern Daoists laugh at and not take many Western Daoists’ thoughts and practices seriously.

The cardinal virtues, those of Benevolence/Humaneness (Ren), Righteousness/Justice (Yi), Propriety/Courtesy (Li) and Wisdom/Perseverance (Zhi), are applicable to both Daoist and Confucian doctrines, the basis of Chinese civilization and humanity studies. If we object to the cultivation of these virtues because they are deemed Confucian we could not be more wrong in the understanding of fundamental concepts in Daoist or Yi studies. Without the display of these virtues the ancients would not be deemed virtuous. If these virtues were unimportant, the five Classics, Daoist texts and Confucian four books would not have delved in them at length. Neither would Neo Daoists, Daoist immortals and Confucians emphasized on the cultivation of these virtues.

Eastern Daoists and Confucians are quite familiar with the four cardinal virtues – Ren, Yi, Li, and Zhi - through their studies, upbringing and teachings of masters but many may not have heard of or know about the hidden virtue. That is why so little is said or written about it although this virtue is highly valued by the ancients, because it really emanates from the heart without contrivance. If you have not guessed or come across it by now, this hidden virtue or the so called fifth cardinal virtue is that of Sincerity (Cheng).

‘Cheng’ is not only translated as Sincerity (James Legge/Thomas Cleary), it has been translated as ‘Authenticity’ (Joseph Adler) or even ‘Faith’. The Chinese word, ‘Fu’ meaning ‘truth’ has also been translated as Sincere by both Legge (TTC 81) and Richard Wilhelm/Cary Baines (Lines text of Hexagram 61 Chung Fu / Inner Truth and some others). The Doctrine of the Mean (Chung Yung) discuss how to cultivate this virtue and the manifestation of the spirit when one possesses the most complete sincerity.

Zhou Dunyi (c 1050) in his book Tongshu – Penetrating the Book of Changes – discussed why sincerity (Cheng) is the foundation of the sage and why it forms the foundation for the five virtues. According to him, to be sincere is to be true to the innate goodness of one’s nature; to actualize one’s moral potential. Therefore he added this virtue to the four cardinal virtues to represent the five phases of change or five ‘elements’ which also relates to his brief explanation on the diagram of the supreme or ultimate polarity (Taiji tu). (Joseph Adler)

Down the ages, both reputable Yi scholars Zhu Xi (Song Dynasty) and Liu I Ming (Ching Dynasty) later related that the five virtues – Ren, Yi, Li, Zhi and Cheng – not only represent the five phases of change, they were depicted in the Houtian diagram (Luoshu) as such, if only we could understand them in that context for our extended studies.

At times, the way, Liu I Ming also a master of Daoist, Confucian, and Buddhist studies described this virtue; he spoke as if it represents Tao. [I Ching Mandalas – T Cleary]

Great indeed is the virtue of Sincerity. Does Heaven, Earth and Man not similarly possess of it? Is cultivating virtues not then one of the ways to return to our original state of goodness and back to Tao?

If you ever mention this hidden virtue to Eastern Daoists they may take you a bit more seriously. However if they still choose to laugh at you, please do not quote my name otherwise they may laugh even more loudly. Good luck.

(Some related entries – Nov 11 A simple thought; Nov 4 The Magic Square of Three; Sept 11 Daoist virtues; Apr 19 Most Complete Sincerity; Apr 02 Te in the TTC; Mar 28 Sincerity.)

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