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Frontiers of Philosophy in China 2008, 3 (2) : 177-193

by Huang Yushun

translated by Liu Huawei

 

On “Viewing Things And “Viewing Nothing”:

A Dialogue Between Confucianism And Phenomenology

 

Abstract: In traditional Chinese expressions, all ideas (观念, guan nian) seem to come from viewing (, guan). However, viewing can be understood to have two different levels of meanings: one is "viewing things", the viewing with something to view; another is "viewing nothing", the viewing with nothing to view. What is viewed in "viewing things" are either physical beings – all existing things and phenomena -- or the metaphysical being. (for example, the "Dao as a thing"). In both cases, something/s is/are being viewed. What is viewed in "viewing nothing" is the Being itself, or “nothing”, in which there is nothing to view. According to Confucianism, the very existence of “nothing” manifests itself as life’s sentiments, especially the sentiment of love, which is the very root and source of life; whereas "viewing nothing" is, in essence, an understanding of life. Life’s sentiments or the understanding of life is "the thing itself" that comes before any being or any thing.

Keywords: to view, things, nothing, Confucianism, Phenomenology

 

    Western phenomenologists often talk about "looking" (“phenomenological way of looking”: “essential insight”), while Chinese, especially Confucians, like to discuss "viewing" (). The two of them are comparable with each other. In traditional Chinese expressions, ideas (观念) [1] are the results of viewing. However, viewing can be understood to have two different levels of meaning: one is "viewing things", the viewing with something to view; another is "viewing nothing", the viewing with nothing to view. What is viewed in "viewing things" are either physical beings – all existing things and phenomena -- or the metaphysical being  (for example, the "Dao as a thing"). In both cases, something/s is/are being viewed. What is viewed in "viewing nothing" is the Being itself, or “nothing”, in which there is nothing to view. According to Confucianism, the very existence of “nothing” manifests itself as life’s sentiments, especially the sentiment of love, which is the very root and source of life; therefore "viewing nothing" is, in essence, an understanding of life. Life’s sentiments or the understanding of life is "the thing itself" that comes before any being or any thing.

Part one: something to view – viewing things

Generally, guan (viewing) refers to viewing with something to view, that is, “viewing things” or “viewing” certain “beings.” In Chinese, beings are wu (things, objects) –countless relative objects are called wan wu 万物 (all things, thousands of objects); the only absolute being, which is the ultimate basis of all other beings, is called the “Dao as a thing” (Dao De Jing, Chapter 21). The Dao-as-a-thing is a metaphysical being, whereas wan wu are physical beings. (Yi Jing, The Great Appendix, Section I,) [2] When what is being viewed are physical beings, or countless things, it is physical viewing. When what is being viewed is metaphysical beings, or the One, the Absolute, it is metaphysical viewing. In both cases, the viewed is/are something/s, therefore we are “viewing things.”

1. Physical viewing

The term “physical viewing” implies that only physical beings are involved in this level of viewing – both the viewer and the viewed are physical beings, belonging to the same category of wan wu (all things). From the moment a human being acquires self-consciousness, he begins to exist as a physical being – one of the wan wu. And what he mostly encounters, of course, are all forms of physical beings. That is to say, when he, the viewer, is viewing other physical beings, he is a physical being himself. This is the typical subject-object structure in epistemology, which leads to human cognition and knowledge.

For example, quite different from the guans (viewing) mentioned in the hexagram text of Yi Jing, all the guans discussed in the Great Appendix to Yi Jing mean physical viewing: “The sages set forth the diagrams, viewed (guan) the emblems and appended explanations, so as to predict good or bad fortune, and to extrapolate change from the interactions between the strong and the weak.”( Yi Jing, The Great Appendix, Section I) How did the sages “set forth the diagrams and view the emblems?” The answer is, “looking up to view the brilliant phenomena of the heavens, and looking down to examine the definite arrangements of the earth.” (Ibid) A more detailed description is below:

In ancient times, when Baoxi ruled all under the Sky, looking up, he contemplated the brilliant forms in the sky, and looking down, he surveyed the patterns on the earth. He contemplated the ornamental appearances of birds and beasts and the different kinds of soil. Nearby, within himself, he found things for consideration, and at a distance, in things in general. Based on this, he devised the eight trigrams, to show the attributes of the spirit-like and intelligent (operations working secretly), and to classify the qualities of the myriads of things. (Yi Jing, The Great Appendix, Section II)

The “contemplation” and “survey” here is obviously under a typical subject-object structure: Baoxi as the ruler is the subject, and all those he views “the brilliant forms in the sky”, “the patterns on the earth”, “the ornamental appearances of birds and beasts”, “the different kinds of soil”, “within himself”, “things” are objective objects. The Chinese word for “objective” is ke guan 客观, and literally means “viewed as a guest.” When objects are viewed as guests, the viewer naturally must be the host. To view the guest from the host’s point of view is an empirical subject-object observation. British experimentalist Francis Bacon was a staunch advocate of this kind of physical viewing, and therefore was called “the father of modern experimental philosophy.”

