Minding the Essential, Part III
by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
"The Master said, (the good man) does not grieve that other people do not recognize his merits. His only anxiety is lest he should fail to recognize theirs." (Analects; I 16)
"The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others; he does not call attention to their defects. The small man does just the reverse." (XII 16)
"Attack the evil that is within yourself; do not attack the evil that is in others." (XII 21)
"The demands that a gentleman makes are upon himself; those that a small man makes are upon others." (XV 20)
"A gentleman does not accept men because of what they say, nor reject sayings, because the speaker is what he is." (XV 22)
I have shared these Confucian maxims before without comment. Now I'd like to discuss what seems to me to be their common thread, the interiorization of the project of growth.
There is a sense in which Confucianism and Taoism are at loggerheads. The one seems to emphasize the work of self-improvement, the other spontaneity. Yet they are, I believe, flip sides of the same coin. In the end they both seek the transformation of character. And they both understand this transformation as best facilitated by placing the entire onus of responsibility for this transformation on one's own person, without reference to others. It is not simply that focusing on the failings of others is a distraction; it is the negation of the true work that needs to be done. The realization of that transformation, moreover, is best demonstrated in precisely this absence of exterior reference.
I have written that every problem that I have with others is my problem. This simple understanding necessarily throws one back to face the fundamental problem of the egoic self. In the work of transformation there is no other place to begin. This, it seems to me, is the common thread running through Confucianism, Taoism and Zen.
How one proceeds from there may appear as a parting of ways, and I suppose that it in some sense is. But there is another sense in which the one path remains, only we cannot see through the contradictions and paradoxes which necessarily arise.
Confucianism emphasizes study. Learn and cultivate what it is to be a sage, and you will become one. Taoism emphasizes the release of spontaneity. Let it happen and it will. Zen emphasizes meditative technique. Realize no-mind, and the issue is resolved.
Yet all three in some sense make use of each of these methods, I believe, though none would probably agree with me.
You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.