In his essay “Removing Blinders,” Dr. Eno writes, “Xunzi outlines a simple portrait of the perfected mind. Such a mind will not see action moments in terms of competing alternative choices. Since it is always focused on the single, comprehensive path of goodness, it will never feel in doubt or need to contemplate choices...Xunzi notes that people have a tendency to inflate the importance of one aspect of life and make all experience a function of that one theme. This obsession becomes analogous to the blinders that some horses are made to wear to keep them from being distracted from the path directly in their line of sight. Once the blinders are in place, everything outside a narrow tunnel of vision ceases to count, or even to exist from the perspective of the blindered individual. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University, Chinatxt chinatxt /+/]

“Removing Blinders,” Chapter 21 from the “Xunzi” begins: “Blinders and the Dao: Among the great concerns of mankind is the danger of becoming fully engaged on a side road of reality and blind to the great paths. If one corrects this obsession, then one may return to the main road; otherwise, one stands in confusion at every crossroad. In the world there do not exist two true Daos, in the mind of the sage there are never two contending alternatives.

“Now the lords of the feudal states all have different methods of government, and the hundred schools of the various masters each has a different teaching — it must be that some are correct and others wrong, that some lead to order and others to chaos. The rulers of turbulent states and the followers of deranged teachings all truly seek to get things right so they can act in their best interests. But what happens to them is that the become possessive of their little “daos” and others encourage them in their most dangerous errors. They hoard up their storehouses of deranged study, fearful of any revelation of their errors. Dependent on their personal accomplishments, they fear seeing any fine points in the arts of others. Even if they find themselves walking beside someone who has got it right, they can only assert their own correctness again and again. Isn’t this what it is to become blinded by some side road and lose sight of the true destination you are seeking to reach? If your mind is not functioning, then though black and white lie before you, your eyes won’t see them; though thunder crashes beside you, your ears won’t hear it — of course, the mind itself will remain utterly ignorant. So it is that those who have grasped the great Dao are denied by the rulers of turbulent states on their exalted thrones and by the teachers of deranged schools of thought in their humble stations. What a shame it is! /+/

“What things blind us? Let us look at the things that become blinders to mankind. Desires create blinders; hatreds create blinders; we become obsessed by the beginnings of things; we become obsessed by the endings of things; we see only that things are far away or that they are near; we think only about whether things are broad and grand or shallow and narrow; we become obsessed with antiquity or with innovation. Among the myriad things of the world, none cannot be the basis for some obsession. This is the common threat to all arts of cultivating the mind.” /+/

Good Websites and Sources on Classical Chinese Thought: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org ; Religion Facts Religion Facts ; Classical Chinese Texts Chinese Text Project ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Wikipedia article on Chinese Philosophy religion Wikipedia Academic Info on Chinese religion academicinfo.net ; Internet Guide to Chinese Studies sino.uni-heidelberg.de lots of dead links, but maybe helpful

Xunzi on Leaders Blinded by Obsession

blinders on a horse

Dr. Eno wrote: “ As in many early Chinese texts, a general claim about human behavior is followed by extended discussion of historical examples. Xunzi discusses next how the issue of blinders relates to the two evil kings who brought to an end the first two royal dynasties — Jie, the last king of the Xia Dynasty, and Zhòu, the last king of the Shang Dynasty — and the two virtuous dynastic founders who followed them. The two evil kings are examples of rulers who became blinded by obsessions. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University, Chinatxt chinatxt /+/]

According to the Xunzi essay “Removing Blinders: “Jie became obsessed with his beautiful concubine Moxi and his evil counselor Siguan, and could no longer recognize the merits of his loyal minister Guan Longfeng. Because his mind had become deranged, his actions became chaotic. Zhòu became obsessed with his beautiful concubine Daji and his evil counselor Feilian, and could no longer recognize the merits of his loyal minister Weizi Qi. Because his mind had become deranged, his actions became chaotic. In the end, these rulers dismissed their loyal ministers and employed those who appealed to their private desires. They ignored the pleas of their distressed people. Worthy men retired from their courts and secretly fled from their states. Thus it was that they came to lose their states and leave desolate the temples of devotion to their ancestors. Jie was driven to his death on Tripod Mountain and Zhòu’s head was hung beneath the red war pennant of his conqueror. They anticipated none of this themselves and none dared to alert them with criticism. This is the disaster of the ruler plunged in the darkness of blinders. [Source: Chapter 21:Removing Blinders from the “Xunzi”; Robert Eno, Indiana University]

“When Tang conquered the armies of the Xia and founded the Shang Dynasty, he looked at Jie’s acts as one looks in a mirror. He examined his own mind and took care to order it correctly. This is why he was able to employ for many years the wise minister Yi Yin and to keep himself firmly on the Dao. This is why he was able to succeed to the throne of the Xia rulers and receive control of the nine provinces of the state. Later, when King Wen built the state that conquered the Shang armies and founded the Zhou Dynasty, he looked at the Shang king Zhòu’s acts as one looks in a mirror. He examined his own mind and took care to order it correctly. This is why he was able to employ for many years Lü Wang and to keep himself firmly on the Dao. This is why he was able to succeed to the throne of the Shang rulers and receive control of the nine provinces of the state — to the most distant reaches of the earth, no tribes failed to send precious gifts to his court. /+/

