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Thursday, May 17, 2012

THE WISDOM OF CHINA


For the benefit of my readers, I am presenting the time-honoured wisdom of China through the Sayings of Confucius, Mencius, Lao-tzu, Chuang-tzu and Lieh Tzu:

                                                I.    Sayings of Confucius
a.    “Wisdom, benevolence and fortitude---these three are the universal virtues. The means by which they are practiced is another thing. Some are born with the knowledge of these beauties; some know them by study; some gain them as the result of painful experience. But the knowledge, being possessed, it comes to one and the same thing. Some practice them with the ease of nature; some for the sake of their advantage; and some by dint of great effort. But when the work of them is done, it comes to one and the same thing. Having not, yet affecting to have; empty, yet affecting to be full; straightened, yet affecting to be in easy circumstances---it is difficult with such characteristics to be consistent. Ardent, yet not upright; stupid, and yet not attentive; simple, and yet not sincere---such persons I cannot understand.”
b.    “Humanity is like a heavy vessel, and like a long road. He who tries to lift the vessel cannot sustain its weight; he who travels the road cannot accomplish all its distance. There is nothing that has so many different degrees as humanity; and thus who tries to nerve himself to compass it finds it a difficult task.“
c.    “To lie under arms and meet death without regret---this is the strength of Northern regions, and the strong make it their study. To show forbearance and gentleness in teaching others, and not revenge unreasonable conduct, this is the strength of Southern regions, and the good man makes it his study.”
d.   “I have not seen one who loves virtue as he loves beauty. The doings of the Supreme Heaven have neither sound nor smell. That is perfect virtue.”
e.    “A Minister, in serving his Prince, reverently discharges his duties, and makes his emolument a secondary consideration. Truly straightforward was the historiographer Yu. When good government prevailed in his State, he was like an ARROW. When bad government prevailed he was again like an ARROW.”
f.     “The rules aimed at in the Great College where the prevention of evil before it was manifested; the timeliness of instruction just when it was required; the suitability of the lessons in adaptation to circumstances, and the good influence of Example to all those concerned. It was from these four things that the teaching was so flourishing.”
g.   “To be fond of learning is near to wisdom; to practice with vigour is near to benevolence; and to be conscious of shame is near to fortitude. He who knows these three things knows how to cultivate his own character. Knowing how to cultivate his own character, he knows how to govern other men. Knowing how to govern other men, he knows how to govern the Kingdom, with its States and families.”
h.   “What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do to others.”

                                                          II.  Sayings Of Mencius
a.    “A real man is one whose goodness is a part of himself. Of all the qualities of the sage, none is greater than that of being a helper of men to right living. He is ashamed of a reputation beyond his desert. Having found the right way within himself, he rests in it, firm and serene, holding intimate converse with it, and reaching to its fountain-head. He obeys the right and waits for the appointed. His words are plain and simple, yet of widest bearing. The aim is self-culture, yet it gives peace to all men.”
b.    “All things are already complete in us. There is no greater delight than to be conscious of right within us. If one strive to treat others as he would be treated by them, he shall not fail to come near the perfect life. Every duty is a charge, but a charge of oneself is the root of others. The disease of men is to neglect their own feelings and go to weeding those of others, to exact much from others and lay light burdens on themselves. A true scholar holds possession of himself, neither by riches nor poverty forced away from his virtue.”
c.    Let not a man do what his sense of right bids him not to do, nor desire what it forbids him to desire. This is sufficient. The skilled artist will not alter his measures for the sake of a stupid workman.”
d.   “The honour which man confers is not true honour. Those to whom Chaou Mang gave rank, he can degrade again. He whose good name comes from what he is, needs no trappings. The ancients cultivated the Nobility of Heaven, leaving that of men to follow in its train. Serving Heaven consists in nourishing the real constitution of our Being, anxious neither about death nor life.”
e.    “The great man is he who does not lose his child-heart. He does not think beforehand that his words shall be sincere, nor that his acts shall be resolute; he simply abides in the right.”
f.     “When Heaven is about to confer a Great Office on any man, it first disciplines his mind with suffering, and his bones and sinews with toil. It exposes him to want and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings. By all these methods it stimulates his mind, hardens him, and supplies his incompetencies.”
g.   “Abstract good principles are not enough to give the Kingdom peace; laws cannot execute themself. If the good and wise be not trusted, the State will come to naught. The people are the most important element in a State; the Ruler is the least.”

