Confucianism and Its Rivals, by Herbert A. Giles, , at sacred-texts.com
Confucius was born in the year 551 B.C., and died at the age of seventy-three, after a strenuous career, devoted partly to politics, partly to teaching, and partly to literary research. His own view of his life and achievements was that of a disappointed man. On one occasion he cried out, "Alas! there is no one who knows me." On another, he bewailed the non-appearance of the phnix, a bird always to be found in countries where right principles prevail; he also complained that divine revelations, such as had occurred in the case of the Eight Diagrams and the River Plan, were no longer vouchsafed. "It is all over with me!" he cried in despair; for he probably believed in both the above manifestations, and regretted that nothing of the kind had been reserved for his own generation. Dr Legge's grand contributions to our knowledge of the Canon are occasionally marred by comments which are out of place in a purely exegetical work. In reference to the above, he inserts four words: "Confucius endorses these fables"words likely to give great offence to a Confucianist. It is as though a Confucian translator
of the Bible, when dealing with the story of Jonah and the whale, were to add, quite unnecessarily, "Christ endorses this fable" (Matthew xii. 40). On a third occasion, Confucius said, "My doctrines make no way; I will get upon a raft and float about on the sea."
Against these pessimistic utterances may be set the eulogy pronounced by the historian, Ssŭ-ma Chien (second and first centuries B.C.): "When reading the works of Confucius, I have always fancied I could see the man as he was in life; and when I went to Shantung I actually beheld his carriage, his robes, and the instrumental parts of his ceremonial usages. There were his descendants practising the old rites in their ancestral home; and I lingered long, unable to tear myself away. Countless are the princes and prophets that the world has seen in its time; glorious in life, forgotten in death. But Confucius, though only a humble member of the cotton-clothed masses, remains among us after many generations. He is the model for such as would be wise. By all, from the Son of Heaven down to the meanest student, the supremacy of his principles is fully and freely admitted. He may indeed be pronounced the divinest of men."
There is extant a collection of the sayings and doings of Confucius, as recorded by his disciples, which may be compared with portions of the four Gospels, inasmuch as we here find illustrated, sometimes vividly, the chief points of interest in his daily life and teaching; and it is from this source (the
[paragraph continues] Lun Yü) that some of the quotations to follow have been taken.
Confucius is usually regarded as a teacher of morals only, and it is considered wrong, therefore, to class his doctrines as a religion. This is no doubt true, in the sense that he laid stress almost entirely upon man's duty to his neighbour, thinking, perhaps without going so very far astray, that the liver of a blameless life would not be far from the kingdom of God. But it is certain that he believed firmly in a higher Powerthe God of his fathers, of whom we have already heard so much, and who, so far as we can deduce from the ancient records, was satisfied with right-doing on the part of mankind in reference to one another, and in other ways was less exacting than the "jealous God" of the Old Testament. Not only did Confucius, as we shall shortly see, believe in the existence of this Deity, more vaguely perhaps than did the anthropomorphic worshippers of early times; but he was conscious, and expressed his consciousness openly, that in his teachings he was working under divine guidance. Thus when, on his wanderings, he found himself in danger of violence, and his disciples were afraid, he reassured them, saying, "King Wên (see ante) being dead, has not his message been confided to me? If God had wished to put an end to this message, then I, King Wên's successor, should never have received it; but as God has not yet put an end to this message, what harm can these people do to me?" In another and similar case of danger, Confucius said, "God implanted
the virtue that is in me; what can this man do to me?" Again, in reply to a disciple who asked what he meant by declaring, as just mentioned, that nobody knew him, Confucius said, "I do not murmur against God, nor do I grumble against man. My studies lie low, but they reach high; and there is GodHe knows me. If my doctrines are to prevail, it is so ordered of God; if they are to fail, it is so ordered of God."
Nor was it only Confucius himself who held this view as to the divine character of his mission. After throwing up high office in his own native State of Lu, because his prince had accepted a present of eighty (one writer says only six) beautiful dancing-girls and was neglecting the administration of affairs, Confucius in a dejected mood set out on his travels. On arriving at the frontier of the Wei State, the warden in charge of the gate expressed a wish to meet the renowned sage, urging that when men of mark passed that way he was never denied the privilege of seeing them. He was accordingly introduced by the disciples; and when he came out he said, "My friends, why are you distressed by your Master's loss of office? The world has long been without right doctrines; now God is going to use him as a bell."
