Episode 1B; A Confucian Morning (cont.)

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The Nanjinger - Episode 1B A Confucian Morning cont

Previously: “You can bring the tea, Xunzi”, Kongzi says speaking as though addressing the open window. 

“Right away master”, Xunzi hurries out again, giving his companion who has been waiting at the door a sickly leer.

Here it is worth noting that classical Confucianism took many forms in ancient China, with rationalist and idealist wings of thought. While both stressed the importance of self-cultivation and a rule governed existence, there are subtleties in their methods employed to achieve this. The rationalist wing, and notably Xunzi (3 BCE) whose ideas were popular in the Han dynasty, believed in external education and self-disciplining, while the idealist tendencies of Mengzi (4 BCE) sought a more holistic self-development, centred on the idea that human beings are essentially “good”, and so require guiding rather than over disciplining. Popular Confucian thought would swing towards an idealist approach in the Song dynasty with the beginnings of Neo-Confucianism.

With Xunzi fetching the tea, his companion Mengzi chooses this as a time to enter, moving over the pavilion floor he dips his head briefly to his master and then to yourself sitting beside him. Fixing Kongzi with a questioning look he asks, “Why was Xunzi in such a rush?”.

Kongzi, with almost enforced stoicism, stresses his words; “Because your brother understands the need for true reverence to his elders”.

Mengzi seems not to have noticed his father’s tone. “But you’re my ‘ba’, you’ve been at us for nearly 20 years with your dusty old views about the family and one’s fellow man, which, don’t get me wrong, while I can see the ‘good’ in all that, isn’t it just a bit obvious?”, Mengzi says while casually fanning himself. 

Meanwhile the great master seems to be reeling from hearing himself referred to as “ba”. Menzi continues, “Can’t you give me some guidance on how to develop my own mind, ba? You know some ideas I can really get my teeth into, something without all these rules you’ve fed us for 20 years… these rules… these rules with as much zest as a week old ‘mantou’”.

You suddenly realise, and at risk of laughter, that Kongzi himself looks a tad ‘mantou-ish’ in the early morning light. Mengzi’s words had clearly and gravely disappointed him. “I always doubted your ability to find a path to the Dao, Mengzi; you have never listened and your lack of ren is there for all to see.” Then in seeming disbelief, Kongzi mutters under his breath, “How can I have raised a ‘bad’ son?”

“But ba, I have always been ‘good,’ it’s only that you’ve failed to guide me. I can find my own ‘Way’”, Mengzi says with authority, then turning on his heel he leaves you in silence.

Kongzi, shaking his head gently, raises his teacup nearly to his mouth but stops, letting the silence play out over the garden, the corners of his mouth displaying hints of a smile. “If only you knew,” it seems to say.