Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The wisdom of Xunzi, Part Two


(Part One Part Three) Beyond the implications of Xunzi's philosophy and wisdom on our society, are the implications it has on our personal development. What does it mean to be a gentleman? Gentleman is used here as the chosen word often selected by those translating Confucian philosophers to mean the highest developed, and most honorable of men. Xunzi, and other Confucians, would argue that this should be the chief aim of men. So what does Xunzi tell us about this path of development, and how do we attain it? Xunzi says,
Learning should never cease. [...] The gentleman is by birth no different from any other man; it is just that he is good at making use of things. [...] [1]

How does a man make use of things? By learning, about ourselves, our world, and our place in it. By cultivating ourselves, we raise ourselves. By doing so, we see farther, and other's can see us more clearly . Time spent in self-reflection and learning is key. Observe yourself every day, and you may learn a lot. Knowing your true motivations for things, whether they be fears, desires, or hope for a certain outcome, can mean the difference in your chosen actions. To act and not know yourself and your true motivations can be disastrous. Xunzi also tells us what may happen when we allow ourselves to stray from our path.
The glory or shame that come to a man are no more than the image of his virtue. Meat when it rots breeds worms; fish that is old and dry brings forth maggots. When a man is careless and lazy and forgets himself, that is when disaster occurs. [1]

I know this from personal experience all too well. So much of my life was spent in this disaster. I strayed from my path, and I paid the price. There's no comparison between myself today and the self I once was. Were I able I'd be tempted to go back in time and ask myself some questions.

How much of your day is spent seeking some meager pleasure or profit? How mean are you in your dealings with other men? Do you fill your heart with sympathy or coldness? To do one is to be a man, to do the other is to be a beast.

Some may ask, "Yes, but how does this help me to get ahead in the world?" A man walking past the door of his home, and trying to climb the fence.

Some will attempt to devalue and mock what they don't understand. Beware, for this is the mark of an uncultivated mind.

At some point your quest for pleasures will run its course. What then? You may be surprised to find that you have much work to do. Yet is learning not a pleasure in itself? And is it not fulfilling to discover how much is offered to you freely when you enrich yourself and stop yearning for things you do not have? I don't say that pleasures will cease, only that they take their proper place, and are thus more fully enjoyed.

How powerful you become simply by cultivating yourself.

I'll delve into Xunzi's description of this power in Part 3, which will be posted tomorrow morning.

Stoic Living for the Modern Soul My book on stoicism.