Saturday, May 21, 2011

On Being Human

On Being Human
by Scott Bradley


"Mencius said, 'No man is devoid of a heart sensitive to the suffering of others." (Mencius II A 5)

Mencius follows up this declaration with one of his best known analogies: No one seeing a child about to fall into a well would not have an immediate compassionate reaction. This is the 'germ' of goodness in every human heart. Thoughts of reward for helping or punishment for not, or the thought 'good riddance', might arise a moment later, but the essential 'germ' was still there.

After this, Mencius continues his thesis: "From this it can be seen that whoever is devoid of the heart of compassion is not human, whoever is devoid of the heart of shame is not human...and whoever is devoid of the heart of right and wrong is not human."

I have not studied logic so must fall back on Woody Allen's use of the Aristotelian syllogism to express what seems to me to be the problem here: "All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, all men are Socrates." If this doesn't truly describe the logical fallacy in Mencius's thesis, then at least it gives an impression of it.

Mencius tells us what a human being is and then excludes anyone who might fail of that definition. Are there people who fail his test? I am afraid so.

This is the problem with Idealism; it imposes Ideas on reality. And this is why I am fond of saying that humanity is what humanity does (or is). This is important to me because the way of "drift and doubt" is an attempt to find transcendence in the stark reality of a Universe without known absolutes.

But returning to Mencius, how can we not affirm his convictions? We, too, feel that compassion, shame (at failure to measure up), and sense of right and wrong (unless we fail the test, of course). Only we would (perhaps) see them fulfilled in ourselves in a completely different way. If these are human traits, then all we need do is be more fully human, and this, through a nurturing of the heart without referencing an external law, an Idea. As is expressed in the Hsin-hsin Ming, separate for just one instant, and the gap is infinite. This is It. This immediate reality is always It.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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