Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII: UNIVERSAL RELATIONS - The Ethics of Confucius
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CHAPTER VII: UNIVERSAL RELATIONS - Confucius, The Ethics of Confucius 
The Ethics of Confucius. The Sayings of the Master and his Disciples upon the Conduct of “The Superior Man”, arranged according to the plan of Confucius with running commentary by Miles Menander Dawson, with a foreword by Wu Ting Fang (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915).
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The views of Confucius on man’s relations to the universe are singularly in line with the cosmic philosophy of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Death and Immortality. “The body and the animal soul go downwards; and the intelligent spirit is on high.” (Li Ki, bk. vii., sect. i., 7.)
Thus in the “Li Ki” is voiced the belief of the ancient Chinese, which was accepted by Confucius and his disciples, not as a saving article of creed, but merely as a fact. It is again stated in the “Li Ki” in this manner: “That the bones and flesh should return to earth is what is appointed. But the soul in its energy can go everywhere; it can go everywhere.” (Bk. ii., sect. ii., pt. iii., 13.)
How fully this was accepted by Confucius, may be seen, not merely from the fact that by editing the “Li Ki” and permitting these apothegms to stand, he gave them his approval, but by this saying, much more explicit on this point, attributed to him by the same book: “The Master said: ‘The intelligent spirit is of the Shan nature and shows that in fullest measure; the animal soul is of the Kwei nature and shows that in fullest measure. . . . All who live, must die and, dying, return to the earth; this is what is called Kwei. The bones and flesh moulder below and, hidden away, become the earth of the fields. But the spirit issues forth and is displayed on high in a condition of glorious brightness.’ ” (Bk. xxi., sect. ii., 1.)
That scientific investigation would show this to be true, is indicated by the “Yi King” (appendix iii., sect. i., c. iv., v. 2) thus: “He traces things to their beginning and follows them to their end; thus he knows what can be said about death and life.”
His disciple, Tsang, in speaking thus of a man about to die, signified his view that death is but an awakening: “When a bird is about to die, its notes are mournful; when a man is about to die, his words are good.” (Analects, bk. viii., c. iv., v. 2.)
The following account of the sanitary precautions to be taken when one is about to die, is given in the “Li Ki”: “When the illness was extreme, all about the establishment was swept clean, inside and out.” (Bk. xix., sect. i., 1.)
And this of the precaution to assure that death has really taken place: “Fine floss was laid over to make sure that breathing had stopped.” (Bk. xix., sect. i., 1.)
And yet another passage exhibits the same care which has long been taken in Occidental countries to avoid the possibility of burial alive: “Therefore when it is said that the body is not clothed in its last raiment until after three days, it signifies that it is so delayed to see if the father may not come to life.” (Li Ki, bk. xxxii., 4.)
The following from the same book which devotes more attention to the subject than any other of the books upon which Confucius wrought or in which his sayings are recorded, is an apt and even illuminating statement of the peculiar horror with which the dead body has ever been regarded: “When a man dies, there arises a feeling of repugnance; the impotence of his body causes one to revolt from it.” (Bk. ii., sect. ii., pt. ii., 8.)
Khang-Tsze Kâo, in the “Li Ki,” is reported as saying the following upon the ethics of burial, urging that the disposition of the bodies of the dead should not interfere with the welfare of the living: “I have heard that in life we should be useful to others and in death do them no harm. Though I may not have been useful to others in life, shall I in death do them harm? When I am dead, choose a piece of barren ground and bury me there.” (Bk. ii., sect. i., pt. iii.)
In the same book Confucius is credited with having inaugurated, or, if not, with having confirmed, a departure from the ancient custom of levelling the earth over the grave, so that it would become indistinguishable: “When Confucius had buried his mother in the same grave [i. e., in which his father was interred], he said: ‘I have heard that the ancients, in making graves, raised no mound over them. But I am a man who will be east, west, south, and north.’ On this he raised a mound, four feet high.” (Bk. ii., sect. i., pt. i., 6.)
After the fact of death is assured, however, and before any other ceremony or duty relative to the departed is performed, there is the “calling back” of the soul to reoccupy the garments he has quitted. The “Li Ki” describes it thus: “At calling back the soul . . . an officer of low rank performed the ceremony. All who co-operated, used court robes of the deceased. . . . In all cases they ascended the east wing to the middle of the roof, where the footing was perilous. Facing the north, they gave three loud calls for the deceased; after which they rolled up the garment they had used and cast it down in front where the wardrobe-keeper received it.” (Bk. xix., sect. i., 3.)
The garments used in calling back the soul were not available to array the corpse; upon this the same book says: “The robe which was used in calling the soul back was not used to cover or to clothe the corpse.” (Bk. xix., sect. i., 4.)
The appellation used in summoning the soul to return appears from this passage: “In all cases of calling back the soul, a man was called by his name and a woman by her designation.” (Li Ki, bk. xix., sect. i., 4.)
The levelling of rank by the unrelenting hand of death is typified by this feature of this ancient ceremony: “In summoning the dead to return and in writing the inscription, the language was the same for all, from the son of Heaven to the ordinary officer.” (Li Ki, bk. xiii., sect. ii., 7.)
The purpose and significance of the ceremony, which, when the dead is a parent, is but the commencement of lifelong veneration for his spirit and attempted communion with it, are revealed in this passage from the same book: “Calling the soul back is the way love receives its consummation, and contains the expression of the mind in prayer.” (Bk. ii., sect. ii., pt. i., 22.)
Communion with Departed Ancestors. “They served the dead as they would have served them when living; they served the departed as they would have served them, had they continued with them.” (Doctrine of the Mean, c. xix., v. 5.)