                     III.    Sayings Of Lao-tzu
a.    “There is something, chaotic yet complete, which existed before Heaven and Earth. Oh, how still it is and formless, standing alone without changing, reaching everywhere without suffering harm! It must be regarded as the Mother of the Universe. Its name I know not. To designate it I call it TAO. Endeavouring to describe it, I call it great.”
b.    “The TAO that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging TAO. He who knows the TAO does care to speak about it; he who is ever-ready to speak about it does not know it. Those who know the TAO are not extensively learned; the extensively learned do not know it.”
c.    “The relation of TAO to all the world is like that of the great rivers and seas to the streams from the valleys.”
d.   “The TAO which can be expressed in words is not the eternal TAO; the name which can be uttered is not its eternal name. Without a name, it is the beginning of Heaven and Earth; with a name, it is the Mother of all things.”
e.    “Only one who is eternally free from earthly passions can apprehend the spiritual essence of TAO; he who is ever-clogged by passions can see no more than its outer form.”
f.     “These two things, the spiritual and the material, though we call them by different names, in their origin are one and the same. This sameness is a mystery---the mystery of mysteries. It is the gate of all spirituality.”
g.   TAO eludes the sense of sight and is therefore called colourless. It eludes the sense of hearing and is therefore called soundless. It eludes the sense of touch and is therefore called incorporeal. These three qualities cannot be apprehended, and hence they may be blended into UNITY.”
h.   “The mightiest manifestation of active force flow solely from TAO.”
i.     “Its upper part is not bright, and its lower part is not obscure. Ceaseless in action, it cannot be named, but returns again to nothingness. We may call it the form of the formless, the image of the imageless, the fleeting and indeterminable. Would you go before it you cannot see its face; would you go behind it, you cannot see its back.”
j.     TAO in itself is vague, impalpable---how impalpable, how vague! Yet within it there is Substance. How profound, how obscure! Yet within it there is a vital Principle. This Principle is the Quintessence of Reality, and out of it comes Truth. From of old until now, its name has never passed away. It watches over the beginning of all things. How do I know this about the beginning of things? Through TAO."
k.    “Therefore TAO is great; Heaven is great; the Earth is great and the Sovereign also is great. In the Universe there are four powers, of which the Sovereign is one. Man takes his Law from the Earth; the Earth takes its Law from Heaven; Heaven takes its Law from TAO; but the Law of TAO is its own spontaneity.”

                      IV.   Sayings Of Chuang-tzu
a.    TAO gives me this form, this toil in manhood, this repose in old age, this rest in death. And surely, that which is such a kind of arbiter of my life is the best arbiter of my death.”
b.    “All things spring from germs. Under many diverse forms, these things are ever being reproduced. Round and round, like a wheel, no part of which is more the starting point than any other. This is called Heavenly Equilibrium. And he who holds the scales is God.”
c.    “How do I know that love of life is not a delusion after all? How do I know but that he who dreads to die is as a child who has lost its way and cannot find its home?”
d.   “He who knows what God is, and who knows what man is, has attained. Knowing what God is, he knows that he himself proceeded therefrom. Knowing what man is, he rests in the knowledge of the known, waiting for the knowledge of the unknown. Working out one’s allotted span, and not perishing in mid-career,---this is the fullness of knowledge.”
e.    “There is nothing which is not objective; there is nothing which is not subjective. But it is impossible to start from the objective. Only from the subjective knowledge is it possible to proceed to objective knowledge. Hence it has been said: ‘The objective emanates from the subjective; the subjective is consequent upon the objective. This is the Alternation Theory’.”
f.     “Therefore all things are One. What we love is animation. What we hate is corruption. But corruption in its turn becomes animation, and animation once more becomes corruption.”
g.   “When I seek for a beginning, I find only time infinite. When I look forward to an end, I see only time infinite. Infinity of time passed and to come implies no beginning and is in accordance with the laws of material existences. Predestination and Chance give us a beginning, but one which is compatible with the existence of matter.”
h.   “To which the Spirit of the Ocean replied: ’You cannot speak of ocean to a well-frog, the creature of a narrower sphere. You cannot speak of ice to a summer insect, a creature of a season. You cannot speak of TAO to a pedagogue; his scope is too restricted. But now that you have emerged from your narrow sphere and have seen the great ocean, you know your own insignificance, and I can speak to you of great principles’.”
i.     “Dimensions are limitless; time is endless. Conditions are not invariable; terms are not final. Thus the wise man looks into space, and does not regard the small as too little, nor the great as too much; for he knows that there is no limit to dimensions. He looks back into the past, and does not grieve over what is far off, nor rejoice over what is near; for he knows that time is without end. He investigates fullness and decay, and does not rejoice if he succeeds, nor lament if he fails; for he knows the conditions are not invariable. He who clearly apprehends the scheme of existence does not rejoice over life, nor repine ate death; for he knows that terms are not final.”

