Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On Being a "Man"

On Being a "Man"
by Scott Bradley


"He who lacks a sense of right and wrong is not a man." (Mencius IIa, 6) Mencius (371?-281? BCE) was a Confucian contemporary of Zhuangzi although they never mention each other. What I find so interesting about this quote and its larger context is its similarity to a discussion between Zhuangzi and his Logician buddy, Huizi (Zhuangzi, Chapter 5).

In this dialogue Zhuangzi states that the sage is free of the usual human inclinations, the chief of which is the sense of right and wrong. Huizi protests that the sage would therefore not be a man. Zhuangzi replies that he is endowed by nature to be thus, so how could he not be a man?

My first exposure to Confucius and Confucians (if it could be construed as such) was through the Taoist writings where they are the opposition (though Zhuangzi always refers to him with respect). They wore the black hats. But on actually reading them, I learned that these guys were truly 'good guys'. Confucius' basic teaching was that jen, human-heartedness, and yi, righteousness were the core human values and were essentially innate to humanity.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

1 comment:

  1. I think the conflicts or friction between Taoists and the Confucians is not unlike the conflicts between John the Baptist and Jesus with the Pharisees. When fundamentally humane ideas (e.g.,zen and yi; the Ten Commandments, Rabbinic law) become codified, institutionalized, ritualized, they become unnatural and false in their application, which is what Laozi et al. were warning or rebelling against.

    It is very interesting to know that there is a resurgence of interest in Confucianism in China where, as a result of social upheaval since 1911, younger generations have been left a little at sea, divorced perhaps from values and practices that were virtually second nature to their parents, their ancestors.

    Some people suggest that the last emperor-- Mao Zedong-- was influenced not just by Marx and Engels, but also Laozi.

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