In trying to find our own way we often find ourselves in what can be called the “predicament of culture” – the feeling of pervasive off-centeredness that occurs when we are confronted with an unavoidable overlay of distinct meaning systems and compelled to choose among or reconcile different and often contrary sources of personal and cultural identity. Who are we… when conscience mind gets in the way of unconscious action – becoming one with the tranquility of simplicity?
In many ways this seems to be where we find ourselves today. For myself, it’s as if the “rules” have already been put in motion by the status-quo. Maybe it is as Joseph Campbell said that we must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one waiting for us. Moving beyond the rules that others play by. The constant struggle to conform with accepted norms by others content to live in their own fixation. How appropriate for the final entry… Chapters 25 and 26 of Nei-yeh — Inward Training.
What can bliss be but peace of mind. Becoming universal and transcendent… all the while seeing the way others strive to conform with the status quo, when all should be questioning it. Ultimately looking to Confucius and how people for thousands of years have attempted to live by and up to norms others set for them.
For me it’s about discovery and bringing things back, or returning to the middle. Out of harms way. Looking to and honoring both East and West by spending time with the great metaphysicians of the day and seeing the transparency of universal life flowing through them and even myself. Acknowledging our origins means we find comfort, our own bliss, by simply returning to who we have always been and will be again. From where does our vital energy originate, does it matter, and should we be prepared for what may be inevitable just the same.
Nei-yeh — Inward Training
The vitality of all people inevitably comes from their peace of mind.
When anxious, you lose this guiding thread;
when angry, you lose this basic point.
When you are anxious or sad, pleased or angry,
the Way has no place to settle.
Love and desire: still them! Folly and disturbance: correct them! Do not push it! Do not pull it!
Good fortune will naturally return to you, and that Way will naturally come to you. So you can rely on and take counsel from it.
If you are tranquil then you will attain it; if you are agitated then you will lose it.
That mysterious vital energy within the mind: one moment it arrives, the next it departs.
So fine, there is nothing within it; so vast, there is nothing outside it. We lose it because of the harm caused by mental agitation.
When the mind can hold on to tranquility, the Way will become naturally stabilized. For people who have attained the Way, it permeates their pores and saturates their hair. Within their chest, they remain unvanquished. Follow this Way of restricting sense-desires and the myriad things will not cause you harm.
The above translation of the Nei-yeh is by Harold Roth, and excerpted from his book, Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism.
By way of introduction to the text, Mr. Roth writes:
“Nei-yeh (Inward Training) is a collection of poetic verses on the nature of the Way (Tao) and a method of self-discipline that I call “inner cultivation” — a mystical practice whose goal is a direct apprehension of this all-pervading cosmic force. It contains some of the most beautiful lyrical descriptions of this mysterious cosmic power in early Chinese literature and in both literary form and philosophical content is quite similar to the much more renowned Lao Tzu (also called the Tao Te Ching).
The Nei-yeh is a Taoist scripture, believed to have been written in the 4th century BC, making it — alongside the 6th century BC Lao Tzu Te Tao Ching and the 4th century BC Chuang Tzu — one of the earliest articulations of Taoist mysticism. The Nei-yeh has been translated into English variously as: Inner Cultivation, Inward Training, Inner Enterprise or Inner Development. Though less known than the Te Tao Ching and Chuang Tzu, it is increasingly being recognized and honored as a foundational text of early Taoism. Though belonging primarily to the Taoist Canon, the Nei-yeh resonates strongly with other non-dual spiritual traditions, Chan / Zen Buddhism in particular.
The Great Learning: 大学; was one of the “Four Books” in Confucianism. The Great Learning had come from a chapter in the Classics of Rites which formed one of the Five Classics. It consists of a short main text attributed to the teachings of Confucius and then ten commentary chapters accredited to one of Confucius’ disciples, Zeng Zi who lived from 505-436 BC. The ideals of the book were supposedly by Confucius; however, the text was written after his death. The “Four Books” were selected by the neo-Confucian Zhu Xi during the Song Dynasty as a foundational introduction to Confucianism and examinations for the state civil service in China. Confucius, who incorporated ideas from Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou and others, compiled and edited the Book of Rites, Book of Documents, Classics of Poetry, and the Spring and Autumn Annals. Confucius’ student, Zeng Zi wrote the introduction and exposition of The Great Learning. Confucius taught 3000 pupils; of which 72 mastered the six arts as follows:
1) The Rites — The cult of the ancestors and the ceremonies mark the passing of the seasons and the different stages of a man’s life. The rites are the backbone of society and are indispensable to the proper functioning of the world.
2) Music — The Rites are always associated with music, as the principle regulating the relations between men, and between men and the universe. Music and dance are considered to afford access to supreme beauty and to wisdom.