In these words from the “Doctrine of the Mean” Confucius set forth the conception of the observances of filial piety toward parents and other nearly related ancestors which should be continued unbroken throughout life, even after they depart this life—a conception which pervaded his own conduct, as is thus described in the “Analects”: “He sacrificed to the dead as if they were present. He sacrificed to the spirits, as if the spirits were present.” (Bk. iii., c. xii.)
The central idea is that the disembodied soul of this ancestor is yet interested in the conduct of his family in the world of flesh and, if given an opportunity to do so by the due observance of sacrificial rites, watches over and communes with his descendants, in order to warn, counsel, rebuke, and even to correct them. This he does, not merely for their sake but also for his own, to the end that the good name of the family may become more illustrious, thus redounding to his own credit, as well as to the credit of the living.
This idea of “accumulating goodness” by means of serried generations of men who acquit themselves well in all the offices of life, is an important feature of the sanction which the pious reverence for ancestors, both when living and after death, gives for correct moral conduct throughout life.
Upon this, the “Yi King” (appendix iv., sect. ii., c. iii., 5) says: “The family that accumulates goodness is sure to have superabundant happiness, and the family that accumulates evil, to have superabundant misery. The murder of a ruler by his minister or of a father by his son, is not the result of the events of one morning or one evening. The causes of it have gradually accumulated, through the absence of early discrimination.”
And it thus presents yet another view of the lamentable consequences of neglect of this law of what we moderns term “heredity”: “If acts of goodness be not accumulated, they are not sufficient to give its finish to one’s name; if acts of evil be not accumulated, they are not sufficient to destroy one’s life. The inferior man thinks that small acts of goodness are of no benefit and does not do them, and that small deeds of evil do no harm and does not abstain from them. Hence his wickedness becomes great till it cannot be covered and his guilt becomes great till it cannot be pardoned.” (Yi King, appendix iii., sect. ii., c. v., 38.)
The general view of the filial duty of the progeny both toward living ancestors and toward the dead, so far as concerns avoiding acts which will disgrace them and cultivating conduct which will do them credit, has, however, been fully set forth in the chapters upon the subject of filial piety. Here we have to do only with the reverent ceremonies in the ancestral temples, by means of which veneration for the souls of the departed was exhibited and communion with them was sought. To these ceremonies the “Hsiâo King” (c. viii.) thus refers: “In such a state of things, parents while living reposed in their sons; and when dead and offered sacrifices, their disembodied spirits enjoyed the offerings.”
The mode of effecting this was by offering sacrifices of food and drink, accompanied with ceremonies, more or less elaborate according to the rank and estate of the son. The eldest living son in these august ceremonies impersonated the deceased father and presided at the sacrifice.
Only the emperor sacrifices to his ancestors generally; the king, only to ancestors to the fourth removal; feudal princes and great officers to those of the third degree; high officers to parents and grandparents; subordinate administrative officers and the common people to the immediate parent only. All ancestors further removed were said to “remain in the ghostly state,” i.e., presumably, to interest themselves not at all in matters of this earth. In the “Li Ki,” this is described thus: “The death of all creatures is spoken of, as their dissolution; but man, when dead, is said to be in the ghostly state.” (Bk. xx., 4.)
Recurring to the statement that sacrifices should be offered to the dead as if they were living, we find that the “Li Ki” offers a necessary qualification of this in the following caution: “In dealing with the dead, if we treat them as if they were entirely dead, that would show want of affection and should not be done; if we treat them as if they were entirely living, that would show want of wisdom and should not be done.” (Bk. ii., sect. i., pt. iii., 3.)
Something of the manner of offering these sacrifices and also of the purpose of it is set forth in this passage from the same book: “The ruler and his wife take alternate parts in presenting these offerings, all being done to please the souls of the departed and constituting a union with the disembodied and unseen.” (Bk. vii., sect. i., 11.)
And the purpose, spiritual communion, in this: “It was thus that they maintained their intercourse with spiritual intelligences.” (Bk. ix., sect. i., 5.)
Confucius thus rebukes attempts to secure free communion with spirits of men with whom one is not connected by ancestral ties: “For a man to sacrifice to a spirit which does not belong to him, is flattery.” (Analects, bk. ii., c. xxiv., v. 1.)
The mischief of such miscellaneous seeking after communications from departed spirits is so familiar a thing in all ages that it is both a relief and also reassuring to find it thus set forth by the sage who apparently fully recognized both the continuance of conscious life after the change, called death, and the possibility of intercommunication between intelligences yet in this world and intelligences that have departed from it.
In view of his primary injunction to investigate all phenomena, it seems improbable that he would have condemned scientific research in such matters; but mere idle promiscuity of such communion was to his mind an impertinence, a peril, and even an act of impiety; yet in “Shuo Yüan,” he is reported as saying: “If I were to say that the dead have consciousness, I am afraid that filial sons and dutiful grandsons would impair their substance in paying their last offices to the departed; and if I were to say that the dead have not consciousness, I am afraid that unfilial sons and undutiful grandsons would leave their parents unburied. If you wish to know whether the dead have consciousness or not, you will know it when you die. There is no need to speculate upon it now.” (Bk. xviii.)
This, however, appears to be of dubious authenticity as a statement by Confucius, and certainly is not in harmony with his general teaching upon this subject.
General sacrifices, also inviting such communion, might however be offered, according to the prescriptions of the “Li Ki,” to a few who had served their fellow-men with thoroughness and distinction. The following passage illustrates the nature of these exceptions: “According to the institutes of the sage kings about sacrifices, they should be offered to him who gave just laws to the people; to him who laboured unto death in the discharge of his duties; to him who by indefatigable industry strengthened the state; to him who with courage and success faced great calamities; and to him who warded off great evils.” (Bk. xx., 9.)