“For King Wen, then, his eyes were filled with beautiful sights, his ears were filled with beautiful sounds, his mouth was filled with beautiful tastes, his body was provided with sumptuous palaces, the titles he was called by carried the ultimate of honors. In his life the world sang his praises; at his death there was wailing to the ends of the earth. One may truly call this the utmost fulfillment. Of him the “Book of Songs” sings: Oh, the phoenixes they danced and danced, Their wings outstretched like shields of war, Their cries like flutes, Males and their mates, Joy they brought the heart of their Lord. Such is the good fortune of one without blinders. I have omitted the next section, in which Xunzi lists further legendary and historical figures as examples of vision narrowed by obsessions, or of sages free from such blinders. He then turns to criticize his near contemporaries among philosophers.” /+/

Xunzi on Philosophical Thinkers Blinded by Obsession

blinders on a human

According to the Xunzi essay “Removing Blinders: “Mozi was obsessed with the value of utility, and so he failed to recognize the value of patterned behavior. Songzi was obsessed with the destructive potential of human desires, and so he failed to recognize the constructive potentials of the human search for satisfaction. The Shènzi was obsessed with the state’s need for law codes, and so failed to recognize the key role played by worthy character. Shezi was obsessed with the importance of power relationships in planning political action, and so failed to recognize the necessity of wisdom. Huizi was obsessed with the way words worked in argument, and so failed to keep in touch with the substantive issues being argued. Zhuangzi was obsessed with the value of natural action, and so failed to recognize the value of human action. [Dr. Eno notes: About Songzi we know very little, apart from what Xunzi says here; he is reported by commentators to have been an ascetic. Shenzi is Shen Dao; Shezi is Shen Buhai: both were both fourth century thinkers who contributed to the growth of Legalist ideas through the concerns Xunzi identifies. Huizi is Hui Shi, identified with the tradition of logicians and associated with Mohist thought and friend of Zhuangzi] [Source: Chapter 21:Removing Blinders from the “Xunzi”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Thus [Mozi] called utility the Dao, and everything became an issue of profit. [Songzi] called control of desire the Dao and everything became an issue of restraint. [Shen Dao] called designing laws the Dao and everything became an issue of code calculations. [Shen Buhai] called manipulating power relationships the Dao and everything became an issue of gaining the upper hand. [Huizi] called analyzing words the Dao and everything became an issue of valid argumentation. [Zhuangzi] called natural action the Dao and everything became an issue of following nature. /+/

“Each of these thinkers was complete in his own way, but each represented only a single facet of the Dao. The Dao embodies all enduring constants and exhausts all the changes of the world. It cannot be comprehended by viewing only a single facet. But these masters of the side roads looked from their perspectives upon only a single facet of the Dao and had no way of realizing that they were seeing only a small part. So they took their single strand to be all sufficient and set upon embroidering it. And as they did so, they plunged into deeper chaos in their own minds, and brought confusion to the minds of others. Such people, when in a superior position, impose blinders on those below them; such people, when in an inferior position, induce those above them to put on their blinders. This is the disaster of obsession and a closed mind. /+/

“Confucius was different. He was humane and wise, and he was without blinders. He studied the arts of creating order until he was the equal of the great kings of old, and then created a school to teach the essentials of the Dao of the Zhou rulers. He taught their arts comprehensively, and was never obsessed by any one aspect that he had mastered. Thus in his character he was the equal of the great Duke of Zhou and his fame became the equal of the founders of the three great dynasties. Such is the good fortune of one without blinders.” /+/

Xunzi’s Model of the Mind

Ancient prose from the Xunzi in seal script

The following passage is one of the most famous in Xunzi’s works: “What is the organ by means of which we can know the Dao? I answer, the mind! And what does the mind employ in order to know? I answer, emptiness, oneness, and tranquility. The mind never for an instant fails to store up things, and yet it possesses a certain quality of emptiness. The mind never for an instant fails to be filled with a plenitude, and yet it possesses a certain quality of oneness. The mind never for an instant ceases its constant movement, and yet it possesses a certain tranquility. [Source: Chapter 21: Removing Blinders from the “Xunzi”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“With birth, people come into consciousness. Possessing consciousness, they come to have memory. Memory is the storehouse of the mind. And yet we say the mind retains an emptiness. Not allowing that which is stored up in the mind to interfere with what the mind newly receives — that is what we call “emptiness.” With the birth of the mind, there is awareness. Being aware, the mind encounters multiplicity. By multiplicity I mean the mind being at once aware of different things. To be at once aware of different things is a plurality of awareness. And yet we say the mind retains a unity, a oneness. Not to allow one perceived thing to interfere with the perception of another thing — that is what we call “oneness.” When the mind sleeps it dreams. When at leisure, it constantly steals off on its own track, and when sent on a mission in sets to making plans. Hence it is never without some form of movement. And yet we say the mind retains a tranquility. Never to allow dreams or the play of the awakened mind to interfere with awareness — that is what we call “tranquility.” [Dr. Eno notes: Perhaps the sense of Chinese terms, which are closely rendered in English by the three terms emptiness, oneness, and tranquility, is better conveyed through the phrases, sensitive receptivity, concentrated focus, and steady calm].

