Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Zhuangzi on the cardinal virtues

Yes, Zhuangzi did discuss the cardinal virtues. However he held perhaps a different view from the ancient sage kings, the holy men and other sages. To him the cardinal virtues did not seem to work down the ages or during his time. But humans are humans, not all of them can be Immortals, Sages, Da Ren or Junzi. There will always be the unruly, the wicked, and the Xiao Ren whether they are Daoists, Confucians, Legalists, followers or non followers of other doctrines. It really depends on their hearts/minds (Hsin), their respective actions and nature (Xing). After his rants on the Confucians, Legalists and Mohists of his time, Zhuangzi laid out his own thoughts on Virtue, benevolence, righteousness, propriety; and on purity.

In writing this chapter, Zhuangzi seems very much in favour of meditation over the cultivation of virtues. He included a purported meeting between the Yellow Emperor and his teacher, Guangchengzi who taught the emperor meditation. (Refer April 6 entry on Longevity and Immortality) That episode has been omitted since this entry ventures to look at his discussion and thoughts on virtues:

In ancient times the Yellow Emperor first used benevolence and righteousness to meddle with the minds of men. Yao and Shun followed him and worked till there was no more down on their thighs, no more hair on their shins, trying to nourish the bodies of the men of the world.

By the time the kings of the Three Dynasties appeared, the world was in great consternation indeed. On the lowest level there were men like the tyrant Chieh and Robber Chih, on the highest, men like Tseng and Shih, and the Confucianists and Mo ists rose up all around. Then joy and anger eyed each other with suspicion, stupidity and wisdom duped each other, good and bad called one another names, falsehood and truth slandered one another, and the world sank into a decline. There was no more unity to the Great Virtue, and the inborn nature and fate shattered and fell apart.

In the world today, the victims of the death penalty lie heaped together, the bearers of cangues tread on each other's heels, the sufferers of punishment are never out of each other's sight. And now come the Confucianists and Mo-ists, waving their arms, striding into the very midst of the fettered and manacled men. Ah, that then should go this far, that they should be so brazen, so lacking in any sense of shame! Who can convince me that sagely wisdom is not in fact the wedge that fastens the cangue, that benevolence and righteousness are not in fact the loop and lock of these fetters and manacles?

He who fixed his eyes on possession - he was the "gentleman" of ancient times. He who fixes his eyes on nothingness - he is the true friend of Heaven and earth.

What is lowly and yet must be used - things. What is humble and yet must be relied on - the people. What is irksome and yet must be attended to - affairs. What is sketchy and yet must be proclaimed - laws. What seems to apply only to distant relationships and yet must be observed - righteousness. What seems to apply only to intimate relationships and yet must be broadened - benevolence. What is confining and yet must be repeatedly practiced - ritual. What is already apt and yet must be heightened - Virtue. What is One and yet must be adapted - the Way. What is spiritual and yet must be put into action - Heaven.

Therefore the sage contemplates Heaven but does not assist it. He finds completion in Virtue but piles on nothing more. He goes forth in the Way but does not scheme. He accords with benevolence but does not set great store by it. He draws close to righteousness but does not labor over it. He responds to the demands of ritual and does not shun them. He disposes of affairs and makes no excuses. He brings all to order with laws and allows no confusion. He depends upon the people and does not make light of them. He relies upon things and does not throw them aside. Among things, there are none that are worth using, and yet they must be used.

He who does not clearly understand Heaven will not be pure in Virtue. He who has not mastered the Way will find himself without any acceptable path of approach. He who does not clearly understand the Way is pitiable indeed!

What is this thing called the Way? There is the Way of Heaven, and the way of man. To rest in inaction, and command respect this is the Way of Heaven. To engage in action and become entangled in it this is the way of man. The ruler is the Way of Heaven; his subjects are the way of man. The Way of Heaven and the way of man are far apart. This is something to consider carefully!

[Section ELEVEN - LET IT BE, LEAVE IT ALONE (extracts) – ChuangTzu- Resources link]

Indeed the difference between Ways of Heaven and man is something to be considered carefully. Perhaps we also need to consider the Way of Earth? With the benefit of more than two thousand years of hindsight and the collective wisdom of sage kings, holy men, sages, immortals, buddhas and the wise, we can perhaps learn a bit more of the Three Doctrines to find the centre that leads to the Great Way (Tao).

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