On a different plane, but still suggestive of something unusual in the personality of Confucius, is the following anecdote. Travelling along in a carriage, with a disciple in attendance, he came to a river, and sent the disciple to a couple of men working in the
fields, in order to inquire for the ford. One of the men asked the disciple, "Who is that sitting in the carriage and holding the reins?" "It is Confucius," answered the disciple. "What! Confucius of the Lu State?" "Yes," replied the disciple. "Ah," said the man, speaking figuratively, "he knows the ford."
We must now see how far it is possible, using only genuine and not apocryphal utterances, to establish more conclusively the fact that Confucius fully recognized the existence of a Supreme Being. This recognition was indeed qualified by the maxim, already quoted, which he laid down for the guidance of others, namely, "Hear much, and put aside the points of which you are in doubt, while you also speak cautiously on the rest"; for there were four special subjects on which he himself would not willingly talkuncanny manifestations, feats of strength, rebellion, and spiritual beings. But although he would not discuss in a familiar way the pros and cons of belief in an unseen world, probably because of the solemnity of the subject, he did not hesitate to use the name of the Deity in any suitable connexion. He does so when tracing the stages of his own career:
A disciple being stricken with leprosy, Confucius went to inquire after him. He did not go into the
house, but grasped the sick man's hand through the window, saying, "Alas! it is the will of God."
What was that which Confucius describes as the will of God, about which we are told in one passage that he did not care to speak? The word ming, here rendered by "will," or "command," also means "fate, destiny"; and there would be a serious claim for some such translation as "necessity" (Gr. ἀνάγκη), if ming were always found, as it is sometimes found, used alone, without the prefix of "God" (Tien ming). The "necessity" of Greek philosophers has been defined as "a constraint conceived as a law prevailing throughout the material universe and within the sphere of human action"; it is never associated with any lawgiver, but proceeds from the natural constitution of things. It is quite clear, however, that whenever ming stands by itself in the ancient classical literature of China, it is elliptical for Tien ming, the will, or decree, of God understood; just as, with us, the Word stands for Christ, the Messiah, known to the Jews as the Word of God.
There is one example which seems, but only seems, to militate against the above conclusion. A disciple mentions the following saying, which he states that he has heard, as some conjecture, from the lips of Confucius: "Life and death have their ming; riches and honours are in the hands of God." Now the first sentence looks as though it were "Life and death are matters of destiny"; that is, that they are events predetermined by the mysterious power or agency, not God, which we call Destiny or Fate. But here
allowance must be made for the peculiarities of Chinese style, in which repetition is a common feature; not to mention that such a distribution of functions is quite out of the questionthat is, the power of life and death being given to an abstraction, the disposition of such comparative trifles as wealth and honours to God. Therefore here, too, ming must stand for the will of God.
We will now pass on to the other frequent instances of the use by Confucius of the term "God," the Chinese equivalent being in every case Tien, and not Shang Ti. Confucius went to pay a visit to a lady whose moral character did not stand high in public estimation. A disciple ventured to remonstrate with him for having done so; whereupon Confucius cried out with an oath, "If I have done anything wrong, may God strike me dead, may God strike me dead!"
The Golden Age of China, with its perfectly virtuous, semi-divine rulers, threw a lasting spell over the imagination of Confucius. It may partly have been a case of distance lending enchantment, for some of the great Emperors of antiquity lived as long before his date as Confucius himself lived before ours; to us they are dimly seen, legendary beings, but to him they were moving, sentient heroes, drawing inspiration from on high. "Great indeed," he exclaims, "as a ruler, was the Emperor Yao; how majestic was he!" Then, in an afterthought, comes the reverential corrective: "It is only God who is really great: Yao took Him as his model."
Confucius being very ill, one of the disciples, named Yu, wished his colleagues to pretend to be officials in attendance, in order to create a similitude of the state to which the Master had been accustomed in the days when he held high office. But all Yu got for his trouble was to be rated, so soon as Confucius could speak, as an arrant hypocrite. " By pretending to have an official retinue," said Confucius, "when I have no such thing, upon whom should I impose? Should I impose upon God?"
Confucius had one favourite disciple, named Hui, who leaned upon him more than any of the others, and was never at any time a doubter or questioner of his Master's wisdom and divine mission. Of him Confucius said that for three months there would be nothing in his mind contrary to perfect virtue; that with a coarse platter of food, a gourd to drink out of, and a slum to live inwhich would mean wretchedness to othersHui would still be contented and happy; that he never let the sun go down upon his wrath (cf. Ephesians iv. 26); and was never twice guilty of the same lapse in conduct. But Hui died young, and in his grief Confucius cried out, "God is destroying me! God is destroying me!" At this the disciples who were with him remonstrated, saying, "Master, your grief is excessive." "My grief excessive?" cried Confucius. "If I am not to mourn bitterly for this man, for whom should I mourn?"