“Perfecting the mind of the sage: Before one has grasped the Dao, the tools one uses to seek it are just these three: emptiness, oneness, and tranquility. When you set out to seek the Dao, if you wait for it with emptiness of mind, you will enter it; if you serve it with oneness of mind, you will exhaust it; if you ponder it with tranquility, you will comprehend it with acuity. When you comprehend the Dao with acuity you will know how to act by the Dao, and this is to embody the Dao in yourself. /+/

“Emptiness, oneness, tranquility: these together are called the great clarity of insight. None of the things of the world appears before you without its form being clearly visible to you; none is not clearly visible without manifesting its proper place in the world; none manifests its proper place and does not maintain that place. You may sit in your room, but you see to the ends of the earth; you may live in the present, but you can see far distant in time. You can glance at the things of the world and know their deepest natures; you can peer at order and chaos and take the measure of each. You can embrace heaven and earth in a web of understanding, put the myriad things to their proper tasks, slice the world in line with its natural grain and enclose the universe within. /+/

“A person like this is boundless and broad, who knows his limit? Vast beyond measure, who knows his power? Endlessly raveled, who can make out his form? Brilliant as the sun and moon, stretching to the ends of the cosmos — such a one is called the Great Man. And what blinders would he wear?!, Once again, it is useful to ask whether it is realistic to believe in a model of such total human perfection.

Xunzi on Different Orders of Understanding

Dr Eno writes: “This passage seems to tell us that for Xunzi, the very aspects of our minds that threaten undermine our potential to become perfected human beings are those we must employ to create perfection. In light of other sections of Xunzi’s book, it seems likely that he is referring to common spontaneous desires. The tension between danger and subtle potential is discussed later.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

In “Removing Blinders”, Xunzi writes: “In ordering things according to categories, one must never allow category distinctions to become unclear. Thus true knowledge begins by focusing on one thing. But one 9, must go on to seek a greater oneness through it. For example, a farmer may be skilled at fieldwork, but may not be equipped to become an administrator of agriculture. A merchant may be skilled at market dealings, but may not be equipped to serve as the supervisor of a market. A craftsman may be skilled at wielding his tools, but may not be equipped to supervise a manufactory. Yet there are people who, although unskilled in these occupations, may be placed in charge of the administration of all three. Why? Because they are skilled in the Dao, rather than being skilled in one particular matter. Those who are skilled in one matter understand things in isolation; one who is skilled in the Dao grasps a thing in relation to other things. [Source: Chapter 21: Removing Blinders from the “Xunzi”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Hence a Prince finds a oneness through the Dao and by means of this he gains perspective on all things. Having found a oneness through the Dao, his actions are always on the mark; having gained perspective on all things, he understands them thoroughly. By according with appropriate dispositions in acting out his clear understanding, he is able to order the things of the world so they perform their proper roles. /+/

“In times gone by, when the sage emperor Shun brought order to the world, the world of things came to perfection without his issuing a single command. He dwelt in oneness and in full awareness of danger, and his radiance shone in all directions. He nurtured the most subtle seeds of this oneness and all his people burst into full bloom without even being aware of it. That is why the "Classic of the Dao" says, “The dangers of the human mind are the subtle seeds from which the Dao mind grows.” Only the brightest of Princes can comprehend the trigger points of this danger and this subtlety.” [Note: The "Classic of the Dao" is an otherwise unknown text.]

Xunzi on Equilibrium, Concentration and Tranquility

In this passage Xunzi seems to be linking the powers of a mind in equilibrium to the powers of a concentrated mind. “The human mind is like a pan of fresh water. If you place such a pan down and do not disturb it, dregs of sand will sink to the bottom and the water above will be clear and bright. You can look in the water and make out the hairs in your beard and eyebrows, the lines on your face. But should the slightest breeze pass over it, the sand 10, below will be disturbed and the clarity of the water above will be destroyed; you won’t be able to make out even large forms with accuracy. The mind is like this. If you shape it according to the natural grain of the world, nurture it with clarity, and do not let things unbalance it, then the mind will be able to discern the line between what is so and what is not, what is good and what is bad. It will be able to resolve all issues of doubt. But if the smallest thing exerts an attraction upon it, then it will drawn off center by outside forces. Once the mind is unbalanced within, then it will be unable to make out even the grossest features of the natural grain of the world. [Source: Chapter 21: Removing Blinders from the “Xunzi”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“There have been many who loved to write, but the forms created by Cang Jie, the creator of characters, have been passed on as outstanding — this is because Cang Jie achieved this oneness of mind. There have been many who loved planting things, but the methods of Prince Millet, the creator of agriculture, have been passed on as outstanding — this is because Prince Millet achieved this oneness. There have been many who loved playing music, but the musical forms of Kui, the creator of court music, have been passed on as outstanding — this is because Kui achieved this oneness. There have been many who have love righteousness, but the conduct of the sage emperor Shun has been passed on as outstanding — this is because Shun achieved this oneness. Zhui invented the bow and Fuyou invented the arrow, but it was the legendary Archer Yi who mastered and so created the art of shooting. Xizhong invented the cart and Chengdu invented the harness, but it was the legendary Caofu who mastered and so created the art of charioteering. From antiquity to the present day, no one has ever achieved such skill with a divided mind. As Confucius’s disciple Master Zeng put it, “How can a man sing in harmony with me if his mind is on swatting the rat on his mat?”,

“Tranquility within and tranquility without: “Deep in a cave there was a man named Ji, who was excellent at solving riddles because he loved deep contemplation. But if his eyes or ears encountered any desirable object it would disrupt his contemplation — even the buzzing of a gnat would destroy his concentration. So he would repress all sensory desires and retreat to this cave that no buzzing insects could reach. There he would dwell in idleness and ponder in tranquility until he reached the answers he was looking for. But could we say that one had attained subtlety of mind if, when seeking the path to "ren" one acted in this way? [Dr. Eno notes: Xunzi is unimpressed with the fact that people can attain full concentration in an environment free of distractions. His final sentence points towards the Confucian goal of sagehood in ethical action, rather than in detached meditation. ] [Source: Chapter 21: Removing Blinders from the “Xunzi”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Xunzi on Illusory Knowledge

