Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ground Zero Revisited

Scott Bradley

"The Master (Confucius) said: 'In the archer there is a resemblance to the gentleman. When he misses the mark, he turns and seeks the reason for his failure in himself.'" (The Mean XIV; Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1)

Confucius took this self-cultivation stuff pretty seriously. I think we would be hard put to find anyone else who has more thoroughly placed the onus of personal responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the individual. It's awe-inspiring. Only Socrates, his contemporary, comes to mind.

Forget the failure; that's not the point. It's the assumption of responsibility that is the point. Responsibility for what? Simply to your commitment to know yourself with a view to realizing greater harmony, and that through responding appropriately to whatever arises. That's what I think the author of The Mean had in mind.

Here's something of the context of this quote: "The gentleman acts according to the situation he is in and does not desire what is outside it. . . . If he is among barbarians, he does what one does among barbarians, if he is in trouble, he acts as one in trouble. There is no situation into which the gentleman enters in which he is not himself. . . . He makes his own conduct correct and seeks nothing from others, and so he has no resentment. He neither complains against Heaven nor blames men."

It's all about our response and nothing more. Harmony begins in us or nowhere else. Shit happens. People injure people. People injure us. Harmony happens here. It's all about our responses to the world, not about how that world is or is perceived to be. When one blames, one shirks responsibility. Water does not blame; it simply yields and flows on to where it may. So, although the Confucian model may involve motivations which vary from that of the Taoists, they come together here in the ground zero of personal responsibility.

It is thought that The Mean (Chung Yung) might have been a Confucian reply to Taoism which saw Tao as transcendent of ethics and indifferent to 'creation'. The Confucian Tao is moral. We harmonize morally with it. Thus the Confucian seeks to cultivate specific moral attributes in herself, while the Taoist seeks only to yield, to ‘follow along with’ events as they unfold. Yet both look only to one’s attitude to the events which effect one, rather than to the right or wrong of the events themselves.

The Taoist test of one’s harmony is a simple one: Has something entered into my life to disturb my peace? If so, then it is not the thing which is the problem, but my response to it. This is not ‘me against the world’, but quite the opposite; it is harmony with all the world.

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

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