                                                           V.        Sayings Of Lieh Tzu
a.    “There is a Creative Principle which is itself uncreated; there is a Principle of Change which is itself unchanging. The Uncreated is able to create life; the Unchanging is able to effect change. That which is produced cannot but continue producing; that which is evolved cannot but continue evolving. Hence there is constant production and constant evolution. The law of constant production and of constant evolution at no time ceases to operate.”
b.    “In the Book of the Yellow Emperor it is written: ‘When form becomes active it produces not form but shadow; when sound becomes active it produces not sound but echo’.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

NEW, EXCITING, AND NEVER-ENDING VISTAS OF KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM

I am starting a new Series of Articles on this blogspot with effect from today, i.e., 10th May 2012, Thursday. This Series of Articles will be devoted to different areas, aspects, and vistas of KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM. Knowledge is the eye of desire and can become the pilot of the soul. The great English poet S.T. Coleridge (1772 - 1834), said: "Common sense to an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom." Wisdom is to the mind what health is to the body. There is an Arabic proverb which says, "A wise man's day is worth a fool's life."

I have always been fascinated by this timeless Quote from Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881), "The wise man is but a clever infant, spelling letters from a hieroglyphical prophetic book, the lexicon of which lies in eternity."

I have studied very carefully more than 500 outstanding works in both Western and Eastern Philosophy. But I say with humility and reverence that I have understood more about the art of living and wisdom from the following Quote from Plato (424/423 BC - 348/347 BC): "Perfect wisdom has four parts, viz; wisdom, the principle of doing things aright; justice, the principle of doing things equally in public and private; fortitude, the principle of not flying away from danger,but meeting it; and temperance, the principle of subduing desires and living moderately."

I am of the view that true wisdom is to know what is best worth knowing, and to do what is best worth doing. He who learns the rules of wisdom without conforming to them in his life is like a man who ploughs in his field but does not sow. Moreover, what is tragic and pitiable is that every man finds it easy to be wise for others than to be wise himself. The strongest symptom of wisdom in man is his being sensible of his own faults, follies and foibles.

I have always been fascinated by this Quote from Epictetus (55 AD - 135 AD): "The two powers which in my opinion constitute a wise man are those of bearing and forbearing."


The first point of wisdom is to discern what is false; the second to know that which is true.

There is a Chinese proverb which declares: "Seeking wisdom thou art wise; in imagining that thou hast attained it thou art a fool."


A wise man is one who knows the sources of knowledge---who knows who has written and where it is to be found.

Socrates (469 BC - 399 BC) said: "The Delphic Oracle said I was the wisest of all the Greeks. It is because that I alone, of all the Greeks, knew that I know nothing."


We seem to be blinded by the dazzling and flashing floodlights of information technology revolution today. A man who really saw the futility of seeking and chasing a mass of inert information in a nameless and soulless manner was a great English poet, T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). As early as in 1934, he wrote the following poem in which he prophetically complained that wisdom was getting obliterated by knowledge and knowledge was getting extinguished by information. I am presenting this poem below for the benefit of my readers:

                                   Stories of the Human Spirit                               
                                       T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)                                  
The Rock (1934)

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)


Opening Stanza from Choruses from "The Rock"

The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.

O perpetual revolution of configured stars,

O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,

O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.

I think I have tried to say enough today. I would like to conclude by quoting verbatim the full text of the Prologue which Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) wrote to his autobiography a few years before his death in 1970.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

The Prologue to Bertrand Russell's Autobiography

What I Have Lived For

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair. I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness--that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what--at last--I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
 Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
 This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.


Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) won the Nobel prize for literature for his History of Western Philosophy and was the co-author of Principia Mathematica.


The above lofty ideals of Bertrand Russell have influenced me, inspired me, instructed me and invigorated me very significantly for a lifetime ever since I read the three volumes of Bertrand Russell's autobiography in Periakulam in Madurai district in January 1969. I was then the sub-collector and First Class Magistrate in Periakulam.