The first part of this section describes the general external sources of deception, Xunzi then goes on to give an anecdotal account of false knowledge generated by intellectual confusion. The last paragraph is famous among Xunzi’s rationalistic rejection of belief in the supernatural. “When a person observes a thing about which he harbors doubts, the core of his mind is unsettled and the thing is not clearly seen. If my thoughts are unclear, then I cannot judge whether they are valid or not. It is as if I were walking in the dark. A boulder lying by the road may appear as a crouching tiger, a row of trees behind may become men chasing me. This is because darkness obscures my vision. Watch a drunkard try to cross a ravine a hundred paces across as if he stepping over a foot-wide drain. He will hunch down as he passes through the great gate of a city wall as if it were the threshold of a low roofed chamber door — wine has deranged the spirit-like power of mind. If you press an eyelid you’ll see two things when you look at one; if you cup your hands over your ears, silence will sound like a roar — an outer force has deranged your sense organs. If you look at an ox from a rise in the land, it will seem small, like a lamb. But if you walk down to that lamb, you’ll find no lamb to lead back home — distance has obscured its true size. [Source: Chapter 21: Removing Blinders from the “Xunzi”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“From a mountain top, tall trees look small as chopsticks, but if you climb down to gather them, you won’t be able to carry them away — height has obscured their true length. When a washbasin is disturbed, ripples distort the face reflected in it, but people do not set their standards of beauty by that — it is the motion of the water that distorts. When the blind look up they see no stars, but people do not take this as a standard for deciding whether stars exist — it is caused by an impairment of the body’s essential powers. Only the world’s greatest fool would define the world on the basis of experiences like these. That would be using confusion to settle doubts — he would never be on target; how could such a man fail to be plunged into error. /+/

“There was a man named Juan Shuliang who lived south of the mouth of the River Xia. He was a stupid man and easily frightened. One night he was out walking under a full moon and saw his shadow on the ground. He took it for a crouching ghost. Glancing up, he spotted his disheveled hair and thought it was a towering monster. He tore off and didn’t stop till he reached his home, where, gasping for breath, he dropped down dead. A shame, isn’t it? And all those who claim to have seen ghosts are like him — their claims all rest on some confusion of a startled moment. Such experiences are the basis for all who assert the non-existence of what is and the existence of what isn’t. It’s like the man who suffers from rheumatism and beats a drum and boils a hog. What’s certain is that it will cost him one worn out drum and a dead pig, but not that he’ll be blessed with a cure. He may not live south of the mouth of the River Xia, but what’s the difference?” /+/

Xunzi on True Learning

Qing-era students

Here, Xunzi highlights the difference between knowledge conceived as a string of memorized facts and knowledge conceived as holistic understanding of system or structure. “What we use to gain knowledge is the function of our human nature. What we can know is the natural principles of things — the natural grain of the things of the world. Now if you use the human nature that can allow us to know, and seek to know the natural principles of the things of the world without any limit, then though you may live to the end of the world your knowledge can never be complete. Though you may penetrate the principles of a billion things, this will be far from bringing into coherence the constant changes of the world of things — it’s no different from ignorance. A man who studies until he’s old and his sons are grown, who is no different from a fool and who has no idea what went wrong, that man is a reckless idiot. [Source: Chapter 21: Removing Blinders from the “Xunzi”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“True learning is precisely learning where to stop. You ask, where should one stop? I say, stop in complete sufficiency. What, you ask, do I mean by complete sufficiency? I reply, sagehood! True sagehood means having fully plumbed human relationships. And true kingship means having reached the ultimate of regulated order. To exhaust both of these is to become the ultimate standard of the world. So the true student takes the sage kings as his teachers and takes their model rules as his standards for order. He adopts their rules as his rules of conduct so as to penetrate their thematic unity, and so emulate the persons of the sage kings and become their image. One who directs his efforts in this way is a true knight. One who comes close to capturing the theme is a “junzi”. One who fully grasps it is a sage. /+/

“The pragmatic criterion of knowledge: “Knowledge that is not employed in contemplation of the true and good is called cowardice; bravery that is not employed to uphold the true and good is called banditry; investigation not undertaken to discern the true and good is called 14, pretension; abundant talent not employed to cultivate and propagate the true and good is called craftiness; analytic discourse not intended to articulate the true and good is called prolixity. The teachings tell us: “There are but two things in the world — from what is false to discern what is true; from what is true to discern what is false.”, This means to distinguish what accords with the kingly regulations from what does not. If the world does not take this rule as a revered standard, will it be able to tell true from false and distinguish crooked from straight? [Source: Chapter 21: Removing Blinders from the “Xunzi”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Those who can’t tell true from false, crooked from straight, order from disorder, or set forth the Dao of mankind, contribute nothing to mankind if they are talented, and mankind suffers nothing if they are talentless. All such people do is construct bizarre theories, play with freakish ways of speech, and lead others into a muddle. They grab up all they can, but cover themselves with glib excuses. They are so thick skinned that nothing can shame them. They have no standards for behavior — they assume imperious attitudes and prattle on wildly as they search out private gain. They have no use for politeness in speech or courtesies of social interaction; what they enjoy is push and shove. Such people are the evil products of a turbulent age — and are not most of those who offer their theories to today’s world of this type? The teachings tell us: “To think of word.splitting as intelligence and discourses on affairs as discernment — the “junzi” disdains it. Broad learning and rote memorization that does not match the regulations of the kings — the “junzi” disdains it.” This characterizes the people I mean. /+/