"There are three things," said Confucius, of which the superior man stands in awe. He stands in awe of the will of God. He stands in awe of great
sages, and of the inspired words which have been uttered by such men." It was the dream of Confucius that all mankind should be composed of superior men, which makes it difficult for us to believe that he himself was, as he has been called too often, a mere moral philosopher, a materialist of the most pronounced type.
One more example of Tien as understood by Confucius. He was protesting against the value of words as compared with deeds, and was applying the rule to his own individual case, when a disciple objected, saying, "If you, Master, do not speak, what shall we, your disciples, have to record?" Confucius said, "Does God speak? The four seasons pursue their courses, and all things are regularly produced; but does God say anything?"
We will now transfer our attention more closely to the "spirits," which, as we have already seen, play such an important part in the earlier books of the Confucian Canon. From the sources available, it seems impossible to decide whether the recognition of a Supreme Being preceded or followed the belief that the souls of human beings enjoy continued existence after death. In regard to the relative importance of serving God and serving man, Confucius has often been blamed for setting man before God; but it should always be remembered that his interpretation of true service to God was embodied in right and proper performance of duty to one's neighbour. The idea of personal service to God Himself, as understood by the Jewish patriarchs, is
entirely foreign to the Chinese conception of a Supreme Being.
Thus, when asked what constituted wisdom, Confucius replied, "To cultivate earnestly our duty towards our neighbour, and to reverence spiritual beings while maintaining always a due reserve, 1 may be called wisdom."
Again, when a disciple applied for guidance in serving the spirits of the dead, Confucius said, "Until you are able to serve men, how can you expect to serve their spirits?" The same questioner would have heard the Master's views on death; but Confucius said, "Until you understand life, how can you possibly understand death?"
We have, however, some interesting remarks on the supernatural world, which Confucius himself volunteered, without any pressure from an inquirer. "How abundantly," he said, "do spiritual beings make their presence manifest among us! We look for them, but do not see them; we listen for them, but do not hear them; yet they enter into all things, and there is nowhere where they are not. They cause all the people in the world to fast, and to put on their best clothes, in order to take part in the sacrifices. Then they seem to pass in waves, now over the heads, now at the very sides of the worshippers." In support of this, Confucius here quotes three lines from the Odes, his hearers being, of course,
able to supply the context from memory. They are taken from an ode which was written about the close of the ninth century B.C., by one of the feudal princes, and which was, quaintly enough, addressed to himself, as a means of keeping before his eyes the right conduct expected from one in his high station. Some of the lines which lead to the quotation used by Confucius run as follows:
[paragraph continues] And now come the three lines quoted by Confucius:
If Confucius cannot be held to have spoken freely on the topic of spirits, at any rate he expanded somewhat in reference to the sacrifices of which spirits were the immediate object. We are told that he sacrificed to his dead ancestors as though those ancestors were present, and to spirits in general as though the spirits were present. He would not allow himself to be represented by proxy. "I regard," he said, "my absence from the ceremony as though I did not sacrifice." At the great sacrifice to the founder of the dynasty, which must have been a particularly solemn ceremony, Confucius said that after the pouring of the libation he had no wish to look on. It was at that moment, when the imagination of fervent worshippers was most powerfully stimulated, that the surrounding atmosphere, laden with the fumes of incense, seemed to be peopled, as it were, with spirits whose presence, if not seen, was unmistakably felt. From this atmosphere Confucius, for reasons which have not come down to us, wished to withdraw. Someone having asked him what was the meaning of the great sacrifice, Confucius replied, "I do not know. The man who knew its meaning would find it as easy to govern the empire as to look upon the palm of his hand." After what has been already quoted from his remarks on the influence of a spirit-world, it is impossible that he can have been actuated, in his wish not to look on, by unbelief. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by that same reverential feeling which prevented him from speaking on death and cognate subjects; that must remain for ever a matter
of speculation. But just as it is obvious that Confucius believed in a God, so it is also obvious that he believed in the existence, and, on occasions, in the presence of spirits of the departed dead.
