Email: Confucius and Ch’an Learning… (5.2.2021)

Dear Ben 
 
I very much appreciate your thoughtful questions and the manner in which you request information. I am also aware as to ‘why’ you continuously seek knowledge. Sometimes, there are answers with ‘words’ whilst at other times – ‘silence’ seems the best response. This is a distinctly ‘Confucian’ interaction. Therefore, to begin with there is a quote:

‘The Master said, I have ‘transmitted what was taught to me without making up anything of my own.’ I have been faithful to and loved the Analects. In these respects, I make bold to think, not even our Old P’eng can have excelled me. The Master said. I have listened in silence and noted what was said, I have never grown tired of learning nor worried of teaching others what I have learnt.

These at least are merits which I can confidently claim. The Master said; The thought that ‘I have left my moral power (de) untended, my learning unperfected, that I have heard of righteous men, but been unable to go to them; have heard of evil men, but been unable to reform them’ – it is these thoughts that disquiet me.’ 

Confucius: Analects – Book VII – The Confucius of Confucius – Translated by Arthur Waley, Harper Collins, (1992), Page 123 

Another good and straightforward book is entitled ‘Confucius – A Biography’ – by Jonathan Clements, Sutton, (2004)

There are many others translations developed from various different perspectives (see the work of Thomas Cleary, for example). You might appreciate the work of Mencius – who is viewed as the direct lineage-descendent of Confucius despite living a few hundred years later. This is not a problem – as within Chinese culture Mencius is interpreted as the ‘spiritual’ descendent of Confucius – as if he had learned directly from him.

There are also very good English translation and explanations of the work of Confucius carried-out by ethnic Chinese scholars (such as ‘An Introduction to Confucianism’ by Xinzhong Yao – and ‘Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics’ by Anping Chin). Now, within Ch’an and Zen Teaching – Second Series (translated by Charles Luk) – a number of the Ch’an Masters featured are described as formerly being Confucian scholars – a situation that includes the Cao Dong lineage (further seen, perhaps, in the five-roundel symbolism). Confucianism underlies all of Chinese culture – even within modern China! 

Peace in the Dharma 

Adrian 

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