“If an action does not contribute to success, if a search does not lead to discovery, if anxiety does not help solve a crisis, then these may be cast away altogether. Take on nothing to hinder yourself, don’t take such things to your breast for an instant! Don’t long for what’s gone by, don’t fret over what’s to come, don’t fill you mind with sniveling regrets. When the time is right, act; when things appear, respond; when affairs arise, discern their contours — in this way the distinctions between order and chaos, appropriateness and inappropriateness will be clear as day. /+/

Xunzi on Good Teachers and the Pursuit of Knowledge

According to the Xunzi: “In learning nothing works so well as to be near a person of learning. The Rites and the “Music” provide models but no explanations. The Odes and the Documents are devoted to antiquity and lack immediacy. The Spring and Autumn Annals is laconic and not readily accessible. But following alongside a person of learning and repeating the explanations of the noble person bring one honor everywhere and allow one comprehensive knowledge of the world. Therefore it is said that “In learning nothing works so well as to be near a person of learning.” In the course of learning there is nothing more expedient than to devote yourself to a person of learning, and next to this is to pay homage to the rites.[Source: “"Encouraging Learning" by Xunzi; “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 161-164; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

Spring and Autumn Annals

“If you can neither devote yourself to a person of learning nor pay homage to the rites, how will you do anything more than learn randomly or passively follow the Odes and the Documents? In this case you will never to the end of your days escape from being merely a vulgar scholar. If you would take the ancient kings as your source and humaneness and rightness as your foundation, then rites are the means of correctly ordering warp and woof, pathways and byways. One who misses one shot in a hundred does not deserve to be called a good archer; one who does not take the last half step in a journey of a thousand li does not deserve to be called a good carriage driver; one who does not comprehend moral relationships and categories and does not become one with humaneness and rightness does not deserve to be called good in learning.

“Surely learning is learning to unify oneself. Someone who on departing does one thing and on entering does another is a person of the roads and alleys; one who does a small amount of good and much that is not good is a Jie or Zhou or Robber Zhi. Complete it, realize it to the fullest — only then will you be learned. The noble person knows that what is not complete or what is not pure is unworthy to be called beautiful. Therefore he recites and reiterates so as to integrate it, reflects and ponders so as to comprehend it, determines his associations so that he may dwell in it, and eliminates what is harmful in order to preserve and nourish it. He causes his eyes to be devoid of any desire to see what is not right, his ears to be devoid of any desire to hear what is not right, his mouth to be devoid of any desire to say what is not right, and his mind to be devoid of any desire to think what is not right. Having arrived at this, he takes utmost pleasure in it. His eyes will take greater pleasure in it than in the five colors; his ears will take greater pleasure in it than in the five sounds; his mouth will take greater pleasure in it than in the five flavors; and his mind will benefit more from it than from possession of the world.6 Therefore he cannot be subverted by power or profit, nor swayed by the masses and multitudes, nor unsettled by the whole world.

“He follows this in life; he follows it in death — this is what is called holding firm to inner power. He who holds firm to inner power is able to order himself; being able to order himself he can then respond to others. He who is able to order himself and respond to others is called the complete man. Heaven manifests itself in its brightness; earth manifests itself in its breadth; the noble person values his completeness.

Xunzi’s Treatise on Heaven

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: ““Treatise on Heaven” “is one of the most dramatic essays in the “Xunzi”. It highlights the very clear contrast that Xunzi makes between the world of Nature, which provides opportunities to man but no guidelines, and the patterns of "li", which represent the path towards a distinctively human form of perfection. The term ‘Tian’ may generally be rendered as ‘Heaven’, and where the clear intent is to picture the sky, it has been translated that way. In this sense, ‘Tian’ comes very close to ‘Nature’. There are, however, points at which the relationship between Tian and Nature is at issue, and for this reason, the term has generally been left in transcription.” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

The “Treatise on Heaven” in the “Xunzi” begins: “The constancy of Heaven, Heaven's ways are constant. It did not prevail due to the Emperor Yao; it does not perish due to the Emperor Jie. Respond to it with order and good fortune follows; respond to it with disorder and ill fortune follows. “Strengthen the root and regulate expenditures, and Heaven cannot impoverish. Bring nurturance to completion and act only when the time is ripe, and Heaven cannot sicken. Cultivate the Dao without irresolution, and Heaven cannot devastate. Flood and drought cannot bring starvation; extremes of cold and heat cannot bring sickness; prodigies and freaks cannot bring ill fortune. Let the roots shrivel and spend extravagantly, and Heaven cannot enrich. Skimp nurturance and act contrary to the times, and Heaven cannot complete. Abandon the way and act wantonly, and Heaven cannot bring good fortune. There is starvation without flood or drought; there is sickness without extremes of cold and heat; there is ill fortune without prodigies and freaks. Though the seasons revolve as they do in ordered times, disaster and devastation arise unlike in ordered times. Heaven cannot be blamed: it is a consequence of the way chosen by man. He who understands the distinct roles of Heaven and man may be called a perfect man. [Source: “The Xunzi”: Chapter 17:“Treatise on Tian”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Dr. Eno writes: “Emperor Jie refers to the last ruler of the Xia Dynasty (the era preceding the Shang, which may or may not have been historical). Jie is portrayed in traditional literature as the prototype of a ruler so evil that Tian forsook his royal house and shifted the Mandate elsewhere. “The root” is a standard way to refer to the fundamental economic activities of agriculture, which Confucians typically saw as the most ethically pure form of labor. The final sentence, which concerns identifying the "distinct" spheres of Tian and man, forms a general theme for the chapter. Naturalist philosophies of Xunzi’s time, of course, sought to ground their ethical models by "linking" man and Nature/Tian. /+/