3) Writing— Like dance, writing reproduces the dynamic and the movement of the world. It is practiced in an atmosphere of contemplative withdrawal, using objects imbued with symbolism.
4) Mathematics — The science of numbers is the origin of exact measurement and of wealth and prosperity.
5) Chariot driving — The chariot has an important place in war, in hunting and in the parades that express the power of the nobles. (This was the period of the Zhou and Warring States Period of China).
6) Archery — Archery forms part of a man’s physical training and, as in the case of chariot driving, allows talent to be tested through competition.
The Great Learning developed from many authors adapting to the needs and beliefs of the community at the time. The Cheng brothers, Yi (1033–1107) and Hao (1032–1085) both utilized the Great Learning’s philosophies. Their ideas met with strong official opposition, but were reconstituted by Zhu Xi. Cheng’s idea was that it was identical with nature (following the Tao), which he believed was essentially good and emphasized the necessity of acquiring knowledge. During the Southern Song Dynasty, Zhu Xi rearranged the Great Learning and included it in the Four Books, along with the Doctrine of the Mean, the Analects of Confucius and the Mencius. Zhu Xi developed the Chengs’ Confucian ideas and drew from Chan Buddhism and Taoism. It is obvious that over time there was a confluence of thoughts and ideas that made sense that pointed everyone in a similar direction.
My daughter Katie and I visited the Temple (park) dedicated to Zen Zi in Jiaxiang with some of my students in 2012. Tradition says that Zen Zi’s descendants were one of the four ancient families responsible for keeping Confucianism at the forefront of Chinese culture and philosophy for over two thousand years.
Li Ao, a scholar, poet, and official, used and brought attention to the Great Learning. He adapted several ideas competing religions into his form of Confucianism. After the Song and Yuan Dynasties, the Great Learning became a required textbook in schools and a required reading for imperial examinations. The Dais divided the book into five sections. This included the Great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Evolution of Rites, the Yili, and the “Etiquette and Rites” .
There is a popular commentary by Han Yu and Li Ao who both used The Great Learning. Li Ao incorporated a lot of Buddhist and Taoist ideas into his work. Zi Si – Confucius’s grandson – is said to have taught Mencius and written the Doctrine of the Mean. He may also have written the beginning of the Great Learning. Ma Yung also edited the Great Learning in the Han dynasty, giving his views of the general meaning.
Principal teachings of the Great Learning
- Achieving a state of balance and refining one’s moral self – such that it is a reflection of the Way (Tao).
- Ample rest and reflection such that one achieves peace of mind. When one is calm and reflected, the Way will be revealed to them.
- Setting priorities and knowing what is important is essential in one’s quest for moral refinement, for it allows one to focus on that which is of the greatest importance and that which is in line with the Way as outlined in Confucian teachings.
- One must bring his affairs and relationships into order and harmony. If one hopes to attain order in the state, he must first bring his own family and personal life into order through self-cultivation and the expansion of one’s knowledge and the “investigation of things.”
- Each and every man is capable of learning and self-cultivation regardless of social, economic or political status. This, in turn, means that success in learning is the result of the effort of the individual as opposed to an inability to learn.
- One must treat education as an intricate and interrelated system where one must strive for balance. No one aspect of learning is isolated from the other and failure to cultivate a single aspect of one’s learning will lead to the failure of learning as a whole.
The main text
What the Great Learning teaches is: to illustrate illustrious virtue; to renovate the people; and to rest in the highest excellence. 大學之道在明明德，在親民，在止於至善
The point where to rest being known, the object of pursuit is then determined; and, that being determined, a calm unperturbed nature may be attained. 知止而后有定；定而后能靜
To that calmness there will succeed a tranquil repose. In that repose there may be careful deliberation, and that deliberation will be followed by the attainment of the desired end. 靜而后能安；安而后能慮；慮而后能得
Things have their root and their branches. Affairs have their end and their beginning. To know what is first and what is last will lead near to what is taught in The Great Learning. 物有本末，事有終始，知所先後，則近道矣。
The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the world, first ordered well their own States. 古之欲明明德於天下者，先治其國
Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families. 欲治其國者，先齊其家
Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. 欲齊其家者，先修其身
Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. 欲修其身者，先正其心
Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. 欲正其心者，先誠其意
Wishing to rectify their sincerity they made sure of their knowledge. 欲誠其意者，先致其知
Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things. 致知在格物
Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. 物格而後知至
Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. 知至而後意誠
Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. 意誠而後心正
Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated. 心正而後身修
Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. 身修而後家齊
Their families being regulated, their States were rightly governed. 家齊而後國治
Their States being rightly governed, the entire world was at peace. 國治而後天下平
From the Son of Heaven down to the mass of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything. 自天子以至於庶人，壹是皆以修身為本
It cannot be, when the root is neglected, that what should spring from it will be well ordered. 其本亂而末治者，否矣
It never has been the case that what was of great importance has been slightly cared for, and, at the same time, that what was of slight importance has been greatly cared for. 其所厚者薄，而其所薄者厚，未之有也
Meaning of “Investigation of Things”
The text sets up a number of controversies that have underlain Chinese philosophy and political thinking. For example, one major controversy has been to define exactly the investigation of things. What things are to be investigated and how has been one of the crucial issues of Chinese philosophy. One of the first steps to understanding The Great Learning is to understand how to “investigate things”. This did not consist of scientific inquiry and experimentation, but introspection, building on what is already “known” of “principle”. True introspection was to allow the mind to become all knowing with regards to morality, relationships, civic duty and nature.
