Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ziporyn on the Liji II: Cheng

Scott Bradley


Despite what might be suggested by the title above, this series will not be an attempt to convey the teaching of the selected documents within the Liji ("The Doctrine of the Mean" and "The Great Learning") or of Ziporyn's take of them; I honestly can't say I that I have sufficiently comprehended either to do so. Rather, my use of them will be anecdotal, as was my use of Xunzi in the previous series.

In his explanation of the role of coherence within these documents, Ziporyn discusses the importance of the term cheng, usually translated as "sincerity", though he suggests that "coherence" might in some cases do just as well, since it entails a uniting of intention with a dao. This is a core value within Confucianism and is understood, I think, as absolutely necessary to a successful course (dao) of self-cultivation. Personally, I see myself as on such a course, and write under the assumption that my readers (should there be any) are similarly so involved. Thus, the nature of cheng may have something of importance to teach us.

"Sincerity" certainly has a great deal to do with the manner in which we engage in self-cultivation, tending toward the nature of our self-examination. However, it also speaks to the overall character of perceived reality generally, and thus our approximating sincerity is a reflection of the sincerity of things as they are. Ziporyn quotes Mencius in this regard: "The Dao of Heaven is to be cheng; the Dao of man is to become cheng." (4A12)

"Sincerity" in the case of reality is to be what it is, which seems fairly unproblematical. As is usually the case with humanity, however, things are more problematical: it is necessary to become sincere, to become what we are. There is a sense in which this is nonsense ("become what we are"?), but then such is the human experience, "a being such that, it is what it is not, and is not what it is", to quote Sartre. Or, as Zhuangzi puts it: our "not-one is also One", which I take to mean that despite our need to become, our not-yet-having-become is in the broadest sense, in the view from Dao, no different than having-become. Whether we have realized sincerity or remain insincere is, in the end, of no great consequence since all things are affirmed just as they are. There is nothing we need become. With this tucked away in our consciousness, we are free to proceed with our becoming without the burden of guilt and judgmentalism, a situation that seems to me at least, suggestive of love — love for oneself and thus for others.

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

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