Doctrine of the Mean - Center Unchangeable 中庸 Translation and Commentary 10

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Doctrine of the Mean 中庸

Zhong Yong - Center Unchangeable

Translation and Commentary - Part 10

The Logics - Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong) Translation and Commentary

(PD) Zhong Yong on Winter Forest

Photograph enhancements and wording by Larry Neal Gowdy

Larry Neal Gowdy

Copyright©2018 April 14, 2018

Translations and Commentary Continued

It is interesting to note that the book's quotes appear to have been assembled within a sequence of progressively developing ideas that are related to and expanded upon previous quotes, with the following quote furthering the concepts of 'differences of sameness'. I am writing my comments as I read the book, and so I do not yet know if the sequencing will continue, but I speculate that if the progression does continue, then 中庸 might have been assembled to be used as a means of teaching or evaluating a student's progress, and if my speculation holds merit, then 中庸 gains additional interest as having perhaps been assembled with a purpose, and not merely be a random collection of favored ideas and quotes.


The Master said "The path is not far from man. When men try to pursue a course, which is far from the common indications of consciousness, this course cannot be considered The Path.

"In the Book of Poetry, it is said, 'In hewing an ax handle, in hewing an ax handle, the pattern is not far off. We grasp one ax handle to hew the other; and yet, if we look askance from the one to the other, we may consider them as apart. Therefore, the superior man governs men, according to their nature, with what is proper to them, and as soon as they change what is wrong, he stops.

"When one cultivates to the utmost the principles of his nature, and exercises them on the principle of reciprocity, he is not far from the path. What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do to others.

"In the way of the superior man there are four things, to not one of which have I as yet attained.-To serve my father, as I would require my son to serve me: to this I have not attained; to serve my prince as I would require my minister to serve me: to this I have not attained; to serve my elder brother as I would require my younger brother to serve me: to this I have not attained; to set the example in behaving to a friend, as I would require him to behave to me: to this I have not attained. Earnest in practicing the ordinary virtues, and careful in speaking about them, if, in his practice, he has anything defective, the superior man dares not but exert himself; and if, in his words, he has any excess, he dares not allow himself such license. Thus his words have respect to his actions, and his actions have respect to his words; is it not just an entire sincerity which marks the superior man?"

Normal: Confucius said: way not far person. Person ~~ act dao but far person, not can act dao.

Poem say: hew axe-handle hew axe-handle, they ~~ not far. Hold axe-handle ~~ hew axe-handle, look ~~ see ~~: still consider far. Therefore junzi receive person lead person, correct and stop.

Center tolerance from dao not far. Do to self ~~ not wish, also not do to person. Junzi ~~ dao four, Qui not able one ~~. ~~ sphere ~~ son ~~ serve father, not able ~~. ~~ sphere ~~ commoner ~~ serve ruler, not able ~~. ~~ sphere ~~ young-brother ~~ serve old-brother, not able ~~. ~~ sphere ~~ friend first behave ~~(them), not able ~~. Stable quality ~~ nature, stable speech ~~ mindful, ~~ ~~ not adequate, not risk not attempt; ~~ excess, not risk deplete. Speech therefore nature, nature therefore speech. Junzi how not make?

Concept: Confucius said: dao is not far from person. (Or 'dao is not far different between people'.) Person who does acts of dao, but if he is far from people, then he cannot do acts of dao. (Or: 'Person who does (attempts) acts of dao, but if the person's acts are far different than the way of dao, then he cannot do the acts of dao', or, 'On the topic os a person doing the act of dao, if he is far different, then he cannot do dao'.)

Poem says: hew an axe-handle, hew another axe-handle, they not far different. Hold axe-handle and hew axe-handle, look, see: still consider the axe-handles far from same. Therefore junzi receives persons, leads persons, corrects, and then stops.

Center tolerance from dao is narrow. Do to self, not wished, also not do to other persons. Junzi's four ways, I not able one. Sphere of son serving father, not able. Sphere of commoner serving ruler, not able. Sphere of young brother serving old brother, not able. Sphere friend first behave to them, not able. Stable quality nature, stable speech mindful, not adequate, do not risk not attempting; excess quality mindfulness, not risk depleting. Speech therefore nature, nature therefore speech. Junzi how not be made?

(Note on the word choice nature: the better synonym might be closer to actions, but I found it interesting of how the term has plural meanings relative to which point of view is focused. I will add more about nature later.)

Nature-based parallel: Nature's way is not far from anyone, but everyone is different, and everyone learns differently, with some individuals not being able to learn at all.

On the topic of a person being secluded from other people, and of the individuals who perform the quality actions of Nature's way, if the individuals are secluded far from other people, then the individuals cannot do all the actions of a quality dao. A man cannot have compassion for others if there are no others present to have compassion for. A man cannot be polite, nor be mindful of others if there are no other people near. Seclusion has its advantages, but also disadvantages.

Create one's own self in one's own image. Sharing words, share what might be useful, then stop. All people are different: permit others to create their own selves within their own image.

