Our reading of Confucius was a nice experience. I enjoyed your insightful comments and demurrals. Elizabeth's question "how can one be virtuous if you don't know you are?" was an example. There was an interesting back-and-forth with questions and ripostes. Being a chun-tzu is not easy!
Let me start with Confucius' CHENG-MIN or "rectification of names" (or right-speech in Buddhism).* Confucius' point is subtle. It has to do with human verbalization. We do things with words. Language is a beautiful (human) form. Words can shine. They can also deceive. Words must be let free in order to shine. If my utterances boastfully exceed the sphere of my actions, my words take a form of flatulence. And people notice the smell. Confucius may not have pondered why, but he knew. Even in his worst moment Jesus knew, which is why he shuts up and lets Pilate babble. With Freud we learn that language has an unconscious side. It talks through our mouths! Confucius advises to be vigilant.**
Illustrator Ricardo Fumanal, via Juxtapoz.
Elizabeth's question: Does one know one is virtuous? The chun-tzu doesn't need to bring such realization to herself as such: "Wow, I'm virtuous!" Here is why: She has internalized good habits for some time. She's grown slowly by trial and error. After years of thoughtful training, her actions become automatic (Confucius says: "The cautious seldom err"). What happens now? Absolutely nothing. Life goes on. She doesn't notice anything at all, but people do. REN is a state of unafectedness that bathes her with contentment. What the Stoics referred to as ataraxia.
Objection to Confucius: Can a criminal be content?
Not exactly. He may look OK to an outsider, but something crucial is missing. What the criminal feels is world-dependent emotional roller-coaster of ups and downs. He is a victim of his moods, which are a product of the endless instability of the world. Confucius says: "The superior man thinks of virtue; the small man thinks of comfort. The superior man thinks of the sanctions of law; the small man thinks of the favors he may receive."
How about T'IEN? Heaven = people. Appearances are deceiving: Heaven is earth!
Against the grain of our infantile individualism, we must pay attention of how much we need people (see it as sangha). No matter where we are, we always long to be around our own. We must construct sangha, become nodes connecting like-minded people.
Is LI a problem? For many it is. But as long as you understand its limits, courtesy can be beautiful. In the West we mock courtesy as a bland form of cultural submission. Why do we prefer a considerate, tactful person? LI means hundreds of years of layer-after-layer of behaviors that get internalized by the culture.
Of course, not all courtesy is good. Confucius is clear that "make-believe" or "appearance" alone will not cut it. In fact, we notice fake protocol from the real thing (it's called hypocrisy). There is something "plastic" about it. The lesson is that we must learn to see behind the veil of LI. Everything is, at some time or another,
See you Tuesday. Go ahead.
*Monique made an good point: if all these people are saying the same thing there must be some truth to it. **Disclosure to the class: I'm sure in dealing with all this stuff, I must have already said "gassy" stuff in class. I plead for your forgiveness.