Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The wisdom of Xunzi, Part Three


In this third and final post on Xunzi (Part One, Part Two), I want to share his thoughts on what a Great Man is. As many of us strive to improve ourselves, it helps to have some image to hold in our minds as a goal. Xunzi says,
He who has such enlightenment may sit in his room and view the entire area within the four seas, may dwell in the present and yet discourse on distant ages. He has penetrating insight into all beings and understands their true nature, studies the ages of order and disorder and comprehends the principle behind them.

He surveys all heaven and earth, governs all beings, and masters the great principle and all that is in the universe. Broad and vast-who knows the limits of such a man? Brilliant and comprehensive-who knows his virtue? Shadowy and ever changing-who knows his form? His brightness matches the sun and moon; his greatness fills the eight directions. Such is the Great Man. [1]

To be great one need not master others, one need master one's self. One must be unified in one's thinking and focus, for how can one progress when walking two paths? Xunzi's description of the cultivated mind gives much food for thought as we move forward. He says,
The mind may be compared to a pan of water. If you place the pan on a level and do not jar it, then the heavy sediment will settle to the bottom and the clear water will collect on top [...].

But if a faint wind passes over the top of the water, the heavy sediment will be stirred up from the bottom and the clear water will become mingled with it, so that you can no longer get a clear reflection of even a large object.

The mind is the same way.

If you guide it with reason, nourish it with clarity, and do not allow external objects to unbalance it, then it will be capable of determining right and wrong and of resolving doubts.

But if you allow petty external objects to pull it about, so that its proper form becomes altered and its inner balance is upset, then it will not be capable of making even gross distinctions. [1]

Is your mind clear?

Stoic Living for the Modern Soul My book on stoicism.