To go back a little, chronologically. The ruler of a certain feudal State, after petitioning God and receiving His sanction, determined (B.C. 648) for political reasons to hand over his territory to another State, and was explaining to a friend that the State about to absorb his own would keep up the proper sacrifices to his spirit after death. The friend remonstrated with him, saying, "I have heard that the spirits of the dead do not enjoy the sacrifices of those who are not of their kindred, and that people only sacrifice to those who are of the same ancestry as themselves. Will not, then, the sacrifices to your spirit be thus brought to an abrupt end?" This argument prevailed, and the principle enunciated was accepted and emphasized by Confucius, who declared that "for a man to sacrifice to a spirit which does not belong to him is flattery," and not legitimate worship. Temptations, however, are sometimes too strong for weak mortals. A Chinese merchant was discovered, not long ago, worshipping, with all the paraphernalia of eatables, wine, and paper money, at the grave of a recently deceased foreigner, his partner in trade; and he explained in pidgin-English that the dead man was an old friend, and that he hoped by the performance of this "joss-pidgin" to enlist the aid of his spirit in business transactions to come.
Among casual allusions by Confucius to sacrificial ceremonies, one or two are of more than passing interest. We are told that "when a friend sent him a present, though it might be a carriage and horses, he did not bow." The only present for which he bowed was that of flesh which had been used in sacrifice, and so consecrated by its dedication to the ancestral spirits of the giver. If his prince sent him a gift of cooked meat, he would straighten his mat before sitting down, and be the first to taste it. If the gift was raw flesh, he would have it cooked, and then offer it in sacrifice to the spirits of his own ancestors. The rule was that the oxen used at the great sacrifice should be red, and have good horns, qualifications which depended, we may take it, upon the pedigree of the animal. Thus, in reference to one of his most ardent disciples, who was the son of a bad father, Confucius pleaded as follows: "If the calf of a brindled cow be itself red and well horned, although men may not wish to use it, would the spirits of mountains and rivers put it aside?" The sins of the fathers were not to be visited upon the children.
It was customary in ancient China for the Emperor, at the end of each year, to distribute among the princes calendars showing the first day of each moon in the ensuing year. These were kept in the ancestral temple of the State; and on the first of every one of the following twelve moons they were brought out and the day was proclaimed, suggesting a comparison with the Latin word Kalendae, which meant the day
when the order of days was proclaimed. To the ceremony of proclamation was attached the sacrifice of a sheep; and as the ceremony was beginning to be laxly observed, a disciple recommended that the sacrifice should be done away with. "My son," said Confucius, "you grudge the sheep; I grudge the sacrifice."
Confucius, when staying in the Wei State, was consulted by its ruler as to a military expedition which was about to be undertaken. He replied, "Matters which are concerned with sacrificial ceremonies are those with which I am familiar; as to military affairs, I know nothing about them." He then ordered his chariot and promptly quitted a territory where the arts of peace were to be subordinated to the art of war. "A bird," he exclaimed, "chooses the tree upon which it will roost; the tree does not choose the bird."
In the intimate conversations of Confucius with his disciples we do not come across any direct reference to divination; but from an essay composed by his grandson and disciple we learn that the reeds and the tortoise-shell were still employed, as we have already seen. We find allusions to fasting, which is mentioned, together with war and sickness, as one of three topics in regard to which Confucius exercised the greatest caution. We are told that "when fasting, he made a point of wearing clean clothes, always of linen cloth; he did not eat the same food as usual, nor would he sit in his accustomed place." It appears that fasting and purification were practised for about ten days before the performance of the
sacrifices took place, but few reliable details of these rites have been handed down to us.
A word or two as to prayer, and its importance in the eyes of Confucius. Someone took occasion to ask him what was the interpretation of a vulgar proverb, which may be paraphrased as follows: "It is better to make friends with the kitchen than with the parlour," in allusion to the prayers and sacrifices offered to the spirit of the kitchen, and the greater likelihood of obtaining profit in that direction than from the more dignified spirit of the parlour. There was a political background to the question, which is of no consequence at the moment; all that we need trouble about is the answer. Confucius swept these petty rites aside, with the insignificant spirits, whom he evidently did not hold in the highest esteem, and, falling back on an older and loftier conception of man's guidance, replied, "He who has offended against God has none to whom he can pray."
Confucius being at another time very ill, a disciple asked leave to pray for him. "Is that usual?" he inquired. "It is," replied the disciple. "The Book of Prayer says, 'Pray to the spirits in heaven above and earth below.'" "In that case," said Confucius, "I have already been praying for a long time."