It was not in the least the ancient conception of sacrifice to ancestors that it should be a season of recreation or often be repeated. It should take place at least once each year, upon the anniversary of the departure of the ancestor, and sacrifices might also be held in the spring and autumn, in accordance with these instructions in the “Li Ki”: “Sacrifices should not be frequently repeated. Such frequency is indicative of importunateness, and importunateness is inconsistent with reverence. Nor should they be at distant intervals. Such infrequency is indicative of indifference; and indifference leads to forgetting them altogether. Therefore, the superior man, in harmony with the course of Heaven, offers the spring and autumn sacrifices. When he treads the dew which has descended as hoar-frost, he cannot help a feeling of sadness which arises in his mind and cannot be ascribed to the cold. In spring, when he treads upon the ground, wet with the rains and dews that have fallen heavily, he cannot avoid being moved by a feeling as if he were seeing his departed friends. We greet the approach of our friends with music and escort them away with sadness, and hence at the spring sacrifice we use music but not at the autumn sacrifice.” (Bk. xxi., sect. i., 1.)
This, from the same book, cautions against over-indulgence in this regard: “Do not take liberties with or weary spiritual beings!” (Li Ki, bk. xv., 22.)
The following injunctions against attempting to make of the sacrifice a time of rest or recreation are also from the “Li Ki”: “In maintaining intercourse with spiritual, intelligent beings, there should be nothing like an extreme desire for rest and ease for our personal gratification.” (Bk. ix., sect. ii., 16.)
“The idea which leads to intercourse with spiritual beings is not interchangeable with that which finds its realization in rest and pleasure.” (Bk. ix., sect. ii., 15.)
And earnest efforts to attain the purposes of the sacrifice are pronounced indispensable in the following passage: “When they had reverently done their utmost, they could serve the spiritual intelligences.” (Li Ki, bk. xxii., 5.)
The following more particularly describes what is necessary in this regard: “Therefore there was the milder discipline of the mind for seven days, to bring it to a state of singleness of purpose; and the fuller discipline of it for three days, to concentrate all the thoughts. That concentration is called purification; its final attainment is when the highest order of pure intelligence is reached. Then only is it possible to enter into communion with the spiritual intelligences.” (Li Ki, bk. xxii., 6.)
The nature of this earnest concentration is sufficiently indicated in the following account of the procedure of the ancients: “When the time came for offering a sacrifice, the man wisely gave himself to the work of purification. That purification meant concentration and singleness, rendering all uniform until the thoughts were all focussed upon one object.” (Li Ki, bk. xxii., 6.)
Or as more briefly said in another place, thus: “Sacrificing means ‘directing one’s self to.’ The son directs his thoughts and then he can offer up the sacrifice.” (Li Ki, bk. xxi., 6.)
The absolute necessity for this single-minded sincerity is asserted in these words ascribed by the “Shu King” to I Yin: “The spirits do not always accept the sacrifices that are offered to them; they accept only the sacrifices of the sincere.” (Pt. iv., bk. v., sect. iii., 1.)
In the “Li Ki” the subjective character of true sacrifice or seeking for spiritual communion is thus set forth: “Sacrifice comes not to a man from without; it issues from him and flows from his heart.” (Bk. xxii., 1.)
Its subjective benefits are also thus portrayed: “Only men of ability and character can give complete expression to the concept of sacrifice. The sacrifices of such men have their reward, not indeed what the world calls reward. Their reward is the perfecting of self; this also means the full and normal discharge of all one’s duties.” (Li Ki, bk. xxii., 2.)
It must not for a moment be supposed, however, that such was the only or indeed the chief purpose in performing the arduous ceremonies of devotion for departed ancestors. Instead, actual, perceptible, realized communion and communication, resulting in counsel, warning, commendation, or reproof, and, in general, assistance in directing his course so that it will be creditable both to his ancestors and to himself, were expected and intended. The “Li Ki” does not leave this for a moment in doubt; for it says: “The object of all the ceremonies is to bring down the spirits from above, even their ancestors.” (Bk. vii., sect. i., 10.)
It will be recalled that in the following passage regarding the influence of ceremonies and music, already quoted from the “Li Ki,” this idea of summoning the spirits of the departed is involved: “Ceremonies and music in their nature resemble Heaven and Earth, penetrate the virtues of spiritual intelligences, bring down spirits from above, and lift the souls that are abased.” (Bk. xvii., sect. iii., 2.)
And also pertinent to the subject, is this passage: “In the visible sphere, there are ceremonies and music; in the invisible, the spiritual agencies.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. i., 19.)
And of one who is completely under the spell of music, this, also, already quoted: “In this unbroken calm the man is Heaven within himself. Like unto Heaven, he is spiritual. Like unto Heaven, though he speaks not, he is accepted. Spiritual, he commands awe, without displaying anger.” (Li Ki, bk. xvii., sect. iii., 23.)
These are recognized means of producing psychical phenomena in these days of scientific investigation, as also are the following, likewise from the “Li Ki,” save that fixing the mind upon that which it desires to behold would be shunned as tending to self-delusion: “The severest vigil and purification are maintained and carried on inwardly, while a scarcely looser vigil is maintained outwardly. During the days of such vigil, the mourner thinks of his departed, how and where they sat, how they smiled and spoke, what were their aims and views, what they delighted in, what they desired and enjoyed. On the third day of such discipline, he will see those for whom it has been exercised.” (Bk. xxi., sect. i., 2.)
Spiritual Beings and Spiritual Power. “The rites to be observed by all under heaven were intended to promote the return of the mind to the source of all things, the honouring of spiritual beings, the harmonious utilization of government, righteousness, and humility.” (Li Ki, bk. xxi., sect. i., 20.)
The broader purpose of sacrifices to ancestors, viz.: to make men conscious and aware at all times of the existences of spiritual beings and of their powers, is well set forth in the foregoing, from the “Li Ki.”
