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Danasaurus

Recommendations for books on getting to understand the Confucian philosophy.

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There is so much superficial nonsense posted about Confucianism on the Dao Bums that it is ridiculous, with the same people who when questioned reveal that few of them have even a passing familiarity with the Analects, much less the all of the profound aspects of the Tradition, yet they persist in posting the same misconceptions even when corrected.

 

The book that opened my eyes to the real nature of Confucianism was:

 

Humanity and Self-Cultivation: Essays in Confucian Thought, by Tu Wei-ming

 

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This first paperback edition of a classic text includes a new preface by the author, and a new introductory essay on "Tu Wei-ming`s Confucianism" by Robert Cummings Neville, Dean of the School of Theology at Boston University. The 12 essays in this volume concisely illustrate the inherent "religiousness" of Confucianism, one of the most influential systems of thought on earth. Through an intensive focus on the Confucian process of self-cultivation, noted author and teacher Tu Wei-ming aggressively explores the spiritual dimension of this tradition. These essays soundly establish the significance of Confucianism, in China as well as throughout the entire world, for the modern society and individual. Tu Wei-ming is professor of Chinese history and philosophy at Harvard University and director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute.

 

This book through its "intensive focus on the Confucian process of self-cultivation, noted author and teacher Tu Wei-ming aggressively explores the spiritual dimension of this tradition" provides a look at the insides of Confucianism and reveals a profound landscape in which the human and the divine find a common ground, and can flower in the most remarkable ways.  If you really want to understand Confucianism, this is the book to read.

 

ZYD

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5 minutes ago, lifeforce said:

Probably not as a first read on Confucian thought. 

 

Yes, I couldn't agree more.

 

The problem with the Analects is that most people approach them as if they were the all there is to Confucanism, since supposedly they were said by him.  The Analects is certainly not the first book anyone should read on Confucianism, since it is at best a collection of sayings attributed to Confucius, and while traditionally it is considered that he said all of them and then edited them into this collection, it is also traditionally believed that he wrote many other books which were studied to give these aphorisms context and deeper meaning, and then there are the books that are considered fundamental to an understanding of Confucianism, such as the writings of Mencius, and such works as the Zhongyong, usually translated as The Doctrine of the Mean, the Daxue, or Great Teaching, and other woks.  I could go on and on, and if I have time maybe I will, but for now, don't read the Analects without context it can only be a source of misunderstanding.

 

ZYD

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I didn't really 'get' The Analects, or Mencius the last time I tried to read them.

Not so The Doctrine of the Mean or The Great Learning whose poetic wisdom soaked into me.

Xunzi, I also strangely found to my liking.

Maybe I'll go back with fresh eyes and try them again.

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2 hours ago, lifeforce said:

I didn't really 'get' The Analects, or Mencius the last time I tried to read them.

Not so The Doctrine of the Mean or The Great Learning whose poetic wisdom soaked into me.

Xunzi, I also strangely found to my liking.

Maybe I'll go back with fresh eyes and try them again.

 

I can understand that, neither Mencius nor the Analects are written in a style that I like, but in Mencius there are these remarkable quotes that are largely about very mystical subjects, as I wrote about in my posts in a thread on Confucian Qi gong:

 

On 9/9/2013 at 11:30 AM, Zhongyongdaoist said:
On 9/3/2013 at 1:45 PM, Zhongyongdaoist said:

. . . it was reading about Mencius and the Zhongyong in Tu Wei-ming's Humanity and Self-Cultivation (Asian Humanities Press, Berkeley, 1979) in late 2000 that lead me to understand the value of Confucianism. Before that, like many Westerners I had no idea of how profound a teaching it was and is. (Emphasis added, ZYD)

 

Two quotes from Mencius in particular awakened my interest in Mencius. This first one is this:

 

Quote

7A:4

萬物皆備於我矣。反身而誠、樂莫大焉。彊恕而行、求仁莫近焉。

(http://www.acmuller.net/con-dao/mencius.html#div-11)

 

`All the ten thousand things are there in me. There is no greater joy for me than to find, on self-examination, that I am true to myself. Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.'