Mind-body-centeredness is narrow; very little tolerances for variances. What a man does not wish for himself, he should not do to others. If an individual's stable quality of nature and stable mindfulness of speech are inadequate, still make the effort to keep trying. If an individual has an excess of quality mindfulness, be mindful to not deplete it. One's speech is one's nature, one's nature is one's speech. The man who has stable qualities of nature, and has stable mindfulness, how could he not be a junzi?

I am not comfortable with about half of my translation, and less comfortable with other translations. It appears that the quote's concepts were heavily influenced by the culture's idioms and metaphors, none of which can be adequately grasped today because people today do not have similar histories of life to reason how the quote's ideas combine to point at a different concept.

Nevertheless, the general ideas appear to remain somewhat connected:

[1] Some attributes of junzi require the presence of other people, which is correct. There are many things that cannot learned, nor mastered, nor expressed without there existing other people within the junzi's life. (This idea might not have been intended within the quote, but the idea does exist within the quote's sphere.)

[2] Things remain different even if created in one's own image. Though a junzi might teach another man the same qualities as what the junzi holds, still the other man will be different in all ways. It is, therefore, useful to share words, but also useful to know when to stop, permitting the other person to create themselves.

[3] Do unto others as you would have done unto you. This is not a mere doctrine, nor a demand from tian, it is, instead, an accuracy of judgment coupled with the same self-reflection that enables compassion. If a man cannot recognize and feel the necessity of doing for others what he would have done for him, then the man is dull of mind, numb of heart, and can never achieve junzi.

[4] For the Chinese word qiu, I chose sphere because the word is reportedly often used to refer to a ball or sphere, and, if Confucius was indeed an intelligent man, and if he did indeed apply self-referencing, then he likely was with a mental evaluation that 'revolved' within a non-ending circle-sphere of weighing comparisons of how actions influence other people. The quote's words are not comfortable within today's English, but to me, it appeared that he was aware that he did not express a judged balance of attention to his father as what Confucius deemed proper attention from his son, and similarly with brothers, rulers, and friends.

If my translation is reasonably close, then the idea is that a junzi's centeredness permits the junzi to treat all people similarly, without giving unfair attention or favoritism to anyone, which would be a correct attribute of what distinguishes a stable mind-body-centeredness.

To better clarify so as to not leave an improper impression, the 'centered' person is not stupid with a 'blank empty mind' as some forms of 'centeredness' are taught, but rather the junzi is aware of his environment, he is continuously evaluating and reasoning his environment, his mind is constantly within thought, but he does not permit the bad things in man's world to disturb the junzi's centeredness of inner and outward presence. In some ways it might be as simply being aware, and knowing that different people deserve and need different attention, but still the junzi's own manners of judgments and 'center' do not change. The 'treating all people similarly' is the act that progresses from the inward self to the outward world, and it does not imply 'treat everyone equally' as evaluated from the outside to the inside. Equality does not exist in Nature, nor is it intelligent to treat everyone equally the same, but it is a mark of junzi for the junzi to apply the same judgments to all things: stand straight, do not lean, do not give a different judgment to different people, use the same judgment for all.

An example might be of a man expecting his son to obey the man's request for the son to marry a good woman, but the same man rejects his father's request to marry a good woman. If an act is expected of a son, then the same act should be given to the father. If a thing is right for one, then it is also right for another. If a thing is not right for one and the other, then the thing is not right for either. Correctness of judgment, correctness of evaluations, the same correctness for all acts; correctness unchangeable.

The 'blank empty mind enlightenment' is not an enlightenment at all, it is what is, blank and empty. The junzi is not blank of mind, nor of heart.

On the choice of the nature word, it is interesting to me that the pronuncian of xing can infer different things, including nature and action. Similar to the English having two, to, and too, so also are some Chinese words similar. In the English, the difference of two, to, and too can often be understood alone by how the words' tones are emotioned, but written words have no sounds, and often rely upon sentence structure for meaning.

Now, if 中庸 is a collection of quotes, then the quotes were written records of what Confucius said, and it seems worthy to pose the plausible question: might the individual who recorded Confucius' words have unknowingly written a wrong word for a word that sounded the same or very similar? Granted, the word action does appear to be the easier translation, but, the word nature exists within the same sphere as action, with both words merely being expressions from different vantage points.

As I was typing the first draft of this article, and without paying close attention to the original Chinese character, I simply inserted nature as the translation of xing because I was already accustomed to xing implying nature. When eyeing my sentence, however, the translation appeared a bit unbalanced of weights of word-importance, and though the idea of nature is a deeper concept that requires a spherical-like interpretation, still, the synonym action is plenty good enough to convey the quote's core message. I chose to leave the nature example within the text, so as to help illustrate that even with the use of imperfect words, a message's core idea can usually still be found.

The full list of available articles in this series can be found on the home page at Doctrine of the Mean 中庸 Zhong Yong Translation and Commentary.

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