The following passage from the “Yi King,” already quoted in another connection, refers to the same process of scientific inquiry: “When we minutely investigate the nature and reasons of things till we have entered into the inscrutable and spiritual in them, we attain to the largest practical application of them; when that application becomes quickest and readiest and personal poise is secured, our virtue is thereby exalted. Proceeding beyond this, we reach a point which it is hardly possible to comprehend; we have thoroughly mastered the inscrutable and spiritual and understand the processes of transformation. This is the fulness of virtue.” (Appendix iii., sect. ii., c. v., 33, 34.)
Yet, in order to enforce the very necessary lesson that in this life it is the duties here and now with which a man should concern himself, Confucius often rebuked over-insistent curiosity concerning disembodied spirits and the future life. Several of these sayings have been quoted elsewhere; and of them these only are reproduced here: “To give one’s self earnestly to the duties due to men, and while respecting spiritual beings to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom.” (Analects, bk. vi., c. xx.)
“Ke Loo asked about serving the spirits of the dead. The Master said: ‘While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve their spirits?’ Ke Loo then said: ‘I venture to ask about death.’ He was answered: ‘While you do not know life, how can you know about death?’ ” (Analects, bk. xi., c. xi.)
In the “Analects,” it is also related of Confucius by his disciples: “The subjects on which the Master did not talk, were: extraordinary things, feats of strength, disorder, and spiritual beings.” (Bk. vii., c. x.)
Yet in the “Doctrine of the Mean” he is quoted as declaring: “How abundantly do spiritual beings display the powers that belong to them! We look for them but we do not see them; we listen but we do not hear them. Yet they permeate all things and there is nothing without them.” (C. xvi., v. 1, 2.)
In the “Yi King” much more is said about the general subject and this definition of spirit is given: “When we speak of spirit, we mean the subtle element of all things.” (Appendix v., c. vi., 10.)
The author of this conceived of the universe as the field of operations and the result of operations of force and substance, of static and dynamic powers, in the phenomena produced by which he recognized the activities of spirit, thus: “That which is unfathomable in the movement of the passive and active operations, is the presence of a spiritual power.” (Yi King, appendix iii., sect. i., c. v., 32.)
The close similarity of this view with the most recent views of modern scientists is illustrated yet more startlingly in this passage, also from the “Yi King” (appendix iii., c. v., 24): “The successive interaction of the passive and active forces constitutes what is called the flow of phenomena.”
The “Yi King” is a book, written for the most part in highly symbolical language,—it is often utilized by the Chinese for purposes of divination as will be seen,—which had even for Confucius himself already become so difficult to master and at the same time so fascinating, that the sage once said of it: “If some years were added to my life, I would give fifty to the study of the Yi and then I might come to be without great faults.” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xvi.)
In this book, i. e., the “Yi King,” Confucius said of the clear perception of the spiritual activities underlying phenomena: “He who knows the method of change and transformation, may be said to know what is done by spiritual power.” (Appendix iii., sect. i., c. ix., 58.)
And again, in this illustrative manner: “Does not he who knows the causes of things, possess spirit-like wisdom? The superior man, in his intercourse with the exalted, uses no flattery; and in his intercourse with the humble, no coarse freedom—does not this show that he knows the causes of things?” (Appendix iii., sect. ii., c. v., 41.)
And yet more eloquently in this passage of the “Li Ki” are the essential spirituality and prescience of the pure and sincere mind set forth: “When the personal character is pure and clean, the spirit and mind are like those of a spiritual being. When what such an one desires is about to come to pass, he is sure to have premonitions of it, as when Heaven sends down the rains in due season and the hills condense the vapours into clouds.” (Li Ki, bk. xxvi., 8.)
This is yet more concisely said in this passage from the “Doctrine of the Mean” (c. xxiv.), already quoted: “When calamities or blessings are about to befall, the good or the evil will surely be foreknown to him. He, therefore, who is possessed of the completest sincerity, is like a spirit.”
Heaven. “In order to know men, he may not dispense with a knowledge of Heaven.” (Doctrine of the Mean, c. xx., v. 7.)
In the foregoing from the “Doctrine of the Mean” is announced both the view of the disciples of Confucius that there is a divinity “that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will,” and also that, through His works, He may be known of men. This saying is only another version of this passage of the “Yi King” (appendix i., c. liv., 1): “If Heaven and Earth were to have no intercommunication, things would not grow and flourish as they do.”
The expression “Heaven” seems to stand rather for all the spiritual beings, if more than one, that hold sway over the universe. Earlier, it undoubtedly signified this; for in the “Shu King,” Mu is credited with this most extraordinary statement: “Then he [i. e., Yao] commissioned Khung and Li to make an end of the communications between Earth and Heaven; and the descents of spirits ceased.” (Pt. v., bk. xxvii., 2.)
By the days of Confucius in any event, the recognition of an unimaginably great universe of spirit was firmly coupled in the minds of sages with the principle that man’s duties here are with his fellow-men and that he will but fail in their performance if he continually seeks communion with intelligences of the spirit universe.
Confucius does not present the view that Heaven so communicates with Earth that there may be complete revelation of its purposes and processes, by verbal inspiration or otherwise. Instead, he says: “Does Heaven speak? The four seasons pursue their courses, and all things are continually being produced; but does Heaven say anything?” (Analects, bk. xvii., c. xix., v. 3.)
This is further expatiated upon in “The Doctrine of the Mean” (c. xvi., v. 1, 2) as follows: “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 for them but do not hear them. Yet they enter into all things and there is nothing without them.’ ”
And in the “Shi King” the continual presence of these invisible witnesses is thus cited as abundant reason for virtuous conduct when in the privacy of one’s chamber: “Looked at in your chamber, you ought to be equally free from shame before the light which shines in. Do not say: ‘This place is not public; no one can see me here.’ The approaches of spiritual beings cannot be foretold; the more, therefore, should they not be left out of the account.” (Major Odes, decade iii., ode 2.)