Xunzi on Keeping Man and Tian Distinct

In the “Treatise on Tian”, Xunzi wrote: That which is accomplished without action, obtained without pursuit: that belongs to the office of Tian. Though it be profound, man adds no thought to it; though it be great, man adds no ability to it; though it be keen, man adds no insight to it. This is called “not contesting office with Tian.” The heavens have their seasons, earth has its riches, man has his rule: this is what is meant by “forming a trinity.” To discard the means for joining with the other two and instead to aspire to their likeness: this is delusion. [Source: “The Xunzi”: Chapter 17: “Treatise on Tian”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The ranks of stars revolve in procession, the sun and moon shine in turn, the seasons succeed one another, the forces of “ yin “and “ yang “alternate in great transformation; the winds and rains give broad nourishment, the things of the world each obtain a harmony of forces whereby they come to life; each obtains nurturance to grow to completion: the process unseen but the finished work manifest – this is called “spirit.” All know it by that which it brings to completion, but none know its formless being – that is called “Tian.” Only the Sage does not seek to know Tian. /+/

Dr. Eno wrote: “Note the theme of “forming a trinity”: Tian, earth, and man each in its proper role. This trinity model introduces the notion of human excellence as “ parallel “to but not identical with the excellence of Tian. (Because the word “ tian “could denote “sky,” sometimes the realm we might wish to label “Nature” is denoted by the terms “Tian” and “earth” together – the realm of sky & earth; other times, the term “Tian” alone functions in ways we would often denote by the term “Nature.”) The workings of this realm of nature is labeled “spirit” in the sense of that term which points to its “magic-like” ability to accomplish things in the world that are uncaused and marvelously efficient.” /+/

Xunzi on the Relations Between Human Beings and Heaven

According to the “Treatise on Heaven” in the “Xunzi”: “The relation of the human person to Heaven: With the office of Heaven settled and the work of Heaven accomplished, the physical form is intact and the spirit is born. Love, hate, pleasure, anger, grief, and joy are assembled therein: these are called the “Heavenly dispositions.” The ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and body have their realms of sensual encounter without duplicative ability: these are called the “Heavenly faculties.” The heart dwells in the vacant center and thereby governs the five faculties: it is called the “Heavenly ruler.” It molds things not of its species in order to nurture its species: this is called “Heavenly nurturance.” It judges things which accord with their species to be fortunate and judges things which discord with their species to be ill fortuned: this is called “Heavenly rule.” [Source: “The Xunzi”: Chapter 17: “Treatise on Tian”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“To darken one's Heavenly ruler, bring disorder to one's Heavenly faculties, forsake one's Heavenly nurturance, discord with one's Heavenly rule, contravene one's Heavenly dispositions, and so dissipate Heaven's work: this is called “greatest evil.” The Sage clears his Heavenly ruler, rectifies his Heavenly faculties, fulfills his Heavenly nurturance, follows his Heavenly rule, nurtures his Heavenly dispositions, and so brings completion to Heaven's work. /+/

“Thus if one understands what he is to do and is not to do, then heaven and earth will fulfill their proper functions and the things of the world will serve him. Acts fully ruled, nurturance fully realized, in life suffering no injury: this is called “knowing Heaven.” Thus the greatest craft lies in acts not taken, the greatest wisdom in thoughts not pondered. What man seeks from Nature, What man seeks from the heavens should merely be their manifest images by which time may be marked. What man seeks from earth should merely be that which may be appropriated from it, which may be husbanded. What man seeks from the four seasons should merely be their regular sequence, to which he can act in response. What man seeks from the forces of and should merely be their harmonies, which he may employ to create order. Functionaries keep track of Heaven; you must keep to the Dao.” /+/

Dr. Eno wrote: “This is, perhaps, the most critical passage in this essay. In the course of it, Xunzi seems to suggest that human beings go beyond Nature, or Heaven, precisely because of the positive faculties that Nature endows in humans as a species. The key idea is that the human heart (or, more properly, the “heart-mind,” since ancient Chinese used a single term to bridge these two concepts) operates in a unique way, allowing members of the species to appropriate their environment in order to “nurture” their species and in this way define and alter it. In other essays of his book, Xunzi explains that humans are unique in that they have developed the tool of ritual “li”, which permits people to “nurture” and so “ transform “their habits, skills, and tastes. Hence the heart-minds of the human community are able to transcend “natural” human limits through a process whereby humanity basically creates its own species norms. This is “Heavenly nurturance.” The subsequent power of the mind to determine when species members are according with these refined norms, Heavenly rule, represents the source of normative human judgments. /+/

