Thursday, November 13, 2014

Xunzi (excerpts)

The Importance of Learning:

* Learning should never cease. Blue comes from the indigo plant but is bluer than the plant itself. Ice is made of water but is colder than water ever is. A piece of wood as straight as a plumb line may be bent into a circle as true as any drawn with a compass and, even after the wood has dried, it will not straighten out again. The bending process has made it that way. Thus, if wood is pressed against a straightening board, it can be made straight; if metal is put to the grindstone, it can be sharpened; and if the gentleman studies widely and each day examines himself, his wisdom will become clear and his conduct be without fault. If you do not climb a high mountain, you will not comprehend the highness of the heavens; if you do not look down into a deep valley, you will not know the depth of the earth; and if you do not hear the words handed down from the ancient kings, you will not understand the greatness of learning.

* Pile up earth to make a mountain and wind and rain will rise up from it. Pile up water to make a deep pool and dragons will appear. Pile up good deeds to create virtue and godlike understanding will come of itself; there the mind of the sage will find completion. But unless you pile up little steps, you can never journey a thousand li; unless you pile up tiny streams, you can never make a river or a sea. The finest thoroughbred cannot travel ten paces in one leap, but the sorriest nag can go a ten days' journey. Achievement consists of never giving up. If you start carving and then give up, you cannot even cut through a piece of rotten wood; but if you persist without stopping, you can carve and inlay metal or stone. 

* The learning of the  chün-tzu enters his ear, clings to his mind, spreads through his four limbs, and manifests itself in his actions. His smallest word, his slightest movement can serve as a model. The learning of the petty man enters his ear and comes out his mouth. With only four inches between ear and mouth, how can he have possession of it long enough to ennoble a seven-foot body? In old times men studied for their own sake; nowadays men study with an eye to others.

* The chün-tzu uses learning to ennoble himself; the petty man uses learning as a bribe to win attention from others. To volunteer information when you have not been asked is called officiousness; to answer two questions when you have been asked only one is garrulity. Both officiousness and garrulity are to be condemned. The gentleman should be like an echo.

* He who misses one shot in a hundred cannot be called a really good archer; he who sets out on a thousand-mile journey and breaks down half a pace from his destination cannot be called a really good carriage driver; he who does not comprehend moral relationships and categories and who does not make himself one with benevolence and righteousness cannot be called a good scholar. Learning basically means learning to achieve this oneness.

The Chün-tzu:

* When you see good, then diligently examine your own behavior; when you see evil, then with sorrow look into yourself. When you find good in yourself, steadfastly approve it; when you find evil in yourself, hate it as something loathsome. He who comes to you with censure is your teacher; he who comes with approbation is your friend; but he who flatters you is your enemy. He loves good untiringly and can accept reprimand and take warning from it. Therefore, though he may have no particular wish to advance, how can he help but do so? The petty man is just the opposite. He behaves in an unruly way and yet hates to have others censure him; he does unworthy deeds and yet wants others to regard him as worthy. He has the heart of a tiger or a wolf, the actions of a beast, and yet resents it when others look upon him as an enemy. He draws close to those who flatter him and is distant with those who reprimand him; he laughs at upright men and treats as enemies those who are loyal. Therefore, though he certainly has no desire for ruin, how can he escape it?

* To make use of good to lead others is called education; to make use of good to achieve harmony with others is called amenity. To use what is not good to lead others is called betrayal; to use what is not good to achieve harmony with others is called sycophancy.

* To treat right as right and wrong as wrong is called wisdom; to treat right as wrong and wrong as right is called stupidity. To act on the sly is called deceit; to go back on your word is called perfidy. To be without a fixed standard in your actions is called inconstancy. To cling to profit and cast aside righteousness is called the height of depravity. He who has heard much is called broad; he who has heard little is called shallow. He who has seen much is called practiced; he who has seen little is called uncouth. He who has difficulty advancing is called a laggard; he who forgets easily is called a leaky-brain. This is the proper way to order the temperament and train the mind. If your temperament is too strong and stubborn, soften it with harmony. If your intellect is too deep and withdrawn, unify it with mild sincerity. If you are too courageous and fierce, correct the fault with orderly compliance. If you are too hasty and flippant, regulate the fault with restraint. If you are too constrained and petty, broaden yourself with liberality. If you are too low-minded, lethargic, and greedy, lift yourself up with high ambitions. If you are mediocre, dull, and diffuse, strip away your failings by means of teachers and friends. If you are indolent and heedless, awaken yourself with the thought of imminent disaster.