The Confucius College of Qufu
Today, there is a school in Qufu called the Confucius College that I am very familiar with that teaches students who come from throughout China to study the above “arts of ancient China”. Qufu has always been the center of learning the ancient arts. Calligraphy and martial arts (which takes the place of chariot driving) are the most popular among students today. I have taught classes here on weekends. The school attempts to continue the traditions of ancient Chinese culture, the value of community and family, and our responsibility to acknowledge and respect history.
The Great Learning is significant because it expresses many themes of Chinese philosophy and political thinking, and has therefore been extremely influential both in classical and modern Chinese thought.
Government, self-cultivation and investigation of things are linked. It links together individual action in the form of self-cultivation with higher goals such as ultimate world peace as well as linking together the spiritual and the material. Basing its authority on the presumed practices of ancient kings rather than nature or deities, the Great Learning both links the spiritual with the practical, and creates a vision of the Way (Tao) that is different from that presented by Taoism per sea. However, the incorporation of the I Ching, both Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and Chan Buddhism with Confucius have been moderating influences over time.
Confucius while he lived, traveled from city to city espousing enlightenment, proper ways to govern, and family filiality, but few would listen. His primary “claim to fame” you might say, was updating the five classics of Chinese history, the Analects, and his own version of the I Ching. Defining the way you should live your life became the benchmark that proved his longevity. How those who would follow him were to shape history using him as a pretext to legitimatize their own take as to how things should proceed is what made him immortal. It would be when emperors tied their own authority to govern by and through “the will of heaven” augmented by the teachings of Confucius that we would know how to act accordingly. It was if a natural flow of people and connecting events would tie everything together.
Qufu was to become the center of the universe in showing this divine connection. Beginning in pre-history when the inventor of the I Ching, the Yellow Emperor in 2700 BC was said to by from Qufu. The Yellow Emperor was credited with an enormous number of cultural legacies and esoteric teachings. While Taoism is often regarded in the West as arising from Lao Tzu, Chinese Taoists often claim the Yellow Emperor formulated many of their precepts. The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, which presents the doctrinal basis of traditional Chinese medicine, was named after him.
Ji Dan, the Duke of Zhou, who codified the “Book of Rites” five hundred years before Confucius was from Qufu… as well as Confucius himself. Continuing in that tradition, it is also my home when I am in China too.
It is as if my writing takes me back when I’m not there. The following is an entry from my unpublished manuscript, “My travels with Lieh Tzu” in the chapter entitled, Confucius.
What sort of man follows Confucius? Four men who served him are looked upon as examples. The first, superior in kindness, the next better in eloquence, the third stronger in courage, and the fourth exceeding in dignity.
All a cut above Confucius in their endeavors. Yet they chose to serve him, why is this so?
What is virtue, but that which springs forth from one’s eternal chi or soul? How can one man judge another when he has his own journey he must follow, his own destiny to find? What is there to possibly come to understand and know except the inner workings of ourselves and the loving kindness that subsequently follows?
Confucius explains: “The first is kind, but cannot check the impulse to act when it will do no good. The next is eloquent but knows not when to speak. The third is brave, but is impulsive and knows not when to be cautious, and the fourth is dignified, but cannot accept others opinions when it is their turn to speak. Even if I could exchange the virtue of these four, why would I, when they are less than my own? This is why they have chosen to serve me without question? Each person must learn their own way in the world. Can mine possibly be better than the path another has chosen to follow?”
Have not those who have decided to follow the ways of Confucius done so without questioning right and wrong, benefit and harm? Letting everything play out to its rightful end to discover their own true destiny. Since the establishment of government destroys the path for all but the true sage is it not best to find the way to govern properly for the benefit of all. Looking you cannot find it, listening you cannot hear it. In the end, there is nothing to be found again and again. 3/14/95