Such an empirical observation is the ability to make a distinction. The character(guan) primarily means “to distinguish.” According to Shuo Wen Jie Zi 说文解字节 (Xu 1963), (guan) comes from another character (shen), which means to pore, or to distinguish. To distinguish is to indicate differences and to mark boundaries between things. While philosophy, on a metaphysical level, ponders “beings as a whole” (Heidegger 1999), science, on a physical level, ponders the particular domains of beings. The discussion of(guan) in the Great Appendix to Yi Jing is based on the idea that beings are divided into different domains: “affairs are arranged by their tendencies, and things are divided by their classes.” (Yi Jing, The Great Appendix, Section I) This shows that the viewing that occurs here is physical viewing, which is based on differentiating between abundant relative things.

Even at the very beginning, Dao De Jing talks about such physical viewing:

Nameless is the beginning of Sky and Earth, and named the mother of all things. Therefore, constantly lacking desire to view the subtleties (, miao), and in constant desire the boundaries (jiao). Out of the same origin come two with different names, both called occult (, xuan). When nothing else is more occult, we get to the gate of numerous subtleties.

People used to take “constantly lacking desire to view the subtleties” as the “viewing” of the metaphysical Dao, but it is not correct. The key point is: what is viewed here is zhong miao (numerous subtleties). Zhong (many), a character indicating the plural form in Chinese, shows that the viewed objects cannot be the One, not to mention Nothing, but a number of things. We can easily find similar usages in Dao De Jing, such as zhong ren众人 (masses), zhong fu众甫 ( greatnesses); all refer to various beings. That’s why Laozi said miao (subtlety) and jiao (limitation) are essentially the same thing – both physical beings. Jiao, or boundaries, obviously refer to the dividing lines between different relative beings. The two have the same origin of xuan (occult); Dao is nothing but xuan. “Constantly lacking desire to view the subtleties” means viewing subtleties through a lack of desire, which is – “to view things through Dao.” The viewed is not Dao, but things – “all things”, “numerous subtleties.” So when Laozi says, “to view the subtleties” and “to view the boundaries”, he is speaking of physical viewing.

Confucius also talks about physical viewing. For instance:

 “Father alive, to view his will; father died, to view his action.” (Xue Er, Analects) -- The master tells his disciples to view the will and behavior of their fathers who, of course, are physical beings.

 “Seeing his means (of getting things), viewing his motives and examining that in which he rests. How can a person conceal his character?” (Wei Zheng, Analects)  -- The morals of physical beings are being viewed here.

 “People err according to their own level. It is by viewing a person's mistakes that you can know his goodness.” Li Ren, Analects)  -- A person’s mistakes also belong to the category of physical beings.

 “Perhaps your talents are as excellent as the Duke of Chou. But if you are arrogant or stingy, those good qualities do not deserve viewing.” -- The talents of the Duke of Chou are, of course, physical beings.

 “One who is excellent has an upright character and loves justice. If you listen carefully to what people say, view their facial expressions and be careful to be humble to them.” -- Facial expressions are also physical beings.

Obviously, the “viewing” quoted above is about physical viewing; the viewed objects are certain physical beings or the wan wu (all things). Such physical viewing constitutes a premise that makes ethics and physical knowledge possible – because ethical orders and physical principles are the results of distinction; and distinction is the definition of the boundaries of physical beings.

However, we still have to pursue the ultimate basis of the numerous beings – the One or the Absolute. When we view this absolute “thing”, metaphysical viewing is occurring.

2. Metaphysical viewing

When we say metaphysical viewing, we mean that the viewed is not a physical thing or qi (instrument), but the metaphysical Dao, as described in Dao De Jing:

Without stepping out of the door, you will know all under the Sky; without peeping through the window, you will see the Tian Dao 天道 (the Dao of the Heaven). The farther you go, the less you know. Therefore, the sage is knowledgeable, yet not through traveling; intelligent not through seeing; accomplishing not through acting.

