The Study Of Chinese Philosophy And The Reason For Being Human

With regard to the true, the good, and the beautiful, why does traditional Chinese philosophy consistently pursue the three "integrations"? In my opinion, it is because the basic spirit of Chinese philosophy is to teach how one should behave like a man. To be a "man" one must have set for oneself a demand, must have an ideal realm of the true, the good, and the beautiful. One who has attained such an ideal realm in which "heaven is integrated with man," "knowledge is integrated with practice" and "feeling is integrated with scenery" is a saint. Therefore the prospects for traditional Chinese philosophy lie in bringing this demand to be a "man" in line with the need of the modernization program and thus realizing it. One's ideal may find expression in an immense variety of ways; nevertheless, one must have an ideal and noble spiritual realm. The three integrations advocated by traditional Chinese philosophy are in fact a unified realm for one to be a "man." They cannot be separated, at least theoretically.

The proposition of "integration of heaven with man," though designed to illustrate the relations between man and the entire universe, was made in view of man as center of the universe. The Golden Mean states: "Honesty is the Way of Heaven; to be honest is the way of man." "An honest man who hits the target without difficulty, arrives at the right idea without brain-racking, and conforms to the Way without hurry is a saint." The role of a saint is to "foster a heart for heaven and earth, create a life for living creatures, carry forward peak learnings for posterity, and open up peace for thousands of generations to come." Therefore a "man" (mainly, the saint) must behave in accord with the requirements of the Way of Heaven and should assume it his responsibility to fulfill them. Being alive in the world, one must not take a passive attitude; rather, one should "make unremitting efforts to improve oneself" so as to embody the evolution of the immense universe. In this way, one will set oneself a demand, find a reason for one's being, and foster a noble spiritual realm. Since one has set a demand for oneself and has a reason for one's being, the most important thing is for one to "integrate his knowledge with his practice." One must have an ethical standpoint unifying the two. The three programs and the eight items listed in the Great Learnings tell us the exact reason for this. It says:

The Way of the great learning lies in shedding light on the bright principles, being close to the people, and stopping at nothing but the utmost good. Those in ancient times who wanted to shed light on the bright principles for the world had to first bring order to their own kingdoms. To bring order to their kingdoms they had to first bring their own houses to order. To bring their houses to order they had to first cultivate their own moral character. To cultivate their own moral character they had to first set their minds straight. To set their minds straight they had to first foster a sincere desire. To foster a sincere desire they had to first carry knowledge to the utmost degree. To carry knowledge to the utmost degree they had to first inquire into the properties of things. Having inquired into the properties of things, they were able to carry knowledge to the utmost degree. Having carried knowledge to the utmost degree, they were able to foster a sincere desire. Having fostered a sin ce cere desire, they were able to set their minds straight. Having set their minds straight, they were able to cultivate their own moral character. Having cultivated their own moral character, they were able to bring their houses to order. Having brought their houses to order, they were able to bring order to their kingdoms. Having brought order to their kingdoms, the whole world would be at peace.

"Knowledge" must be integrated with "practice." From "inquiring into the properties of things to carry knowledge to the utmost degree" to "bringing order to their kingdoms and peace to the world" is a process of cognition and, more important, a process of moral practice. Man must have an ideal. The highest ideal is to "achieve peace" and thus enable human society to attain a realm of "Great Harmony." The basic demand of a society of "great harmony" is that everyone should set on himself a demand, find a reason for his "being," and "not do to others what he does not wish done to himself." Said Confucius: "My way is consistent; it is nothing more than honesty and forbearance." Leading a life in this world, one should behave like a "man" and must enjoy the pleasure of "being a man" and appreciate the creation of the universe.

In order to have a genuine appreciation of the creation of the universe, one should have the ability to display man's creativity through the reproduction of "the creation of the universe." One should display the spiritual realm of man, the why and how for a man to exist as a man: this makes it possible to render a writing into a "masterpiece," a painting into a "superb work," and music into the "sound of nature." Therefore art requires "integration of feeling with scenery" so that "feeling is generated amid scenery and scenery is generated amid feeling." In the realm of creation one reaches a situation in which the true, the good, and the beautiful are integrated; there lies the meaning of life and the man's highest ideal. Confucius professed: "At the age of seventy, I can do everything as my heart pleases without violating the rule." What he described was probably such a realm in which all one did and said was in harmony with the universe, human society, others, and oneself--both body and mind, inside and without. This realm of life is, of course, that of the saint.

Traditional Chinese philosophy still bears existential value precisely because it tells us the reason for being a man. To be a man is by no means easy,and it is even more difficult to have harmony with nature, society, other people, and oneself in both body and mind, inside and outside. But is this not necessary for today's world? Therefore we cannot underestimate traditional Chinese philosophy and ignore its proper value. Precisely because traditional Chinese philosophy tells us only the reason for being a man, it is inappropriate to set undue demands upon it in other regards, and it should come as no surprise to us that it is inadequate in certain areas. For example, it does not emphasize issues of logic and the theory of knowledge, nor provide a well-conceived demonstration of the structure of its own theory; we should not be overcritical of this. Under such circumstances, can we further develop traditional Chinese philosophy while engaged in studying its value? We should and we can. Note that, aside from the Book of Change, the pre-Qin Dynasty Confucians, seldom touched upon problems of ontology. Under the impact of Buddhism, however, neo-Confucians of the Song and Ming dynasties founded a very significant theory of ontology which made great progress and became neo-Confucianism. As the mainstream of China's traditional philosophy, thinking and culture, the Confucian philosophy has sustained today an even heavier impact than in the past. Having made a profound criticism of it, we are now reexamining its value. Is it inconceivable that we can develop it again, or impossible under the new impact to establish a new logic and theory of knowledge proper to it? Traditional Chinese philosophy should have a third phase development because "one must have a reason for being a man." Whether or not it can be developed depends on whether or not it can establish for itself a new system of logic and theory of knowledge. "Man can enhance the Way, not the Way can enhance man." The outcome depends upon our efforts.

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