Do you think you might take a quote from the Lúnyǔ of Kǒngzǐ more seriously than a quote introduced by “Confucius says”?

Think of what follows as my way of meditating. It’s meant to pick apart and to play with words to help me get closer to what they’re about. It’s not about scholarship since I have absolutely no qualifications in this area. Bear with me, or skip to the last two paragraphs.

Jean Améry’s search for “that substratum on which, in principle, the human spirit can stand and exist” reminds me of the two virtues that encompass the entire ethics of the Chinese sage Kǒngzǐ, more commonly known in the West as Confucius.

In The Analects (Lúnyǔ 4.15) Kǒngzǐ describes these two virtues as the “single thread stringing my Way together.” David Hinton translates the follow up explanation as: “Be loyal to the principles of your heart, and treat others with the same loyalty. That is the Master’s Way. There is nothing more.” (Hinton 36)

Rudolf G. Wagner gives it more succinctly as: “The Way of the master is loyalty and consideration, and nothing else.” (Wagner [2003] 415 n. 28)

The Chinese text goes夫子之 道 忠 恕 而 已 矣.

I’m not trying to be pretentious by quoting the Chinese characters. I only know a few words of Chinese. But it is the Chinese characters for loyalty and consideration that give us a picture of the foundation for these virtues interacting with other aspects of what we do, and thereby developing these virtues.

To understand this, we need to explore the Chinese words for these two virtues and how their ideograms are formed.

The Chinese word for “loyalty” is zhōng 忠.   The Oxford Chinese Dictionary does not give any other English translation. The Zhendic online dictionary gives “devoted” or “faithful” when zhōng is used as an adjective.

The character for zhōng consists of two other characters. The top one zhōng 中is one of the most common words in Chinese. In fact the name for China is zhōng guó 中 國, the middle country/kingdom. In their translation of the Confucian classic Zhongyong (literally zhōng-work), Ames and Hall translate zhōng as “focus” and “equilibrium.” (86)

The lower character xīn 心 is frequently translated as “heart,” but we’ll have more to say about that in a minute. Hinton explains that the Chinese word for “loyalty” carries the etymological sense of “centered in heart.” (249)

The Chinese word for “consideration” is shù 恕. Hinton and Legge translate shù as “reciprocity.” I saw shù in Anne Mei’s primary school on a poster listing all the words for the Golden Rule around the world. Kǒngzǐ himself defines shù as “never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself,” and says that it is the one word we can use to guide ourselves throughout life. (Lúnyǔ 15.24, Hinton 176)  Both the Oxford Chinese Dictionary and Zhendic tell us that shù also means “forgive” or “pardon.”

Shù consists of two characters, too. Xīn 心 is again on the bottom. The top character rú 如 generally means “as if.” So Hinton gives the etymological connotations of shù as “something like: ‘as if heart,’ hence, ‘treat others as if their hearts were your own.’” Zhendic says “as the heart does.” I cannot resist noting that rú 如 consists of two characters, those for woman and mouth, which Zhendic indicates convey the idea of listening. So, to me, shù has the sense of “listen to the heart.”

That we are talking about listening to and being at one with the hearts of others comes out quite clearly in the commentary of Wáng Bī on the passage on loyalty and consideration.

‘Consideration’ is going against one’s own feelings in order to be at one with other beings …. It does not happen that someone is able to perfect his consideration … without penetrating to the absolute order …. Being able to penetrate to the absolute of order, there is no being [who] is not included. The absolute cannot be two; therefore, it is spoken of as the One. (Wagner [2003] 415 n. 28)

Now it is time to return to the meaning of xīn 心, the word that literally underlies both loyalty and consideration, my candidate for the Améry’s substratum of the human spirit. Ames and Hall do not translate xīn merely as “heart,” but rather as “heart-and-mind.”

[I]n this classical Chinese world view, the mind cannot be divorced from the heart. The cognitive is inseparable from the affective. … [T]here are no rational thoughts devoid of feeling, nor any raw feelings altogether lacking in cognitive content.

They continue on a theme that has run throughout these blog posts.

In the classical Chinese world view, process and change have priority over substance and permanence. … This being the case, it might well be argued that xīn means ‘thinking and feeling,’ and then derivatively and metaphorically, the organ with which these experiences are to be associated. (83)

We have used a lot of English words about what are only three Chinese characters: 道 忠 恕, dào zhōng shù, way-loyalty-consideration. Whereas English uses a lot of filler words, articles, prepositions, etc., Chinese just places the main words one after the other and lets the context and the flow fill in the rest. Literally then, Kǒngzǐ’s way consists of loyalty and consideration, or loyalty to consideration, or loyalty with consideration. If loyalty and consideration keep us on the right path, they do so because they both rely on thinking and feeling in unison not only with other humans, but with all creatures with whom we share this planet.

In my post yesterday criticizing how some people have behaved in the face of Ebola entering this country, I realize now that I was searching for the words “loyally and considerately” to describe how we all need to behave if we are going to make it through.


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