Confucius also says: “But there is Heaven—it knows me!” (Analects, bk. xiv., c. xxxvii., v. 2.)
The “Yi King” thus describes the greatest of the joint offices of Heaven and Earth: “The great attribute of Heaven and Earth is the giving and maintaining life.” (Appendix iii., c. i., 10.)
And again in the following, already quoted in another connection: “Heaven and Earth are separate and apart, but the work which they do is the same. Male and female are separate and apart, but with a common will they seek the same object.” (Appendix i., c. xxxviii., v. 3.)
This idea is again put forward in the “Li Ki” in this fashion: “Man is the product of the attributes of Heaven and of Earth through the interaction of the dual forces of nature, the union of animal and intelligence, the finest and most subtle matter of the five elements.” (Bk. vii., sect. iii., 1.)
This theory is developed further in this passage from the same book: “This [i. e., the Grand Unity] separated and became Heaven and Earth. It revolved and became the dual force in nature. It changed and became the four seasons. It was distributed and became the breathings, thrilling in the universal frame. Its lessons, transmitted to men, are called its orders; the law and authority of them are in Heaven.” (Bk. vii., sect. iv., 4.)
Thinking of Heaven as the creator of man apparently caused it soon to be addressed in prayer by poor humanity; and accordingly we find this in the “Yi King” (appendix ii., sect. ii., c. xlii., 6): “There is the misery of having none upon whom to call.”
Confucius stated it in even stronger terms, when he said: “He who offends against Heaven, has none to whom he can pray.” (Analects, bk. iii., c. xiii., v. 2.)
Such prayer, continually offered by means of a virtuous and useful life, Confucius commended and practised. As much appears from this: “The Master being very sick, Tsze-loo asked leave to pray for him. He said: ‘May such a thing be done?’ Tsze-loo replied: ‘It may. In the Prayers it is said: “Prayer has been made to the spirits of the upper and lower worlds.” ’ The Master said: ‘My prayer has been for a long time.’ ” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xxxiv.)
That man, even before his transition, may become the co-worker, however, with the spiritual forces which constitute Heaven and even of equal dignity with them, the “Doctrine of the Mean” (c. xxii.,) thus declares: “Able to assist the transforming and nourishing powers of Heaven and Earth, he may with Heaven and Earth form a ternion.”
And again of the man of the completest sincerity, i. e., Chinese scholars assert, Confucius: “Hence it is said: ‘He is the peer of Heaven!’ ” (Doctrine of the Mean, c. xxxi., v. 3.)
This is much more explicitly set forth in this passage from the same book; also considered by Chinese scholars to refer to Confucius: “It is only the individual possessed of the most entire sincerity that can exist under Heaven, who can adjust the great, unvarying relations of mankind, establish the great, fundamental virtues of humanity, and comprehend the transforming and nourishing processes of Heaven and Earth. Shall such an one have any being or anything beyond himself on which he depends?” (Doctrine of the Mean, c. xxxii., v. 1.)
Providence. “Without recognizing the ordinances of Heaven, it is impossible to be a superior man.” (Analects, bk. xx., c. iii., v. 1.)
Thus in the “Analects” Confucius gives expression to the necessity for full recognition of the unchanging laws of the universe and their operation.
In the “Yi King,” the blessed consequences of knowledge of these laws and of trust in the beneficent purposes of the powers that are the universe, are thus portrayed: “He acts according to the exigency of circumstances without being carried away by their current. He rejoices in Heaven and knows its ordinances; and hence he has no anxieties.” (Appendix iii., sect. i., c. v., 22.)
The same sentiment and conception are voiced in these words from the “Doctrine of the Mean” (c. xiv., v. 4): “Thus it is that the superior man is grave and calm, waiting for the appointments of Heaven, while the inferior man walks in dangerous paths, looking for lucky occurrences.”
The ancients of China had evolved from this, the idea of a just Providence, rewarding for good deeds and punishing for evil. Thus in the “Shu King,” I Yin is represented as saying: “Good and evil do not wrongly befall men, but Heaven sends down misery or happiness according to their conduct.” (Pt. iv., bk. vi., 2.)
And Ch‘êng Tang in the same book, as follows: “The way of Heaven is to bless the good and make the bad miserable.” (Pt. iv., bk. iii., 2.)
And the Duke of Kau also in the same book: “Heaven gives length of days to the just and the intelligent.” (Pt. v., bk. xvi., 2.)
And King Wu: “I clearly consider that, severe as are the inflictions of Heaven on me, I dare not murmur.” (Pt. v., bk. ix., 4.)
The “Doctrine of the Mean” says of the superior man: “He does not murmur against Heaven.” (C. xiv., v. 3.)
Confucius also said of himself in the “Analects”: “I do not murmur against Heaven.” (Bk. xiv., c. xxxvii., v. 2.)
That this is a universe of law, however, and not of special interpositions of Providence, is everywhere insisted on.
In the “Li Ki,” Confucius is recorded as saying: “Heaven covers all without partiality; earth sustains and embraces all without partiality; the sun and the moon shine upon all without partiality.” (Bk. xxvi., 6.)
In the “Shu King,” Mu is reported to have said: “It is not Heaven that does not deal impartially with men, but men ruin themselves.” (Pt. v., bk. xxvii., 6.)
And Zu Ki, as speaking in this fashion: “It is not Heaven that cuts short men’s lives; they themselves bring them to an end.” (Shu King, pt. iv., bk. ix.)