 * Of all the ways to order the temperament and train the mind, none is more direct than to follow li ritual, none more vital than to find a teacher, none more godlike than to learn to love one thing alone. This is called ren the proper way to order the temperament and train the mind.

* The chün-tzu uses things; the petty man is used by things.

* Men are certainly not as widely separated in their capacities as a lame turtle and a team of six thoroughbreds; yet the lame turtle reaches the goal where the team of thoroughbreds fails. There is only one reason: one keeps on going, the other does not. Though the road is short, if you do not step along you will never get to the end; though the task is small, if you do not work at it you will never get it finished. He who takes many holidays will never excel in his craft.

* If you keep piling up one handful of earth on top of another without ceasing, you will end up with a high mountain. But if you block the source of a river and break down its banks, even the Yangzi and the Yellow River can be made to run dry. Ritual is the means by which to rectify yourself; the teacher is the means by which ritual is rectified. If you are without ritual, how can you rectify yourself? If you have no teacher, how can you understand the fitness of ritual? If you unerringly do as ritual prescribes, it means that your emotions have found rest in ritual. If you speak as your teacher speaks, it means that your understanding has become like that of your teacher. If your emotions find rest in ritual and your understanding is like that of your teacher, then you have become a sage. Hence to reject ritual is to be without law and to reject your teacher is to be without a guide. To deny guide and law and attempt to do everything your own way is to be like a blind man trying to distinguish colors or a deaf man, tones. Nothing will come of it but confusion and outrage.

* This is what is meant by the lines in the Odes: He is a teacher who without considering & without thinking, obeys the laws of Heaven.

How to govern:

* Someone asked how to govern, and I replied: In the case of worthy and able men, promote them without waiting for their turn to come up. In the case of inferior and incompetent men, dismiss them without hesitation. In the case of incorrigibly evil men, punish them without trying to reform them. In the case of people of average capacity, teach them what is right without attempting to force them into goodness. Thus, even where rank has not yet been fixed, the distinction between good and bad will be as clear as that between the left and right ancestors in the mortuary temple.

* These are the essential points to remember when listening to proposals in government. If a man comes forward in good faith, treat him according to ritual; if he comes forward in bad faith, meet him with punishment. In this way the two categories will be clearly distinguished, worthy and unworthy men will not be thrown together, and right and wrong will not be confused. If worthy and unworthy men are not thrown together, then men of extraordinary character will come to you, and if right and wrong are not confused, then the nation will be well ordered. This accomplished, your fame will increase each day, the world will look to you with longing, your orders will be carried out, your prohibitions heeded, and you will have fulfilled all the duties of a king.

* Fair-mindedness is the balance in which to weigh proposals;4 upright harmoniousness is the line by which to measure them. Where laws exist, to carry them out; where they do not exist, to act in the spirit of precedent and analogy—this is the best way to hear proposals. To show favoritism and partisan feeling and be without any constant principles—this is the worst you can do. Where ranks are all equal, there will not be enough goods to go around; where power is equally distributed, there will be a lack of unity; where there is equality among the masses, it will be impossible to employ them. The very existence of Heaven and Earth exemplifies the principle of higher and lower, but only when an enlightened king appears on the throne can the nation be governed according to regulation.

* Thus, a king enriches his people, a dictator enriches his soldiers, a state that is barely managing to survive enriches its high officers, and a doomed state enriches only its coffers and stuffs its storehouses. But if its coffers are heaped up and its storehouses full, while its people are impoverished, this is what is called to overflow at the top but dry up at the bottom. Such a state will be unable to protect itself at home and unable to fight its enemies abroad, and its downfall and destruction can be looked for at any moment.


* Heaven's ways are constant. It does not prevail because of a sage like Yao; it does not cease to prevail because of a tyrant like Jie. Respond to it with good government, and good fortune will result; respond to it with disorder, and misfortune will result.