The question of mourning, as a rite, received some attention from Confucius. "Just as in festive ceremonies," he said, "it is better to be sparing than extravagant, so in mourning ceremonies it is better to be sincere than punctilious." Again: "Authority without mercy, ceremonial without reverence, mourning
without sorrowwhat have I to do with these?" His general attitude towards mourning and mourners was one of awe at finding himself in proximity to death and the unknown. We have it on record that "when the Master was eating by the side of a mourner, he never ate to repletion." Also: "When the Master saw a person in mourning garb, or a blind man, even though they were younger than himself, he would rise up; and if he had to pass them by, he would do so hastily." It was this same reverential feeling, and not fear, which caused him to turn pale at a clap of thunder, or in the presence of a hurricane. At that early date the thunderbolt was not regarded as one of the means at the disposal of the Almighty for punishing the derelictions of erring mortals. Time and superstition have succeeded in developing the modern god of thunder who, accompanied by a goddess, goes about dealing destruction to the wicked. The goddess holds in her hand a bright mirror, with which she flashes a ray of lightning on to the doomed man, so that the god of thunder may see where to launch his bolt.
It has always been the rule in China to wear mourning for parents, nominally for a space of three years, actually for twenty-seven months. Attempts to shorten this trying period have been made, but without success. An Emperor of the second century B.C. asked with his dying breath that the people might not be forced to observe the very inconvenient ceremonies of national mourning prescribed upon a demise of the throne, but be allowed to marry and
give in marriage as usual, thus not wasting too much energy on such an unworthy creature as himself. Only those who have witnessed a national mourning under the Manchus can have any idea of the hardships entailed on the masses by the death of an Emperor, although the length of time imposed by regulation was nothing like three years in duration. Still, for a hundred days no one might have his head shaved; and the barbers, but for the patriarchal system, would have starved. No marriages could be solemnized within a year; and during the same period large troupes of actors were thrown out of employ, for all theatres were closed. Festivities and music were altogether prohibited. On the death of a parent, an official was compelled, except for a special dispensation from the Emperor, to go into retirement for the full term of twenty-seven months.
A disciple asked Confucius about the three years mourning for parents, saying that one year was surely long enough. "If the superior man," he argued, "abstains for three years from ceremonial observances, those observances will be quite lost. If for three years he abstains from music, there will be an end to music. Every year we have new grain taking the place of the old grain which is exhausted, and once every year (a ceremony at the winter solstice) we produce a fresh supply of fire. One year, therefore, should be enough." On this Confucius said, "If, after only a year's mourning, you were to eat good food and wear embroidered clothes, would you feel happy?" "I should," replied the disciple. "Well
then," said Confucius, "if you can feel happy, do it. But a superior man, while in mourning, will not enjoy dainty food, nor take pleasure in music, nor even rest in comfort; therefore he does not do it. Your case is different." When the disciple had withdrawn, Confucius said, "He is lacking in right feeling. It is not until a child is three years old that it can do without the arms of its parents; therefore the three years period of mourning is universally observed throughout the empire."
A Confucian dogma, often attributed to Confucius, and also with more reason to Mencius, who, as we shall see, was its chief exponent, asserts that all men are born good. This is in direct antagonism to that Christian dogma which is based upon the fall of man as related in the book of Genesis, and teaches that the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth (ch. viii. 21). The germ, however, of the Chinese view is much older than Confucius. It is found in the Odes; and the utmost we can really claim is that Confucius accepted any and all of the doctrines in the work which passed through his hands as editor. For he once said to his disciples, "My children, why do you not study the Odes? They stimulate the mind. They teach observation. They warn against hatred. From them you learn, at home, to serve your father, abroad, to serve your prince; from them you can also learn the names of many birds, beasts, and plants." He one day asked his son, "Have you learnt the Odes?" and on receiving the answer, "Not yet," proceeded to say that until the young man had done so,
he would not be fit for polite society. On another occasion he said, "The Odes consist of three hundred poems, and the gist of them all may be summed up in a word: Have no impure thoughts." We therefore seem to be justified in concluding that Confucius accepted the dogma, "Man is born good." The particular verse in the Odes which bears out the statement that Confucius was not the originator of the dogma in question, runs as follows:
It is probable that few tasks will be found so impracticable as the effort to wean the Chinese people, soaked, so to speak, in the authority of centuries, from this belief in the natural goodness of mankind, to another belief, in exactly opposite terms, which peoples this world with successive generations of little children born in sin. 1
This doctrine of original purity, coupled with the practice of ancestral worship, together form an important cleavage, not easy to be bridged over, between Christianity and Confucianism. Points of contact, however, between these two religions, if I may now
be allowed to apply this term equally to both, are many and striking. The two following examples can scarcely be ignored. (1) When asked by a disciple for a rule of life, Confucius replied, "Do not unto others what you would not they should do unto you." Attempts have been made to minimize the value of this maxim, which is, of course, identical with that enunciated by Christ and known as the Golden Rule, on the ground that it is in a negative form, and therefore not of such direct force. But the fallacy of this position may be shown in a few words. What you would not wish men to do to you, would be to abstain from helping you when in trouble. Do not therefore abstain from helping others when they are in trouble; in other words, do help them. (2) Another disciple having asked for an explanation of the Chinese term for "charity of heart" (cf. 1 Cor. xiii.), Confucius replied, "Love one another!"
