Monday, October 23, 2006

Heaven and Man as One


The notion tianrenheyi has pervaded the Chinese philosophy since the Spring and Autumn Period. The definition of the two concepts of "heaven" and "man" varies with different philosophers. And their relationship has been explained by different theories in traditional Chinese philosophy. For example, Xunzi required that a "distinction be made between heaven and man". Zhuangzi theorized that "those who are ignorant of heaven know nothing about man". Furthermore, the question of "relations between heaven and man" was often found in the discussion about the relation between "nature" and the "Confucian ethical code." Nevertheless, the mainstream of traditional Chinese philosophy has taken as its main task the demonstration or explanation of how "heaven is integrated with man."

The Confucian philosopher Zhou Dunyi noted explicitly that "A saint shares virtue with heaven and earth", and "a saint aspires to heaven". Zhang Zai stated in his West Inscription: "That which exists between heaven and earth is my intrinsic being; that which commands heaven and earth is my character." Zhu Xi held that "Heaven is man, and man is heaven. Since this man is born, heaven rests in him." and that "A saint . . . is integrated with heaven."

Such saints do exist, one of who is Confucius.

Confucius has always been called a saint (), furthermore, he has been perceived as a God-like figure (). In China, there are thousands of temples in which Confucius was worshiped. Zigong said: “Confucius is the sun and moon which no one can climb beyond.” (19.24) and “The Master cannot be matched just as a ladder cannot be used to climb the sky.” (19.25) Confucius is regarded as such not only because of his knowledge and virtues, but also because people have high respect for him and are willing to follow him. This is an interesting notion: a saint or God is a saint or God is because people believe so. Zigong said: “He gave them a place and they took a stand, He led them forward and they followed, He brought peace and they flocked to him, He aroused them and they achieved harmony. In life he was glorious, And in death he was mourned.” (19.25) Confucius is a saint/ God-like human because people think of him as such.

In this sense, Confucius could be said to have achieved tianrenheyi. And by reading the Analects, through Confucius’ teaching and philosophical expressions, we could learn more about the subject.

The first is the relationship between Heaven, Man, and Li.

One definition of Li is rites, which are performed to worship God and spirits. So Li could be understood as a bridge that connects man to heaven. However, there’s more to it than this definition. Li, as far as I’m concerned, is based on the understanding of tiandao, the Way of Heaven.

Li is concerned with relationships, between person and person or between person and God/ spirits. Confucius contends that Li is in harmony with the universal order, that is, the tiandao, or the Way of Heaven. Only in this way can Li perform its function as a way to establish harmony in the society. The Analects said, "Among the functions of propriety (li) the most valuable is that it established harmony. The excellence of the ways of ancient sage-kings consists of this. It is the guiding principle of all things great and small." Since Li is a product of the sages who knew the Way of Heaven, and everyone can become a sage if he/she chooses to, the Confucian philosophy denotes possibility of human’s coexist with the Heaven and Earth, moreover, human’s integration with the Heaven.

The notion of the integration between Heaven and Man has four profound meanings.

The first is Confucius’ conception of living in the present, living in reality.

Confucian philosophy is about the present, not the past or the future. When “Zilu asked how to serve the spirits and the gods. The Master replied, ‘Not yet being able to serve other people, how would you be able to serve the spirits?’ Zilu said, ‘May I ask about death?’ The Master replied, ‘Not yet understanding life, how could you understand death?’” (11.12) Confucius holds that only after people conduct themselves properly and follow the virtues can they serve the spirits and the gods.

One of the virtues of tian is that it’s always changing and developing. Confucius once stood on the riverbank and said: "Isn't life's passing just like this, never ceasing day or night!" (9.17) If you interpret this sentence as expressing depression and sorrow, then Confucius would not be much different from ordinary people. However, when Confucius observes the unceasing passing of time and tide, he said this to remind people that they should seize the day, and that in order to be one with tian, people need to have tian’s virtue of continuously progressing, therefore, they should be constantly cultivating themselves. To Confucius, what matters is the process, not the result, so the amount of progress people are making each time is not as important as the fact that they are making an effort. He said, "As in piling up earth to erect a mountain, if, only one basketful short of completion, I stop, I have stopped. As in filling a ditch to level the ground, if, having dumped in only one basketful, I continue, I am progressing." (9.19)

Apart from living in the present, Tianrenheyi also express a sense of living here, the real world in which everyone and everything is connected.

The Master said, "I think I will leave off speaking." "If you do not speak," Zigong replied, "how will we your followers find the proper way?" The Master responded, "Does tian speak? And yet the four seasons turn and the myriad things are born and grow within it. Does tian speak?" (17.19) When he reflects on the speechlessness of Heaven and the simultaneous marvelous workings of Heaven in the sun, the moon, and the four seasons, he points out that nature is sacred, not because it is sanctified by a transcendental God but because it inspires a sense of order, harmony, and purpose. So though Heaven does not speak to us literally, we can recognize its generative power and come to be aware of the objective order in the universe by Heaven's working. The way of Heaven embodies a whole cosmic pattern, in which everything is related to everything else, and thus create order and harmony.

As stated above, Confucius has very high regards for relatedness. Man, in Confucian ethics is not an impartial individual who is independent from the details of personal life. Instead, he is one who lives in various concrete social relations. The Confucian self is not a concept of an independent entity. In the process of self-development, the key is to relating to one's social commitment, rather than isolating oneself from others and society. The society that Confucians aim to build is not one that consists of a group of self-interested and self-centered persons, but one composed of virtuous individuals who live in harmonious relationships with other members of a community. The Western atomistic perception of the Man is never a part of the Confucian philosophy and the Man is never understood as an independent being distinct from all others. In the eyes of Confucians, Man’s relationship with the outside world, especially with other persons is as important, if not more, as the Man himself.

That’s why Confucius advocates a sense of broadmindedness. He said: "How great indeed was Yao as a ruler! How majestic! Only tian is truly great, and only Yao took it as his model. How expansive was he - the people could not find the words adequate to praise him. How majestic was he in his accomplishments, and how brilliant was he in his cultural achievements." (8.19) As you know, Yao established the system of shanrang, in which the next emperor is chosen among all citizens by looking for the best virtues and abilities, not chosen among relatives, and that the preceding emperor would give the throne to him peacefully and willingly. Confucius greatly praised Yao for taking tian as his model. Tian is a perfect example of broadmindedness for it is so grand that it contains everything. As for a person, in order to be one with the grand tian, he has to open his heart to tolerance.

In addition, the notion of tianrenheyi is a recognition of Man’s potentials. The Confucian understanding of the Man is that Man is not only a li-follower, but also a li-maker. Man is endowed with the ability to seek the Way of Heaven. It is known that one of the most important insights of Confucianism is its affirmation of the moral subject. Confucius affirms that it is possible for everyone to develop his potentiality and to become a sage, for a sage is one who has achieved the ultimate in the development of his human potential, and this achievement is within the reach of every human being. By being sincere, being true to one's own heart-mind, everyone is able to reach the same objective. It is through the infinite heart-mind that the subject can be in a position to be one with Heaven and Earth.

In conclusion, tianrenheyi is not an ideal, but a state in which the Man is in harmony with the surroundings. It is attained by following the Way of the Heaven, by being broadminded, and by constantly cultivating oneself.

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