The most potent philosophical adversaries of Xunzi were the various naturalistic teacher-thinkers at Jixia. Note the language the “Xunzi” uses to characterize those whose “arts” are based on close observation of Nature. Earlier sections stressed the idea that Tian does “ not “provide a basis for human excellence. Here, however, human capacities are depicted as rooted in the creative processes of Tian. While in the early parts of the section, the capacities discussed are “ descriptive “– “value neutral,” at least in ethical terms – there is a transition towards the end of the first paragraph, and “ prescriptive “statements about our Tian-like capacities are introduced. The final two sentences there are keys to this transition, and we will see the function of the mind as an organ capable of “molding” its environment is a pivotal element in Xunzi’s explanation for how man can create a world of human excellence. This step is critical to the way the “Xunzi” builds its ethics on the basis of a portrait of human nature that pictures us as innately lacking in ethical dispositions. Note that this section forms a psychology that differs from but may complement the model of the mind in the “Dispelling Blinders” chapter.” /+/

Xunzi on Human Action and Nature

In the “Treatise on Heaven”, Xunzi wrote: “Are order and disorder determined by the action of the heavens? I say: the regularities of the sun and moon, stars, planets, and constellations were identical for both Yu and Jie. Yu created order thereby; Jie created disorder. Thus, order and disorder are not determined by the heavens. Are they determined by the action of the seasons? Proliferation and growth in spring and summer, harvest and storage in autumn and winter, this too was identical for Yu and for Jie. Yu created order thereby; Jie created disorder. Thus, order and disorder are not determined by the seasons. Are they determined by the land? He who acquires land is able to live; he who loses his land will die: this too was identical for Yu and for Jie. Yu created order thereby, Jie created disorder. The “Poetry” puts it thus: Tian created the mountain tall, King Tai tamed its wilds.; he having done so, King Wen brought peace to it.” [Yu and Jie were, respectively, the founding sage ruler of the Xia Dynasty and its last ruler, whose evil conduct caused the dynasty’s downfall. Although it is possible that the Xia Dynasty itself was historical, dominating central China during the approximate period 2000-1600 B.C., and a list of its kings is preserved in the “Shiji”, these two royal figures were clearly legendary creations] [Source: “The Xunzi”: Chapter 17:“Treatise on Tian”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Heaven does not suspend winter because people dislike cold; earth does not contract its breadth because people dislike traveling great distances; the does not curtail his actions because of the clamor of petty people. Heaven has a constant way; earth has constant progressions; the has constancy of person. The takes what is constant as his way; the petty person calculates his credits. The says: “Undeviating in ritual and right, why be concerned what others may say?” “Fate” is not determined by Heaven but by chance, That the king of Chu may have a retinue of a thousand chariots does not mean that he is wise. That a may have only beans to eat and water to drink does not mean that he is stupid. These are due to the rhythms of circumstance. To be refined in purpose, rich in virtue, and clear in thought; to live in the present but be devoted to the past – these things are within one's own power. The attends to what is within his power and does not aspire to that which is within the power of Heaven alone. The petty person defaults on what is within his power and aspires to that which is within the power of Heaven alone. Because the attends to what is within his power and does not aspire to that which is within the power of Heaven alone, he goes forward day by day. Because the petty person defaults on what is within his power and aspires to that which is within the power of Heaven alone, he goes backward day by day. Thus the pivots of the 's daily progress and the petty person's daily regress are at root one. The difference between the two lies in this. /+/

Xunzi: Strange Events in Nature Have No Significance

In the “Treatise on Tian”, Xunzi wrote: “When stars fall or trees sing, the people of the state all ask in terror, “What does this mean?” I say it means nothing. These are the changes of the heavens and the earth, the transformations of and, rare events in the world of things. It is proper to wonder at them; it is wrong to fear them. Eclipses of the sun or moon, unseasonable rain or snow, the occasional appearance of strange stars: there has never been an age without them. If the ruler is enlightened and his government stable, then though these appear in series during his rule, no harm will be done. If the ruler is benighted and his government reckless, then though none of these things occur, it will be of no use. The falling of the stars, the singing of the trees, these are the changes of the heavens and the earth, the transformations of and, rare events in the world of things. It is proper to wonder at them; it is wrong to fear them. [Source: “The Xunzi”: Chapter 17:“Treatise on Tian”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Among events which may occur, those which should be feared are human portents. When careless ploughing causes crops to suffer and those who weed leave weeds behind, when government is reckless and loses the support of the people – the fields unkempt, the crops meager, grain sold dear and people starving, corpses lying in the road: these are what I mean by human portents. When government directives are unenlightened, the populace summoned to labor out of season, agriculture left in disorder: these are what I mean by human portents. When ritual and propriety are not cultivated, public and private affairs not properly distinguished, when male and female mix wantonly and father and son doubt one another, when superior and inferior become estranged, when banditry and invasion appear in tandem: these are what I mean by human portents. Such portents are born of chaos; if all three types occur at once, there can be no peace for the state. The reasons are so near at hand; the catastrophe so tragic! When labors are unseasonable, cows and horses give birth to one another's progeny and prodigies appear among the six types of livestock. It is proper to wonder at this; it is wrong to fear it. The teachings say: The prodigies of the world of things should be recorded but not explained. Analyses which have no application, investigations which do not proceed from urgency: these should be discarded and not cultivated. As for the proprieties governing ruler and minister, the affinities governing father and son, and the role distinctions governing husband and wife, these should be unceasingly refined. /+/

