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« Tao Poem | Main | It's Not Just Their Physical Health »

September 03, 2007


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"We are all liberals now (can I say that?)."

You can say it, but you might want to duck. ;)

Those academics who criticise Yudan have murdered Confucius.

The pattern in academia today is to reformulate ancient philosophy in modern terminology, take texts completely out of context, then pretend to appreciate the ancients. Another trend is to drown ancient philosophy in a sea of footnotes, so to marginalise any non-academic discourse. Either that, or to reframe every word as an ideological struggle.

The average academic writes papers for a narrow circle of similar men. These men dispute furiously over minute topics, which have no relevance to reality.

By contrast, the study of canon (jingxue), as practised by the diverse, historical Confucianist schools, was a constructive, useful process. Through creative exegesis, the ancients generated monumental discourses on ethics, politics, metaphysics, and mysticism. When Shaoyong transmitted the diagram of taiji, he reinvogorated medicine, the Chinese sciences, and the esoteric subjects. When Zhuxi published his collected sayings, he created a system of complete education. And when Wang Yangming identified the heart with the principle, he paved the way for all spiritual students.

There are many people who feign appreciation of The Analects, but none can perform the simplest Confucianist ritual. As for philosophy, is there one who knows the application of li, qi, xiang, shu to medicine and the sciences? Because of the disconnect between traditional metaphysics and the society at large, most students of Chinese medicine have very faulty understanding of qi and xiang. And the skill of deriving new theories from the canons, it is extinct.

Zhuzi said it best: "half a day for reading, half a day for quiet sitting." Without self-cultivation, there is no Confucianism.

Chengzi said it best: "Having read The Analects, some are totally unaffected, some find one or two pleasing sentences, some realise they like it, and some don't even know their hands' dancing, and their feet's dancing." Dispassioned academic study is inimical to the spirit of Confucianism.

That's why I advocate Confucianism as theology, rather than philosophy. Or rather, philosophy, as it was understood by the ancients. I can't help but admire the seminaries of the Christians, or the madrassas of the muslims - that is how Confucianism should be taught. That was how it was in former days. Memorisation, cultivation, and application. And I admire the Vedic scholars who preserve the old traditions. Are the Five Canons any different from the Vedas? Are they not gateways into the traditions which extend into the age of mist and smoke? But some people pretend that China has no native mythology, or indigenous spirituality, or is by nature unreligious.

There is no tradition without religion. If you don't think a ritual carries merit, then you're unlikely to perform it more than once. If you don't hold the scripture to be sacred, then it will never be more than a quaint relic of the past.

The critics of Yudan are insane with jealousy. Having put their whole lives into academia, they can't stomach an outsider appreciating The Analects, and proclaiming its wisdom to the world. They think, by their academic credentials, they hold the only keys to Confucius. But by their actions, they reveal themselves to be uncultivated.

My lengthy tirade notwithstanding, the current situation will not change. Or if it changes, it will be for worse. There is only one way to revive tradition. The same way will revive medicine, culture, the traditional sciences, ethics, and religion. That way is to teach ancient philosophy systematically in high-school. By ancient philosophy, I refer most of all to metaphysics. Without a basic understanding of metaphysics, no traditional subject is accessible. The student who approaches traditional subjects without metaphysics will end up confused and disoriented, because he operates from the presuppositions of modern science.

A student who understands traditional metaphysics will actively participate in rituals. Rituals start making sense for him. He understands the merit involved.

But this won't happen in the near, or even distant future.

They say this is the century of religion. But the outlook is not good for Confucianism, Buddhism, or Taoism. Decades of imposed atheism has diminished all spiritual traditions. That's why our country abounds in charlatans. Sometimes, it seems that all authentic teachers have gone to the West. Atheism is unsatisfying for most people. Most people will go in search for spiritual meaning sometime in their lives. If traditional spirituality does not reassert itself, then Christianity and Islam will have a free hand expanding in China. Maybe in a few years, we will end up like South Korea, where Christians outnumber Buddhists.

