Saturday, October 06, 2007

Confucius on spiritual beings (Kuei Shen)

According to a very recent article on the new ‘Poltergeist’ movie to be shown again in the United States, more than half of Americans believe in the existence of ghosts. And most people learned about ghosts in movies.

Spiritual beings (Kuei Shen) cannot be easily seen or heard unless they manifest. They seldom do because it would unnecessarily frighten people – family members, disciples, or the general public.

One often comes across discussions in the web which mentioned that the ancient Chinese sages seem not to know or discuss much about spiritual beings. Perhaps influenced by an obscure late Han dynasty philosopher, Wang Ch'ung, some of these modern thinkers or scholars tend to believe like him that there are no spiritual beings in Heaven or on Earth. Some even go to the extent to point out that only the religious believe in the existence of ghosts (Kuei) and divinities (Shen) which then inadvertently spawn endless debate(s) extant in the West of what is considered Daoist philosophy and religion.

There is never any point in discussing with those who think they know more than the ancients, the Zhen Ren, the Daoist immortals, and Buddhas put together about Kuei Shen and about Dao. Otherwise they may brand you religious, dogmatic, rude, or Confucian.

A number of modern Yi scholars tend to pick and choose what they want to learn from the ten wings of the Zhouyi – often ignoring the thoughts of sages and the wise therein about Kuei Shen – while claiming that the ten wings which include the Great Image were written by Confucians, yet somehow they conclude that none were written by Confucius. Since they verily believe that there was no evidence Confucius ever read the Zhouyi – ignoring historical facts that the great sage discussed a hexagram and wished for more years to read the Zhouyi, as recorded in the Analects? And that Sima Qian recorded down for posterity in his Records of the Historian (Shiji) that Confucius loved the Yi. Perhaps they also conveniently ignore the fact that the Doctrine of the Mean informs Yi aficionados how to obtain omens using the tortoise and the milfoil (yarrow stalks).

Meanwhile for the earnest and sincere Daoists and Yi aficionados, let us read what Confucius has to say about spiritual beings (Kuei Shen):

The Master said,
‘How abundantly do spiritual beings display the powers that belong to them! We look for them, but do not see them; we listen to, but do not hear them; yet they enter into all things, and there is nothing without them. They cause all the people in the kingdom to fast and purify themselves, and array themselves in their richest dresses, in order to attend at their sacrifices.

Then, like overflowing water, they seem to be over the heads, and on the right and left of their worshippers.

It is said in the Book of Poetry, “The approaches of the spirits, you cannot surmise; - and can you treat them with indifference?”

‘Such is the manifestness of what is minute! Such is the impossibility of repressing the outgoings of sincerity!’

[Chung Yung – Doctrine of the Mean 16 .1 to .5]

Like Confucius and the ancients before him, does this not mean that modern people can still believe in the existence of Kuei Shen (dark and light spirits in the ten wings, or ghosts and divinities in the minds of the multitude) without being overly superstitious, religious, rude, or Confucian?


Anonymous said...

Exactly. I too confronted many so-called Confucians and Daoists who doubt the existence of spirits and gods. These people misquote isolated lines from the Analects, completely out of context, as if one or two misinterpreted phrases could overturn the direct transmission of Han Confucianists, who were the most religious amongst the Confucianists.

I especially dislike these psychological theories of spirits and gods. If someone disbelieves in spirits and gods, he should be straight up about it, rather than pretending to appreciate the ancients using psychologisations which remove the possibility of any definite metaphysical assertions.

Allan said...

Thank you for sharing your experience and insights. And welcome!