The more practical character of Confucianism as contrasted with Christianity is abundantly manifest. Confucius was entirely in sympathy with human weaknesses, and did not put man's faith to too severe a test. He would have echoed such sentiments as "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone"; but such poetical commands as to turn the other cheek to the smiter, or to give up your cloke to the enemy who has just succeeded in obtaining your coat, would find no place in his teachings. On the other hand, his concessions to humanity may be regarded by some as stretching the gift of charity of heart to breaking point. For instance, he declared
that a man who should be without reproach in regard to the main principles of human conduct, might fairly be excused any lapses in regard to smaller issues, which seems to traverse Christ's declaration, "He that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much." Again, one of the feudal princes was boasting to Confucius of the high level of morality which prevailed in his own State. "Among us here," he said, "you will find upright men. If a father has stolen a sheep, his son will give evidence against him." "In my part of the country," replied Confucius, there is a different standard from this. A father will shield his son, and a son will shield his father. It is thus that uprightness will be found."
There is in Chinese a word which is used of Confucius and of three or four of the other great men of remote antiquity, such as the Emperors Yao and Shun. It signifies a human being who, by the grace of God, is divinely good and intuitively wise, and therefore an infallible exponent of right and wrong. Our nearest English equivalent is perhaps "inspired." Confucius himself discusses the term (Chung Yung, xx.) as follows: "Truth is that which God is, and man attains to. He who is an embodiment of truth hits his mark without taking aim, apprehends without thought, and naturally and easily strikes the right path. Such a man is inspired." Confucius disclaimed any right to this exalted title, although, as we have seen, he did at times regard himself as an instrument of the Almighty. He says in one passage (Lun Yü, vii.), "As for the inspired
man and the man of perfect charity of heart, how dare I rank myself with them? It may simply be said of me, that I strive to become such without satiety, and to teach others without weariness." What his disciples thought of their Master may be gathered from a few extracts which they have left behind them. A spiteful man having said that a certain one of the disciples was greater than Confucius, on the remark coming to his ears, that disciple said, "Let us think in terms of houses with walls round them. My wall reaches only to the shoulders. You can peep over it and see the pleasant arrangement within. Now, my Master's wall is many feet in height; and unless you go in by the door, you cannot see the ancestral temple with all its beauties and the various officers in rich array. But few are those," he added, "who find that door."
One more testimonial from a similar source (Chung Yung, xxxi.). "All-embracing and vast, Confucius is like the sky. Deep-centred, he is like the abyss. He appears, and the people all revere him; he speaks, and the people all believe him. Therefore his fame overspreads the Middle Kingdom, and extends to the barbarous tribes. Wherever ships and carriages reach; wherever the strength of man penetrates; wherever the sky covers and the earth supports; wherever the sun and moon shine; wherever frosts and dews fallall who have blood and breath unfeignedly love and honour him. Hence it is said, He is the peer of God."
After the death of the Master, the torch of
[paragraph continues] Confucianism was handed on chiefly by his grandson and disciple, Kung Chi, whose famous essay, known as the Doctrine of the Mean (Chung Yung), has been already quoted. With this essay, which traces the ruling motives of human conduct to a psychological source, we are not now concerned. It contains, however, a couplet from the Odes, with the writer's own exegesis, which may perhaps be worth recording.