This saying of Tai Chai in the same book certainly has a most modern sound: “Calamities sent by Heaven may be avoided, but from calamities brought on by one’s self there is no escape.” (Shu King, pt. iv., bk. v., sect. ii., 2.)
Confucius himself sets forth the conception of the protection of Providence, thus: “Heaven produced the virtue that is in me. Hwan Tuy—what can he do to me?” (Analects, bk. vii., c. xxii.)
And this, also from the “Analects,” is yet more to the point: “The Master was put in apprehension in K‘wang. He said: ‘Since the death of King Wan, has not the cause of truth been lodged here in me? If Heaven had wished to let this cause of truth perish, then I, a mortal yet to be born, should not have got such a relation to that cause. While Heaven does not let this cause of truth perish, what can the people of K‘wang do to me?’ ” (Analects, bk. ix., c. v.)
This subject is so extremely important and all that is found in the Confucian classics so little, relatively, that the following passages, which have already been quoted in other connexions, are again given: “Riches and honours depend upon Heaven.” (Analects, bk. xii., c. v., v. 3.)
“What Heaven confers, when once lost, will not be regained.” (Shi King, Minor Odes of the Kingdom, decade v., ode 2.)
“When Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first disciplines his mind with suffering and his bones and sinews with toil. It exposes him to want and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods, it stimulates his mind, hardens him, and supplies his shortcomings.” (Mencius, bk. vi., pt. ii., c. xv., v. 2.)
“Filial piety is the constant requirement of Heaven.” (Hsiâo King, c. vii.)
“Sincerity is the path of Heaven.” (Doctrine of the Mean, c. xx., v. 18.)
“Awful though Heaven be, it yet helps the sincere.” (Shu King, pt. v., bk. ix., 2.)
In the “Doctrine of the Mean” this last thought is much more thoroughly worked out—indeed into a theory of intimate co-operation with Heaven, actually of ability to transform. This, to which reference has already been made in the preceding section, is set forth with some fulness in this passage, deemed by Chinese scholars to refer to Confucius: “It is only he who is possessed of the completest sincerity that can exist under Heaven, who can give its full development to his nature. Able to give its full development to his own nature, he can do the same to the nature of other men. Able to give its full development to the nature of other men, he can give their full development to the natures of animals and things. Able to give their full development to the natures of animals and things, he can assist the transforming and nourishing powers of Heaven and Earth.” (Doctrine of the Mean, c. xxii.)
One of the most fervent commendations of music and ceremonies, already quoted from the “Li Ki,” runs: “In music of the grandest style, there is the same harmony that prevails between Heaven and Earth; in ceremonies of the grandest form there is the same graduation that exists between Heaven and Earth.” (Bk. xvii., sect. i., 19.)
The following somewhat cryptic passage from the “Yi King” illustrates the view of Confucius concerning the opposite tendencies of things spiritual and of things material: “Notes of the same pitch respond to one another; creatures of the same nature seek one another; water flows toward the marsh; fire catches upon what is dry; . . . the sage makes his appearance and all men look to him. Things that have their origin in Heaven, tend upward; things that have their origin in Earth, cling to what is below.” (Appendix iv., sect. i., c. ii., 8.)
The following from the same great book of mystery, relative to the harmony that must subsist in order that man be truly great, is perhaps more clearly and surely comprehensible: “The great man is he who is in harmony, in his attributes, with Heaven and Earth; in his brightness, with sun and moon; in his orderly procedure, with the four seasons; in his relations with good and evil fortune, with the spiritual operations of Providence.” (Yi King, appendix iv., sect. i., c. vi.)
God. “There is the great God; does He hate any one?” (Shi King, Minor Odes, decade iv., ode 8.)
The number of times in all the Confucian classics that the appellation for Deity occurs which indicates personality and not something impersonal or multi-personal, like Heaven, and which may accordingly properly be translated, “God,” instead of “Heaven,” is exceedingly few. The similarity of the use of words, one singular and the other plural in form, to the “Jehovah” and “Elohim” of the Hebrews is worthy of remark. The foregoing saying, Christian, even Christ-like in its spirit, occurs in one of the Odes of the “Shi King.” In the same book are found the only passages in all these classics which affirm that God has spoken to any man. There are three of them, of which this is the only one of general application: “God said to King Wan: ‘Be not like them who reject this and cling to that. Be not like them who are ruled by their likes and desires.’ ” (Shi King, Major Odes, decade i., ode 7.)
If this were indeed the word of God and His only revelation to man, this command to be free and impartial and not to be ruled by mere desire could not be deemed unworthy.
In the “Li Ki” the following circumstantial account is given of the rise from primitive barbarity, reaching its acme in the worship—not of gods—but of God: “Formerly the ancient kings had no houses. In winter they lived in caves which they had excavated, and in summer in nests which they had framed. They knew not the transforming power of fire, but ate the fruit of plants and trees and the flesh of birds and beasts, drinking their blood and swallowing hair and feathers. They knew not yet the use of flax and silk, but clothed themselves with feathers and skins.
“The later sages then arose, and men learned to utilize the blessing of fire. They moulded metals and fashioned clay, so as to rear towers with structures on them and houses with windows and doors. They toasted, grilled, broiled, and roasted. They produced must and sauces. They dealt with the flax and silk, so as to form linen and silken fabrics. They were thus able to nourish the living and to make offerings to the dead, to serve the spirits of the departed and God.” (Li Ki, bk. vii., sect. i., 9.)
The exalted conception which these ancients, so chary about using His name or claiming a knowledge of Him which mortal may not attain, really had of God, and of the qualifications required in order to worship Him in spirit and in truth, is indicated in this text from the “Li Ki”: “It is only the sage who can sacrifice to God.” (Bk. xxi., sect. i., 6.)