(D. C. Lau, Mencius, Penguin Books, 1970, p. 182, Emphasis mine, ZYD)

 

I have quoted the Chinese Text form Muller's site and a translation from D. C. Lau because Muller's rendering "All things are prepared within me", while a possible translation of 备 (bèi) is not as clear as one might wish. Comments from people whose Classical Chinese is good are welcome.

 

All the ten thousand things are there in me: This is about as clear a statement of the Microcosm/Macrocosm relationship as one might wish. This primciple existed in the West as 'All is in All' from antiquity to the 'Scientific Revolution'. It has recently re-emerged as the self-similarity of fractal mathematics and and as the 'holographic principle' in modern physics.

 

To find this so clearly stated in a Confucian text was very unexpected and was an important part of my revaluation of Confucianism as a profound source of fundamentally mystical doctrine.

 

I am true to myself: Another important aspect of this text is the introduction of the concept 诚 (chéng), a word usually rendered as sincere or sincerity and above as true in the translation above. The Zhongyong has to principle teachings, one on 'zhong' which I have referred to here:

 

On 9/5/2013 at 12:20 PM, Zhongyongdaoist said:

Silent sitting is one of the primary forms of Confucian self-cultivation. The poet wants to make the point that it is not borrowed from other traditions, but is native to the the Confucian 'Dao'. The last two lines reference the teachings of the Zhongyong on Zhong, as the root of personal and cosmic existence. (Emphasis added, ZYD)

 

And the other is on chéng which is one of the most fundamental and profound concepts in Classical Confucianism and the subject a large section of the Zhongyong with which I will deal in subsequent posts.

 

To draw this to a close, I will post the other quote from Mencius, which was also a great surprise to me:

 

Quote

7B:25

浩生不害問曰、樂正子、何人也。孟子曰、善人也、信人也。何謂善、何謂信。曰、可欲之謂善。有諸己之謂信。充實之爲美。充實而光輝之謂大。大而化之之謂聖。聖而不可知之之謂神。樂正子、二之中、四之下也。

Haoshang Buhai asked, “What kind of man is Yo Zheng Zi?”

Mencius said, “He is good, and he is trustworthy.”

“What do you mean by ‘good,’ and what do you mean by ‘trustworthy’?”

“A man that people like to be with is good.

A man who keeps this goodness in himself is trustworthy.

One who fully develops his goodness is called ‘excellent.’

One whose full development of goodness shines forth is called ‘great.’

One whose greatness transforms others is called a sage.

A sage who is unfathomable is called ‘transcendent.’ (神, Shén )

Yo Zheng fits in the first two levels, but is not up to the last four.”

(http://www.acmuller.net/con-dao/mencius.html#div-11, I have kept Muller's translation in this case, emphasis mine and added (神, Shén ) for clarity, ZYD)

 

To discover that Mencius viewed the end of Confucian self-cultivation as becoming a 'shen' or 'god' was quit a revelation, but this passage in Mencius is only part of the picture. How it relates to the teachings of the Zhongyong on chéng (诚) will be the subject of future posts. For now, I think I have given everyone plenty to think about.

 

The rest of my posts in that thread are worth reading, so you or anyone else might wish to follow the links to the original and take a look at them.

 

The place of Confucius as the "founder" of Confucianism is an interesting topic, and the relationship between Mencius and Xunzi is interesting too, while I believe that on certain fundamental points Mencius must be given precedence, there is a lot that is both interesting and valuable in Xunzi.  If I have time I may return to examine these and other topics.

 

ZYD

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Thanks ZYD !

Really appreciate you writing this. 

I must read these threads. Can't believe I've overlooked all of it.

I've always appreciated Confucianism, but from a comfortable distance. 

Maybe the time is right to immerse myself.

Best wishes.

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47 minutes ago, lifeforce said:

Thanks ZYD !

Really appreciate you writing this. 

I must read these threads. Can't believe I've overlooked all of it.