* If you practice the Way and are not of two minds, then Heaven cannot bring you misfortune. Flood or drought cannot make your people starve, extremes of heat or cold cannot make them fall ill, and strange and uncanny occurrences cannot cause them harm. But if you neglect agriculture and spend lavishly, then Heaven cannot make you rich. If you are careless in your provisions and slow to act, then Heaven cannot make you whole. If you turn your back upon the Way and act rashly, then Heaven cannot give you good fortune. You must not curse Heaven, for it is merely the natural result of your own actions. Therefore, he who can distinguish between the activities of Heaven and those of mankind is worthy to be called a man of virtue.

* To bring to completion without acting, to obtain without seeking—this is the work of Heaven. Thus, although the sage has deep understanding, he does not attempt to exercise it upon the work of Heaven; though he has great talent, he does not attempt to apply it to the work of Heaven; though he has keen perception, he does not attempt to use it on the work of Heaven. Hence it is said that he does not compete with Heaven's work.

* Are order and disorder due to the heavens? I reply, the sun and moon, the stars and constellations revolved in the same way in the time of Yu as in the time of Jie. Yu achieved order; Jie brought disorder. Hence order and disorder are not due to the heavens.

* When stars fall or trees make strange sounds, all the people in the country are terrified and go about asking, “Why has this happened?” For no special reason, I reply. It is simply that, with the changes of Heaven and earth and the mutations of the yin and yang, such things once in a while occur.

* You pray for rain and it rains. Why? For no particular reason, I say. It is just as though you had not prayed for rain and it rained anyway.

* The fate of man lies with Heaven; the fate of the nation lies in ritual. If the ruler of men honors rites and promotes worthy men, he may become a true king. If he cares only for profit and engages in much deceit, he will be in danger. And if he engrosses himself in plots and schemes, subversion and secret evil, he will be destroyed.

* Is it better to exalt Heaven and think of it, Or to nourish its creatures and regulate them? Is it better to obey Heaven and sing hymns to it, Or to grasp the mandate of Heaven and make use of it? Is it better to long for the seasons and wait for them, Or to respond to the seasons and exploit them? Is it better to wait for things to increase of themselves, Or to apply your talents and transform them? Is it better to think of things but regard them as outside you, Or to control things and not let them slip your grasp? Is it better to long for the source from which things are born, Or to possess the means to bring them to completion?

* Hence if you set aside what belongs to man and long for what belongs to Heaven, you mistake the nature of all things.

The Importance of Rites:

* What is the origin of ritual? I reply: man is born with desires. If his desires are not satisfied for him, he cannot but seek some means to satisfy them himself. If there are no limits and degrees to his seeking, then he will inevitably fall to wrangling with other men. From wrangling comes disorder and from disorder comes exhaustion. The ancient kings hated such disorder, and therefore they established ritual principles in order to curb it, to train men's desires and to provide for their satisfaction. They saw to it that desires did not overextend the means for their satisfaction, and material goods did not fall short of what was desired. Thus both desires and goods were looked after and satisfied. This is the origin of rites.

* Rites are a means of satisfaction. Grain-fed and grass-fed animals, millet and wheat, properly blended with the five flavors—these are what satisfy the mouth. The odors of pepper, orchid, and other sweet-smelling plants—these are what satisfy the nose. The beauties of carving and inlay, embroidery and pattern—these are what satisfy the eye. Bells and drums, strings and woodwinds—these are what satisfy the ear. Spacious rooms and secluded halls, soft mats, couches, benches, armrests and cushions—these are what satisfy the body. Therefore I say that rites are a means of providing satisfaction. The chun-tzu, having provided a means for the satisfaction of desires, is also careful about the distinctions to be observed. What do I mean by distinctions? Eminent and humble have their respective stations, elder and younger their degrees, and rich and poor, important and unimportant, their different places in society.

* He who seeks only to preserve his life at all cost will surely suffer death. He who strives only for profit at all cost will surely suffer loss. He who thinks that safety lies in indolence and idleness alone will surely face danger. He who thinks that happiness lies only in gratifying the emotions will surely face destruction.