To this, also, may be referred with greatest emphasis this other saying in the “Li Ki”: “Do not take liberties with or weary spiritual beings.” (Bk. xv., 22.)
The shock with which this idea of remoteness and even exclusiveness must needs be received by a people who have so lately emerged—if, indeed, we have emerged—from the most violent controversies as to which man or group of men knew all about the Almighty, His designs, His will, His purposes with His creature, man, may possibly be relieved a little by the reflection that this aloofness would at least be unfavourable to the development of that levity and jocose blasphemy concerning the Great Spirit to which somehow our over-familiarity has conduced.
The ancient Chinese had the same conception of the possibility of ascertaining the future from the Divine Mind, by oracular utterances or divination, which was also common to the Greeks, the Romans, and other peoples in ancient times. The following passage from the “Yi King” charges the superior man to engage in no important undertaking without thus seeking Divine enlightenment and guidance: “Therefore, when a superior man is about to take action of a more private or of a public character, he asks the Yi, making his inquiry in words. It receives his order and the answer comes as the echo’s response. Be the subject remote or near, mysterious or deep, he forthwith knows of what kind will be the coming result.” (Appendix iii., sect. i., c. x., 60.)
The foregoing has striking similarity to the consultation of the oracle in the days of classic Greece. The “Li Ki” gives the following description, however, of divining by the use of the “Yi King,” which shows that a most peculiar and indeed singular custom of divining had sprung up among the Chinese: “Anciently the sages, having determined the phenomena of Heaven and Earth in states of rest and activity, made them the basis for the Yi. The diviner held the tortoise-shell in his arms, with his face toward the south, while the son of Heaven, in his dragon-robe and square-topped cap, stood with his face toward the north. The latter, however, discerning his mind, felt it necessary to proceed to obtain a decision upon what he purposed, thus showing that he dared not pursue his own course and deferred to the will of Heaven.” (Li Ki, bk. xxi., sect. ii., 25.)
Though nowhere in the “Analects” or “The Great Learning,” all or most of the text of which is attributed to Confucius though handed down by his disciples, is there mention of the personal name, God, as distinguished from the impersonal one, Heaven, which is several times used, in the “Li Ki” the following is found: “These were the words of the Master, ‘The ancient and wise kings of the three dynasties served the spiritual intelligences of Heaven and Earth. They invariably consulted the tortoise-shells and divining stalks; and did not presume to use their private judgment in serving God.’ ” (Bk. xxix., 52.)
And in the “Doctrine of the Mean,” the following: “By the ceremonies of the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth they served God.”
It is but a step, to be sure,—and one which was frequently taken in all parts of the world,—from trust in Providence to a belief that God determines all fortuitous events and accordingly that by observation of them His will may be known.
In another place, however, the “Li Ki” seems pointedly to disapprove attempts to penetrate the mysteries of the future: “Do not try . . . to fathom what has not yet arrived.” (Bk. xv., 22.)
It is, perhaps, sufficiently obvious from all that is in this book—and yet more from all of the text of the Confucian classics, that is ascribed to Confucius, or apparently emanates from him—that the sage did not intend to dogmatize concerning the personality, the identity, the nature, the purposes of God, nor to limit the earnest seekers after Him, whatever path they were destined to pursue in this so bootless quest for that which is unknowable. He was but a sage, seeking to make of his fellow-men spiritual seers, apprehending clearly and sincerely the truths that would guide them aright along the simple, but far from easy, path which mortals should tread. Should he guide them, indeed, into the mental morass of mere theological speculation upon the unknown and unknowable?
Yet withal his own view was once clearly enunciated: “I seek unity, all pervading.” (Analects, bk. xv., c. ii., v. 2.)
THE “GREAT PRINCIPLE” OF CONFUCIUS
Dr. Chen Huan Chang in his work “The Economic Principles of Confucius and His School” gives the following version of a passage in the “Li Ki” (bk. vii., sect. i., 2, 3):
“When the Great Principle (of the Great Similarity) prevails, the whole world becomes a republic; they elect men of talents, virtue, and ability; they talk about sincere agreement, and cultivate universal peace. Thus men do not regard as their parents only their own parents, nor treat as their children only their own children. A competent provision is secured for the aged till their death, employment for the middle-aged, and the means of growing up for the young. The widowers, widows, orphans, childless men, and those who are disabled by disease, are all sufficiently maintained. Each man has his rights, and each woman her individuality safeguarded. They produce wealth, disliking that it should be thrown away upon the ground, but not wishing to keep it for their own gratification. Disliking idleness, they labour, but not alone with a view to their own advantage. In this way selfish schemings are repressed and find no way to arise. Robbers, filchers, and rebellious traitors do not exist. Hence the outer doors remain open, and are not shut. This is the state of what I call the Great Similarity.
“Now that the Great Principle has not yet been developed, the world is inherited through family. Each one regards as his parents only his own parents, and treats as his children only his own children. The wealth of each and his labour are only for his self-interest. Great men imagine it is the rule that their estates should descend in their own families. Their object is to make the walls of their cities and suburbs strong and their ditches and moats secure. Rites and justice are regarded as the threads by which they seek to maintain in its correctness the relation between ruler and minister; in its generous regard that between father and son; in its harmony that between elder brother and younger; and in a community of sentiment that between husband and wife; and in accordance with them they regulate consumption, distribute land and dwellings, distinguish the men of military ability and cunning, and achieve their work with a view to their own advantage. Thus it is that selfish schemes and enterprises are constantly taking their rise, and war is inevitably forthcoming. In this course of rites and justice, Yü, T‘ang, Wên, Wu, Ch‘êng Wang, and the Duke of Chou are the best examples of good government. Of these six superior men, every one was attentive to the rites, thus to secure the display of justice, the realization of sincerity, the exhibition of errors, the exemplification of benevolence, and the discussion of courtesy, showing the people all the constant virtues. If any ruler, having power and position, would not follow this course, he should be driven away by the multitude who regard him as a public enemy. This is the state of what I call the Small Tranquillity.”