Dr. Eno wrote: “Among the naturalistic schools of Xunzi’s time were those that saw the realm of Nature as in constant responsive interaction with human action. On these models, human action – especially ritual and governmental action – elicited responsive action in the natural sphere. For example, bad tax policy could create drought; bad ethical conduct could produce comets. Naturalistic ritualism focused on the importance of maintaining regular and appropriate human “li” – especially on the highly leveraged government level – to maintain the regular flow of natural forces (“ yin “and “ yang”, the Five Forces, spirit forces and the energies of “qi” in Nature). Naturalistic theories of government focused on the need to align the ethical operation of governance with the “dao” of the natural world. Failures on either level could lead to inauspicious “omens” and natural disasters. These ideas reached their culmination in the Han Dynasty teachings of Dong Zhongshu. /+/

“Xunzi was a strong opponent of these sorts of thinking – he was, in clear ways – anti-animistic and generally atheistic: just the sort of Confucian the Mohists attacked. The above sections both stress his opposition to cosmologies that claimed to have implications for human conduct. For Xunzi, the lessons of Tian are its “ regularities”: these man may emulate in discovering his own ideal regularity, and he may also exploit them as predictable features of the world he can “mold” to satisfy his needs and potential. As for natural “prodigies” – irregularities in nature that others saw as meaningful – for Xunzi they were, in fact, meaningless accidents.” /+/

Xunzi on Rituals

Dr. Eno wrote: “For the “Xunzi”, good fortune is largely determined by man, not Nature. Enlightened conduct “ is “good fortune, and here we see that identified with the embrace of “li” as “wen” and “wen” alone. The pattern of civilization and its social productivity are ends in themselves, and need to rationalization by means of naturalistic arguments. Note how different this is from the “Mencius”, which adds strength to the Confucian commitment to “li” by claiming that “li” is actually an innate component of our “ natures”, implanted by Tian itself as a species.definiting attribute. [Source: “The Xunzi”: Chapter 17:“Treatise on Tian”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

According to the “Treatise on Heaven” in the “Xunzi”: “Rituals have no magic: When performance of the great rain dance is followed by rain, what does this mean? I say it means nothing. It is as though the rain dance had not been performed and it had rained. The rituals of “saving” the sun and moon when they are eclipsed, of performing the rain dance in times of drought, of divining with bone and milfoil before deciding a great matter, these are not performed as means of gaining an end; they are means of ornamenting action. The understands them as ornamental, the populace understands them as spiritual. Understanding them as ornamental leads to good fortune; understanding them as spiritual leads to ill fortune. [Source: “The Xunzi”: Chapter 17: “Treatise on Tian”; Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Zhou-era ritual bell

“Ritual is the jewel of human culture: In the heavens, nothing is more brilliant than the sun and the moon. On earth, nothing is more brilliant than water and fire. Among things, nothing is more brilliant than pearls and jade. Amidst mankind, nothing is more brilliant than ritual and propriety. If the sun and moon were not high, their brilliance would not shine. If water and fire do not collect into masses, their powers to brighten and moisten will not be spread abroad. If pearl and jade are not polished then kings and dukes will not regard them as treasures. If ritual and propriety are not applied to the state, then the fame of its accomplishments will not become known. Thus it is said: The life span of a man resides with Heaven; the life span of a state lies in. If he who rules men exalts and honors the worthy, he will rule as king; if he lays stress on laws and values the people, he will rule as hegemon; if he loves profit and proliferates deceit, he will rule in danger; if he relies on calculating schemes, subversion and perilous secrecy, he will be totally destroyed. /+/

“Rituals are the guides for human success: That which abided unchanged through the reigns of the hundred kings of antiquity may serve as the linking thread of the Way. Respond to the transience of affairs with this thread; all principles will be linked without disorder. If you do not know how to link things in this way, you will not know how to respond to change. The essence of this linking thread has never ceased to be. Disorder is born of deviating from it; order exhausts its every aspect. /+/

“Hence in pursuing the goodness of the Way: follow what fully accords with it; what distorts it one must not do; to mistake it is the greatest confusion. When men wade across rivers, they mark the deep pits. If the markers are not clear, others will drown. Those who rule people must mark the Way. If the markers are not clear, there is chaos. The are the markers. To reject is to darken the world, and a darkened world is in greatest chaos. Thus if the Way is made thoroughly clear, if inner and outer are distinctly marked, if there is regularity in the hidden and the manifest, then the pits which drown the people will be removed. /+/

Xunzi: Nature Is to Be Exploited Not Worshiped

Dr. Eno wrote: “There is no section of the “Xunzi” that more clearly expresses the “humanistic “basis of Xunzi’s brand of Confucianism – it is up to us as a species to create the ideal world out of the raw materials Nature provides. Beyond those materials and the vague guidance of “regularity”, the natural world has few lessons to offer that man cannot teach himself. (Xunzi is certainly no romantic about the world of Nature!) [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Nature is to be exploited not worshiped,
Exalt Heaven and contemplate it?
Rather husband its creatures and so regulate it!
Follow Heaven and sing hymns to it?
Rather regulate Heaven's mandate and use it!
Look upon the seasons and await them?
Rather respond to the seasons and exploit them!
Accept things as they are and increase them?
Rather give rein to talents and transform them!
Contemplate things and treat them as givens?
Rather create order among things and unfailingly seize their potential!
Long for the source from which things are born?
Rather promote the means whereby they are brought to completion!
Hence to set aside man and contemplate Heaven is to mistake the basic nature of things. [Source: “The Xunzi”: Chapter 17:“Treatise on Tian”; Robert Eno, Indiana University

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University, Chinatxt chinatxt /+/; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei\=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016

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