* Rites have three bases. Heaven and earth are the basis of life, the ancestors are the basis of the family, and rulers and teachers are the basis of order. If there were no Heaven and earth, how could man be born? If there were no ancestors, how would the family come into being? If there were no rulers and teachers, how would order be brought about? If even one of these were lacking, there would be no safety for man. Therefore rites serve Heaven above and earth below, honor the ancestors, and exalt rulers and teachers. These are the three bases of rites.

On The Danger of Obsessions:

* The thing that all men should fear is that they will become obsessed by a small corner of truth and fail to comprehend its overall principles. If they can correct this fault, they may return to correct standards, but if they continue to hesitate and be of two minds, then they will fall into delusion.

* What are the sources of obsession? One may be obsessed by desires or by hates, by the beginning of an affair or by the end, by those far away or those close by, by breadth of knowledge or by shallowness, by the past or by the present. When one makes distinctions among the myriad beings of creation, these distinctions all become potential sources of obsession. This is a danger in the use of the mind that is common to all men (insistence on the ONE).

On Rectifying Names:

* When the king sets about regulating names, if the names and the realities to which they apply are made fixed and clear, so that he can carry out the Way and communicate his intentions to others, then he may guide the people with circumspection and unify them. Hence to split words and recklessly make up new names, throwing the names that have already been established into confusion, leading the people into doubt and delusion, and causing men to argue and contend with each other is a terrible evil and should be punished in the same way that one punishes those who tamper with tallies or weights and measures. If so, then the people will not dare to think up pretexts for using strange words and throwing the established names into disorder...

Man's Nature is Evil:

* Man's nature is evil; goodness is the result of conscious activity. The nature of man is such that he is born with a fondness for profit. If he indulges this fondness, it will lead him into wrangling and strife, and all sense of courtesy and humility will disappear. He is born with feelings of envy and hate, and if he indulges these, they will lead him into violence and crime, and all sense of loyalty and good faith will disappear. Man is born with the desires of the eyes and ears, with a fondness for beautiful sights and sounds. If he indulges these, they will lead him into license and wantonness, and all ritual principles and correct forms will be lost. Hence, any man who follows his nature and indulges his emotions will inevitably become involved in wrangling and strife, will violate the forms1 and rules of society, and will end as a criminal. Therefore, man must first be transformed by the instructions of a teacher and guided by ritual principles, and only then will he be able to observe the dictates of courtesy and humility, obey the forms and rules of society, and achieve order. It is obvious from this, then, that man's nature is evil, and that his goodness is the result of conscious activity.

* A warped piece of wood must wait until it has been laid against the straightening board, steamed, and forced into shape before it can become straight; a piece of blunt metal must wait until it has been whetted on a grindstone before it can become sharp. Similarly, since man's nature is evil, it must wait for the instructions of a teacher before it can become upright, and for the guidance of ritual principles before it can become orderly. If men have no teachers to instruct them, they will be inclined towards evil and not upright; and if they have no ritual principles to guide them, they will be perverse and violent and lack order.

* In ancient times the sage kings realized that man's nature is evil, and that therefore he inclines toward evil and violence and is not upright or orderly. Accordingly they created ritual principles and laid down certain regulations in order to reform man's emotional nature and make it upright, in order to train and transform it and guide it in the proper channels. In this way they caused all men to become orderly and to conform to the Way.

* Someone may ask: if man's nature is evil, then where do ritual principles come from? I would reply: all ritual principles are produced by the conscious activity of the sages; essentially they are not products of man's nature. A potter molds clay and makes a vessel, but the vessel is the product of the conscious activity of the potter, not essentially a product of his human nature. A carpenter carves a piece of wood and makes a utensil, but the utensil is the product of the conscious activity of the carpenter, not essentially a product of his human nature. The sage gathers together his thoughts and ideas, experiments with various forms of conscious activity, and so produces ritual principles and sets forth laws and regulations. Hence, these ritual principles and laws are the products of the conscious activity of the sage, not essentially products of his human nature.

* Phenomena such as the eye's fondness for beautiful forms, the ear's fondness for beautiful sounds, the mouth's fondness for delicious flavors, the mind's fondness for profit, or the body's fondness for pleasure and ease—these are all products of the emotional nature of man. They are instinctive and spontaneous; man does not have to do anything to produce them. But that which does not come into being instinctively but must wait for some activity to bring it into being is called the product of conscious activity.