[paragraph continues] This means, says Kung Chi, that "what God does, that is God"a remarkable statement with which may be compared Aristotle's conception of God as ἐνέργεια, existence in action, or actus purus. 1
While fully recognizing the sincerity and value of the efforts of the earlier disciples to keep alight what was to them the sacred flame of Confucianism, it must be freely admitted that the firm hold which these doctrines took upon the imagination of the Chinese people, and which has been maintained with extraordinary persistence through some twenty-three centuries past, would never have been brought about but for the genius and labours of Mencius, who now enjoys the title of the Second Inspired One, bestowed upon him in A.D. 1330. Born almost exactly a century after the death of Confucius, he devoted his life to the glorification of Confucianism; and if he ventured to lead his hearers into new lines of thought, the foundations on which these lines rested were always to be found in the bed-rock laid by his
[paragraph continues] Master. Confucius, as we have seen, dealt principally with lofty moral precepts and their practical application to everyday life. Mencius went further afield and handled political and economical problems with the object of securing national right conduct through the medium of national prosperity. No one pretends that he reached the high level on which Confucianism was established; but he is honoured for what he did towards consolidating that establishment, by teaching and preaching throughout his life its supremacy over all other forms of doctrine. He might indeed be regarded as the St Paul of Confucianism, were it not that he handed on the creed of the Founder in all its native simplicity and beauty, without addition or garnish of any kind. There is no such thing as Mencian Confucianism, to correspond to Pauline Christianity.
Let us see what Mencius has to say about God, omitting those references which are merely quotations from the Odes or the Canon of History. One of the feudal princes consulted him as to the best method of dealing with neighbouring States, so as to ensure the continuance of friendly intercourse. Mencius replied that if it was a case of furthering the interests of a less powerful State, then perfect charity of heart would be necessary to the ruler of the more powerful State, in order to secure the proper treatment of his weaker neighbour. On the other hand, if it was a case of furthering the interests of a more powerful State, then perfect wisdom would be necessary to the ruler of the less powerful State, in order to achieve a
satisfactory result. "For the ruler of a powerful State," said Mencius, "who furthers the interests of a weaker State, is one who loves God (Tien); and the ruler of a weak State who furthers the interests of a more powerful State, is one who fears God. He who loves God will be a protector of the whole empire; he who fears God will protect his own State."
Allusions to the will of God are frequent. The capture of a city, or the continuance of a princely line are alike dependent upon the will of God. Calamities and blessings are traced to the same source. "When the empire is well governed," says Mencius, "right prevails, and good men triumph over the wicked; when it is badly governed, might prevails, and the strong triumph over the weak. Such are the dispensations of God; but those who obey God are saved, while those who disobey perish."
In one instance, Mencius quotes a statesman (I Yin) who flourished in the eighteenth century before Christ, and who is reported to have said, "When God created mankind, His plan was that those who possessed intuitive wisdom should enlighten those who were capable only of acquiring wisdom; and that those who possessed intuitive enlightenment should enlighten those who were capable only of acquiring enlightenment." This must mean that God conveyed His will by means of chosen vessels, that is, inspired men, or prophets.
Mencius held that all earthly honours came not from man, but from God. The prince was the
apparent source, but really only the agent of the Almighty, entrusted with the task of discovering and rewarding virtuous men. Borrowing examples from antiquity, such as Shun, the ploughman-Emperor, he further shows that "when God is about to confer a great office on any man, He first chastens that man's mind with suffering, and his sinews and bones with toil. He exposes that man's body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. He confounds that man's undertakings; and by these methods stimulates his mind, softens his nature, and supplies his deficiencies." Just so we read in Revelation iii. 19, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten."
"Everything depends," says Mencius, "upon the will of God; therefore a man should accept submissively whatever can properly be ascribed thereto (ut melius quicquid erit pati). He who understands what is meant by the will of God will not place himself under a tottering wall. Death in the discharge of one's duties may properly be ascribed to the will of God; but death in gyves and fetters cannot be so ascribed."
Still upholding the belief in an anthropomorphic God, as described in our first lecture, Mencius taught that man was created in God's own image. "Our physical bodies," he said, "in regard to shape and appearance, are of the nature of God; but a man must be divinely inspired before he can adequately sustain that nature." Man's mental and moral qualifications, too, did not, according to Mencius, reach him by chance, but were specially conferred.