I've always appreciated Confucianism, but from a comfortable distance. 

Maybe the time is right to immerse myself.

Best wishes.

 

You're certainly welcome lifeforce, I hope that other people can benefit from these and my other posts also.

 

ZYD

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3 hours ago, dawei said:

 

Thanks dawei, I have skimmed the paper and downloaded it for a more detailed study, though basically it seems to be about the historical development of a particular type of popular Daoist "scripture" which apparently has roots in the Song, and possibly a little earlier, which intends to explain the common Chinese belief in a:

 

Quote

Religious syncretism combining elements of the three main Chinese religions, a feature typical of sectarian teachings, is also unambiguously expressed in the phrase “the three teachings are originally the same” 三教原來是一般. (From the linked paper, p. 9, Emphasis mine, ZYD)

 

This work deals with a fictional, you could call it mythic if you wanted, account of an encounter between Loazi and Confucius, in which Laozi instructs Confucius and Confucius understands and receives the teachings.  In this work, unlike the satirical caricatures which make up most, but as I pointed out in Confucius was a Sage: Testimony of a Hostile Witness not all of the depictions of Confucius in Zhuangzi's writings, Confucius is depicted like Laozi as a divine being who descended from heaven to incarnate on earth and perform a spiritual mission, and it is positive views of Confucius such as this which are the basis of the unity of the three teachings which was a fairly common belief from the Song period on.  The work discussed focuses on the matter from a Daoist point of view and builds on literary references that go back to Warring States and Han times.  From a perspective of the history and development of these types of ideas it is an interesting paper which raises many interesting points, but not in a way which people without a significant historical background are likely to find useful or interesting in and of themselves.

 

At least that is what it looks like after a very quick skim, thanks again for the reference.

 

ZYD

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3 minutes ago, Zhongyongdaoist said:

At least that is what it looks like after a very quick skim, thanks again for the reference.

 

thanks for some review... this topic is of interest to me but I can't flesh out enough respect for the Confucian point of view.  I did catch the "Song" era aspect and the three teachings which always leaves me suspect... like a modernization of the relationship or explanation.  

 

But I appreciate your comments on the topic. 

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1 minute ago, dawei said:
9 minutes ago, Zhongyongdaoist said:

At least that is what it looks like after a very quick skim, thanks again for the reference.

 

thanks for some review... this topic is of interest to me but I can't flesh out enough respect for the Confucian point of view.  I did catch the "Song" era aspect and the three teachings which always leaves me suspect... like a modernization of the relationship or explanation.  

 

But I appreciate your comments on the topic.  (Emphasis mine, ZYD)

 

Well, the relationship between Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism is definitely complex, but they do have enough similarities, especially as Buddhism became naturalized to Chinese culture, that connection is not as forced as it may seem, especially with the changes that took place in Confucianism starting around the end of the first millennium, with the revival of Mencian Confucianism and the rejection of Xunzi's version of Confucianism which had dominated Confucianism from the late Han on.  As I pointed out in my quotes from Mencius above:

 

Mystical elements in teachings of Mencius

 

Mencian Confucianism has a much more mystical aspect to it and commonality with Daoism than Xunzi's version did.  As I have argued elsewhere (in the above referenced posts on Confucian qigong), there are many echoes of the Neiye in Mencius, these were noted in the Thirties of the last Century by Arthur Waley in the introduction to his translation of the Dao De Jing, The Way and its Power.  The resultant movement, usually called Neo-Confucianism has much more in common with both Daoism and Buddhism and makes a much better third party to the proposed "unity" of these three schools of thought.  This is also made easier by the idea which Daoist had been promoting for some time that Buddhism was what Laozi taught the "barbarians" in India after he "journeyed to the West", and was thus really inspired by Laozi anyway.  This particularly text is a similar argument in the direction of the dependency of Confucianism on revelations from Laozi which Confucius, being a sage himself, understood and took to heart.

 

If you could be a little clearer about what you mean by "the Confucian point of view", perhaps I could help clarify the matter some.

 

ZYD

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