Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Confucian Project

Scott Bradley

"What heaven has disposed and sealed is the inborn nature. The realization of this nature is called the process. The clarification of this process is called education."
(Chung Yung, I,1)
The Chung Yung (The Mean, The Unwobbling Pivot), traditionally thought to be the words of Confucius recorded after his death by his grandson, Tzu Ssu, is now thought to be a combination of two or more texts possibly written as late as the early Han. In any event, it is one of the Four Classics of Confucianism which has defined and guided those who espouse his philosophy for two millennia.

This simple opening statement quoted above tells us in a nutshell a great deal of what the Confucian project is about — the transformation of society through the transformation of the individual.

This transformation is effected through a process of realizing in action what one already is thought to intrinsically be. The process is facilitated through a growing understanding of the nature of the goal and the mechanics of the process itself.

One could hardly argue against such a worthy endeavor; yet if we would wish to in some sense take it onboard as part of our own project (should we be committed to one), then we must first understand it in its own context and then determine how we might modify it to make it our own.

(I believe there is certainly a place for a revival of Confucianism in today's world, only it would need to be radically reworked and restated (purged of its extreme conservatism, among other things) so as to be relevant to today's realities.)

The first premise in this opening statement is that there is such a thing as an inborn nature. I have discussed this previously, and have said that I find any presumed fixed and ideal given nature problematical. I won't renew that argument here. Only I will say that it is enough to find in oneself a vision of how one would wish to be, though one does not as yet embody it. Herein is the birth of the same project Confucius envisioned.

There is at least one statement ascribed to Confucius where he confesses to having failed to realize the ideal of his own project. There is at least one in which he claims to have done so. I would expect that the confession of having fallen short would be the most accurate, but in either case the most important thing to understand is that it is indeed a process. It is work.

Because the project is work, it needs to be remembered that there is an entirely different reality also at work in the process, namely the realization of the unconditionality of one’s integration into the Whole. One does not earn participation in the unfolding of Dao; this is the true given.

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

1 comment:

  1. Sounds a little like John Dewey.

    And there is in fact a great resurgence of interest in Confucius in China today.


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