All forms of monotheism tend toward fundamentalism. This is inevitable, because violence and exclusion are written into their scriptures. Unfortunately, our leaders appear to be religiously illiterate. That's why the state funds imams to study in Saudi Arabia. No one can fault them if they study at a Sufi order. But surely they know the Saudis are unrepentent Salafis. As for the madrassas, they are the ones encouraging skirmishes (which we don't hear on the news).

But Islam is a minor issue. Most people don't realise how quickly Christianity spreads. China is in precisely the same situation as Rome in the days before Constantine. Her society is materialistic, her government is corrupt, people are displaced, the rich-poor divide grows, etc. And while Roman and Hellenistic religions had state support, and the sponsor of the intelligentsia - China remains officially atheist. Most intellectuals despise their native traditions.

I recently visited several seminaries. All of them have courses designed for mission in China. Some train pastors and theologians from China. The evangelicals know what they are doing. They're taking full advantage of China's current spiritual vacuum.

The only way to stave off dangerous foreign ideas is to strengthen indigenous religions. But this will not happen out of the good will of the state. Thus, the only solution, which is ugly and probably won't work anyway, is for indigenous religions to attach themselves to nationalism. But this totally betrays the spirit of the traditions.

There is no solution.

If monotheism overwhelms China, then that is the will of heaven. (Not something immediate, but perhaps twenty, thirty years from now.) If the ancient traditions don't fully recover, that's the will of heaven. If Confucianism remains in the narrow confines of academia, no more than interesting specimens in glass jars, then that's the will of heaven.

But perhaps thinking along these lines make me a bad Taoist. Yet I admire India. Both China and India are ancient Eastern nations. But Indians love their traditions. That sets them entirely apart from the Chinese people.

I suggest the blogger to read another book on The Analects by Mr. Li Ling(李零) who is a professor of Beijing University and has been an archeological researcher,and whose book also caused another wave of critiques and arguments. His book titled "The homeless dog,my understanding of The Analects"(《丧家狗,我读论语》).

the book name is intersting? many people cursed the author for the title,but actually ,it is the Confucius who called himself the homeless dog.

I've heard it suggested that Christians in China already outnumber CCP members. This is probably impossible to verify, but it's not at all unlikely that there are more of them than there are genuine believes in dialectical materialism.

Metta's comparison of China with ancient Rome is interesting. If the CCP thinks that the F L G are a problem for them now, then a genuine South Korean-style Christian revival will likely be beyond their capacity to deal with- and considering Christianity's ability to thrive under persecution (remember the outcome in Rome) their best bet would be to not even try. Interesting times indeed.

pssst...That wasn't me. :) I'm the wiseacre above that.

Wow, there's a lot in that comment. Let me just pick up on one idea: "There is no tradition without religion." This strikes me as a bit too general. I wonder if tradition, and its continuance, requires performance or enactment (i.e. the daily performance of the values articulated) so that it is not just about words, but actions. If this is the case, then we might, indeed, be able to have tradition without religion.
And thanks for the book suggestion, Nick.
And I am ducking, Metta. But tell me more, how is it that we are not all liberals now?

Now that I think about it, my previous post was too extreme.

The earliest societies were shamanist. Shamans had direct access with the gods, and common people communed with rocks and trees. Society was spontaneously organised, its decisions made by consensus. People lived in the eternal present, in tune with the seasons and the stars. During this time, Dao was not yet lost.

Later, as societies expanded, shamanism no longer sufficed. This was because shamans were by nature individualistic. An enlarged society required standardised administration. Thus priests of organised religions supplanted shamanism. These priests were defined by standardised rituals, often in the form of writing. Thus Dao was lost.

Even later, as societies urbanised, and the merchant class rose, people became increasingly individualistic. Therefore, philosophy began to supplant rituals. This is when Confucius humanised ancient traditions, and when Laozi published his discourse on Dao. Dao was further compromised.