[paragraph continues] Confucius had said that in choosing a dwelling-place, a wise man would be chiefly attracted by the prevalence of a charitable spirit among those who would be his immediate neighbours. On this, Mencius comments: "Charity of heart is the noblest gift of God; it is a house, so to speak, in which a man may live in peace. No one can prevent us from possessing this gift; if we have it not, that is due to our own folly." Again, Mencius says, "There are dignities of God, and there are dignities of man. Charity of heart, duty towards one's neighbour, loyalty, and truththese are the dignities of God. To be a duke, a minister of State, or a high officialthese are the dignities of man. The men of old cultivated the dignities of God, and the dignities of man followed. The men of to-day cultivate the dignities of God in order to secure the dignities of man; and when they have obtained the dignities of man, they cast aside all further thought of the dignities of God. In this they greatly err, and the probability is that they will lose their dignities of man as well." Referring again to charity of heart, the first and most powerful of all the Confucian virtues, Mencius gives an interesting similitude. "Charity of heart," he says, "subdues uncharitableness just as water subdues fire. But people nowadays employ charity of heart much in the same way as if they were to try to put out a blazing cartload of firewood with a single cupful of water; and then when they fail to put out the flames, they turn round and blame the water."
The term used for God by Mencius is Tien; there
is only one instance of his use of the alternative Shang Ti. It occurs in the following rather curious sentence: "If a great beauty were to appear in a foul and filthy head-dress, people would all hold their noses when passing her. If a leper were to fast, abstain from wine, and purify himself by a bath, he might be allowed to sacrifice to God." In every other case we find Tien, the term which supplies the anthropomorphic figure of the Supreme Being. Thus, we have Tien when Mencius declares it to be one of the joys of the superior man, that looking up, he has no occasion for shame before God, and looking down, he has no occasion to blush before men."
We have seen that the belief in the existence of spirits finds its first expression in the worship of ancestors. In the presence of death, primeval man in China must have sought for some explanation of the body, just now full of life and movement, then, suddenly, an inert mass. Aided by dreams, in which the dead so often reappear, he must gradually have come to regard the body as matter informed by a vital essence, the separation of which produced the phenomenon of death. As time went on, a spirituality associated with thunder, wind, rain, rivers, trees, and mountains, gradually crystallized into beings susceptible of propitiation and able to confer benefits upon mankind.
"Wherever the superior man passes," says Mencius, "he civilizes; and he leaves behind him an atmosphere of spirituality;" that is, an influence of a divine character,
with a tendency to spread far and wide. In another passage we come almost into touch with the unseen. After showing the steps which lead up to real goodness, Mencius says, "A great and good man who exercises a civilizing influence is called an inspired man. An inspired man whose personality transcends our knowledge is a spirit." It is difficult to say precisely what this last sentence means; the reference is apparently to a class of celestial beings, inferior to the Deity, but possessed of supernatural power; approximately, angels.
Among those spirits whose development seems to have followed most closely upon the recognition by the people at large of a Supreme Being, must be mentioned the tutelary spirits of the land and of grain. In this connexion, there is a remarkable statement by Mencius, illustrating a well-known attitude of primitive peoples towards their gods or fetishes, which are so often discarded when found to be inefficient. "The people," said Mencius, "are of the first importance; the spirits of the land and grain come next; the sovereign is of less account. If a prince abuses his position in regard to the spirits of the land and grain (that is, if he is a bad ruler), he is deposed and another is put in his place. On the other hand, if the sacrificial victims have been perfect, the sacrificial grain clean, and the sacrifices offered at the proper season;then, if a drought should follow, or a flood, the spirits of the land and grain would be deposed and others put in their places."
No utterances of Mencius are of more importance,
or have been cherished with more reverence, than those arguments by which he supported and finally established the Confucian dogma that the nature of man at his birth is pure and free from evil. These arguments, together with those of his opponents, I propose to submit in my next lecture. There is, however, one statement on man's nature with which I will now conclude. Mencius said, "He who brings all his intellect to bear on the subject, will come to understand his own nature; he who understands his own nature will understand God. To preserve one's intellect, and to nourish one's naturethat is how to serve God. To waste no thoughts upon length of life, but to cultivate rectitudethat is to do the will of God." Confucianism has often been stigmatized as a mere philosophy, inadequate to the spiritual needs of man; the last words, however, of the above quotation go far to show that the cultivation of rectitude is, according to Confucian teachings, broad based upon the will of God.
74:1 Dr Legge has "to keep aloof from them," which would be equivalent to "have nothing to do with them." Confucius seems rather to have meant "no familiarity."
84:1 "Original sin, with which all mankind, descended from fallen Adam by natural generation, are universally infected from their conception and birth." Parkhurst on Romans v. 12.
88:1 Kindly suggested by Prof. James Ward.