Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Only a Sage Would Know

Scott Bradley


Liu, a former literati of the school of Confucius, inquired of Zhouzi, "Master, was Confucius a great sage?"

"Confucius was clearly a great man," answered Zhouzi. "But what is a sage?"

"Master, only a sage would know," replied Liu.

"Indeed," Zhouzi responded. "But have you ever heard of anyone sagacious declaring himself a sage? Is it not rather that every 'sage' has been designated such only by others and never by himself? Thus, if it requires a sage to designate a sage, then no sages have ever been designated. I have only heard of popularly designated sages declaring themselves non-sages."

"But Master," Liu continued, "even though there may be no true self-designated sages, what are the criteria by which one might do so? What is a sage?

"I have heard that a sage is someone in harmony with things as they are and who is thereby filled with infectious joy. In this, she is different from others; in that she has only realized that which is available to all, she is the same as others. The roots of sagacity reach down, deep into the human; thus is the sage simply human. For this reason she calls herself a human, though others call her a sage."

"Now Confucius was a great man who sought to bring order to the human hive and thereby to render all men sages," Zhouzi continued, "and though he was partially successful in the first, he failed in the last. There was a man from Sung who was much loved by his family, awakening each morning to his breakfast already prepared and to the hugs of all his family. Realizing how fortunate he was he sought to spread it abroad, and declared that all should do likewise. Soon, even he awakened to neither hugs nor breakfast prepared. The imposition of rules of conduct for that which can only spontaneously arise may bring order, but it cannot bring sagacity, nor was it ever necessary."

“Master, would I therefore be mistaken if I called you a sage? And if so, why am I here?” puzzled Liu.

“Call me human, Liu; just like you. As for why you are here, this question is best answered by you alone; for the nature of the nurture one might find here is wholly determined by the one who seeks it. What is helpful for one, may be harmful for another. Those who call me ‘sage’ border on the harmful.”

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