Dr. Chen identifies “The Small Tranquillity” with “The Advancing Peace Stage,” into which men proceed in the form of nations out of the primitive “Disorderly Stage,” and “The Great Similarity” with “The Extreme Peace Stage,” i. e., with what Tennyson meant in “Locksley Hall”:
Proceeding with this interpretation, Dr. Chen says: “This is the most important statement of all Confucius’ teachings. The stage of Great Similarity or Extreme Peace is the final aim of Confucius; it is the golden age of Confucianism. If we make a comparison between the Great Similarity and the Small Tranquillity, we may get a clear view. Everyone knows that Confucianism has five social relations and five moral constants: ruler and subject, father and son, elder and younger brothers, husband and wife, friend and friend, make up the five social relations; love, justice, rite, wisdom, and sincerity make up the five moral constants. But, according to the statement of Confucius himself, they belong only to the Small Tranquillity. Everyone knows that Confucianism is in favour of monarchical government and of filial piety. But they are good only in the Small Tranquillity. In the Great Similarity, the whole world is the only social organization, and the individual is the independent unit; both socialistic and individualistic characters reach the highest point. There is no national state, so that there is no war, no need of defence, nor of men of military ability and cunning. Men of talents, virtue, and ability are chosen by the people, so that the people themselves are the sovereign, and the relation between ruler and subject does not exist. Man and woman are not bound by the tie of marriage, so that the relations between husband and wife, between father and son, and between brothers do not exist. The only relation that remains is friendship. There is no family, so that there is no inheritance, no private property, no selfish scheme. There is no class, so that the only classification is made either by age or by sex; but whether old, middle-aged, or young, whether man or woman, each satisfies his needs. The Great Principle of the Great Similarity prevails, so that everyone is naturally as good as everyone else and the distinction of the five moral constants is gone. Each has only natural love toward others, regardless of artificial rites and justice. Speaking of the Small Tranquillity, Confucius gives six superior men as examples, but for the Great Similarity, he does not mention any one, because it has never existed. In the Canon of History, Confucius takes up Yao and Shun to represent the stage of Great Similarity as they did not hand down their thrones to their sons, yet he does not mention them here. The principle of the Three Stages is the principle of progress; we must look for the golden age in the future; the Extreme Peace or the Great Similarity is the goal.”
The similarity of this conception to the social scheme of Socrates, as set forth in Plato’s “Republic,” is remarkable, as also its similarity to the views of advanced socialists nowadays. It is indeed significant and weighty if these two greatest intellects of the ancients and perhaps of all mankind saw this ultimate goal alike. But the interpretation may in some regards be deemed doubtful; and certainly others have interpreted it otherwise. Thus Legge translates the passage, using the past tense throughout, as follows:
“When the Grand Course was pursued, a public and common spirit ruled all under the sky; they chose men of talents, virtue, and ability; their words were sincere, and what they cultivated was harmony. Thus men did not love their parents only, nor treat as children only their own sons. A competent provision was secured for the aged till their death, employment for the able-bodied, and the means of growing up to the young. They showed kindness and compassion to widows, orphans, childless men, and those who were disabled by disease, so that they were all sufficiently maintained. Males had their proper work, and females had their homes. (They accumulated) articles (of value) disliking that they should be thrown away upon the ground, but not wishing to keep them for their own gratification. (They laboured) with their strength, disliking that it should not be exerted, but not exerting it (only) with a view to their own advantage. In this way (selfish) schemings were repressed and found no development. Robbers, filchers, and rebellious traitors did not show themselves, and hence the outer doors remained open, and were not shut. This was (the period of) what we call the Grand Union.
“Now that the Grand Course has fallen into disuse and obscurity, the kingdom is a family inheritance. Everyone loves (above all others) his own parents and cherishes (as) children (only) his own sons. People accumulate goods and exert their strength for their own advantage. Great men imagine it is the rule that their estates should descend in their own families. Their object is to make the walls of their cities and suburbs strong and their ditches and moats secure. The rules of propriety and of what is right are regarded as the threads by which they seek to maintain in its correctness the relation between ruler and minister; in its generous regard that between father and son; in its harmony that between elder brother and younger; and in a community of sentiment that between husband and wife; and in accordance with them they frame buildings and measures; lay out the fields and hamlets (for the dwellings of the husbandmen); adjudge the superiority to men of valour and knowledge; and regulate their achievements with a view to their own advantage. Thus it is that (selfish) schemes and enterprises are constantly taking their rise, and recourse is had to arms; and thus it was (also) that Yu, Thang, Wan, and Wu, King Khâng, and the Duke of Kâu obtained their distinction. Of these six great men everyone was very attentive to the rules of propriety, thus to secure the display of righteousness, the realization of sincerity, the exhibition of errors, the exemplification of benevolence, and the discussion of courtesy, showing the people all the normal virtues. Any rulers who did not follow this course were driven away by those who possessed power and position, and all regarded them as pests. This is the period of what we call Small Tranquillity.”
But whether past or future is intended, undoubtedly it is the “golden age,” or ideal state, which is meant. The open question as to whether the Grand Course is past or yet to come, is of course due to the ideographic form of the language; owing to his standing as a Confucian scholar, Dr. Chen is certainly entitled to have his interpretation preferred, if all else is equal.
The statement concerning safeguarding the individuality of women would perhaps scarcely seem to warrant the notion that the idea of the family, upon which Confucius built his entire superstructure of personal and governmental relations, should be abandoned; Legge translated this, it should be noted, “Males had their proper work, and females had their homes.”