Today clever words have replaced sincere inquiry. Thus we have no Dao at all.

Rather than viewing things as the gradual loss of Dao, we can view them as commentaries on Dao. This is how I reconcile the differences amongst the hundred schools of thought. Since Dao is ineffable, it makes sense that each philosophy only captures a glimpse of Dao. The sixty-four hexagrams of Yijing represent all manifest things. Since philosophies are manifest things, each philosophy is really the explication of one or more hexagrams.

Therefore, traditions, rituals, and words are merely crunches, by which we understand Dao. Sometimes, I very much wonder how effective the average Vedic or Taoist rituals are. Many ritualists simply buy a manual from a master (or a bookstore these days), then start up their own business. They completely neglect the self-cultivation.

Most Vedic scholars perform rituals inflexibly. When I first started learning magic, I adhered absolutely to my manuals. But after I began understanding the rationales behind rituals (especially after reading ancient metaphysics), I knew what was essential and what wasn't. I became much freer improvising and creating my own rituals.

Sakyamuni and other philosophers all arose when the caste system and Brahmin ritualism became unsatisfactory. They have lost Dao, because in ancient times, people who became enlightened became enlightened, whereas people who didn't, could enjoy the illusions of life. After the philosophers, people put too great an emphasis on enlightenment.

The same is with Plato. Before Plato, people who became enlightened kept to themselves (as testified in The Republic). But Plato wanted to mass-produce enlightenment for the guardians. The first prophecies were spoken by an oak; in those days, people would listen to a rock or a river, as long as it has something interesting to say. Around the time of Plato, when the sophists arose, Dao was lost to clever words.

But ultimately, words are more suspect than rituals, because they are one step further removed from Dao. When Thoth created writing, he thought he had done something magnificent, and presented it to King Ammon. But Ammon was displeased. He said, "O Thoth, you think writing is good, that it preserves the knowledge of old, but actually writing distorts knowledge. Now people will no longer listen to wise people. Rather, they will make clever arguments about words."

This is perhaps why the brahmins of India resisted writing so long. They knew that writing would dilute their art. Thus concludes my views.

I never said we weren't. But I have no trouble seeing about half the population of, say, Texas throwing rocks at you for saying it. :)


You certainly showed concern for your fellow countrymen and China. But one person or a divinity cannot teach a billion or more people who have multi-diverse interests and of different nature. The only way to reach the people is at the top or through teachers. Therefore my theory may differ from yours.

It is not in the writing but in the thoughts.

Right thoughts lead to right actions as Buddha would say in the Dhammapada. Laozi and Confucius left their thoughts on human nature to posterity. But not many down the ages really understood these ancients’ thoughts especially applicable to those, like you have indicated earlier, who spent much time reading the ancient books and classics yet do not cultivate. These are the same culprits nowadays who think that they know much about the ancients yet they don’t. For without the actual practice, how could they know for sure that the ancient thoughts really work?

You know, it is a very difficult task to change the prevailing thoughts in China. After almost a century of struggles – first against the Manchu, then the corrupt warlords, the Second World War, the civil war, the long march, abandonment by the Soviets, the red guards, and so on – life has not been easy in China and people’s thoughts would be adversely affected. When a country has been under communist rule and indoctrination for more than half a century, for over two generations, can people’s thoughts and beliefs really change overnight?

The recent willingness of China’s rulers to allow children and successful business people to study Confucian thoughts, and to permit regular prayers to be performed in Daoist temples, is a sign of progress. The face of China is slowly but surely changing for the better, yet the impatient demands quicker fixes and more. Compare her progress with former Soviet countries and other communist countries, and you may see the vast difference or big picture.

Lastly, I have heard that officials have secretly visited Daoist temples to consult Daoist immortals through the planchette. It means that Daoism is thriving although unofficially in China.


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