What is viewed, known and seen, is not a visible qi, but the invisible Dao. However, in Dao De Jing, the notion of Dao is talked about on three different levels:  (1) Physical Dao, that is, the Dao of a certain domain of beings, for example, the Dao for a ruler to rein his power, or the Dao for a person to stay healthy and live long, or the Dao to manipulate wars, etc. (2) Metaphysical Dao, that is, “the Dao as a thing” (Dao De Jing, Chapter XXI), which is not of the many relatively existing things, but the ultimate basis of them the only absolute being. (3) There is also the primordial Dao, that is, the Nothing. The “Tian Dao”, which is known “without stepping out of the door” and seen “without peeping through the window”, is the metaphysical Dao, which Laozi thus describes:

Dao as a thing, elusive and intangible as it is. Intangible and elusive though, therewithin is image; elusive and intangible, therewithin is some thing. So deep and dim, therewithin is essence; so real the essence is, therewithin is evidence. From the very beginning until now, its name never faded, so as to view all the things. How do I know the status of all the things? By this.

This Dao, within which there are “images” and “something”, is different from the primordial Dao, described elsewhere in Dao De Jing as “nothing.” Laozi called it the “Dao as a thing” because it is the only and absolute thing in opposition to the numerous relative beings. How can we know the state of all things? Laozi told us exactly by this Dao. In other words, this Dao is the ultimate being which serves as the foundation of all beings. When we view this Dao, metaphysical viewing is occurring.

Metaphysical viewing is different from physical viewing in that it is not empirical. The “Dao as a thing” is metaphysical, that is, formless and imageless, and any attempt to observe it would be in vain. Therefore, Laozi “saw” the Tian Dao not through empirical “looking”, but through a “phenomenological way of looking.” Husserl’s “phenomenological way of looking” is “essential insight.” It is not empirical observation. It is transcendental intuition, which does not abstract the essence from experience through induction, but immediately grasps the essence. However, unlike Husserl, Laozi does not try to grasp “pure consciousness” when he sees the “Tian Dao.” The “Tian Dao”, or the “Dao as a thing”, is the absolute being on which all relative beings are based. In metaphysical viewing, we see this absolute being.

When Shao Yong, a famous Confucian in the Song Dynasty, talked about “viewing things”, he meant metaphysical viewing. In his words, it was “retro-viewing” or “to view things through things”:

The sage is able to hold an equal and unified view of all things, because he is capable of retro-viewing. By “retro-viewing”, we mean he views things not through I; not to view things through I, he views things through things. (Inner Chapters, Guan Wu, Huangji Jingshi by Shao Yong)

“To view things through things” seems to be metaphysical viewing. In such a way, he abandoned the subject-object structure and ventured beyond the boundaries of epistemology and reached the horizon of ontology. He said:

We say “viewing things” because we do not view through the eyes; not viewing through the eyes, we view through the xin (heart); not viewing through the xin, we view through the li (principle). (Ibid)

To view things through xin and li – the heart and principles here, are, of course, metaphysical things, not the primordial Nothing. He went on to claim: “To view thousands of hearts through one heart; to view thousands of bodies through one body; to view thousands of things through one thing; to view thousands of generations through one generation.” (Ibid) The “thousands of” here refers to relative physical things, or the wan wu, while the “one” refers to the only absolute thing. In sum, he discusses viewing countless relative things from the only absolute thing. This is the typical metaphysical view.

Therefore, it must be noted that Shao Yong’s “viewing things through things” is different from what Laozi mentioned in a similar way: “To view a body through body; to view family through family; to view village through village; to view country through country; to view all-under-Sky through all-under-Sky.”( Dao De Jing, Chapter 54) Laozi’s “to view a thing through a thing” is in fact “the state of non-ego” of Wang Guowei:

There is a state of ego, and there is a state of non-ego. …In the state of ego, I view things through I, therefore both the things and the I is under the shadow of I. In the state of non-ego, I view things through things, therefore I am ignorant about which is I and which are the things. (Wang 1986, 1.03)

In such a state of being “ignorant about which is I and which are the things”, we have surpassed not only the epistemological structure of subject-object, but also the realm of ontology, and hence reached Nothing.

However, in such a state of Nothing, we still need to view; as there is nothing to be viewed, we are viewing nothing.

Part II: nothing to view – to view nothing

The viewing of nothing is primordial viewing.  We use “primordial” to refer to the Being itself before there were any beings. Confucians take life as Being itself. First, life manifests itself as life’s sentiments, especially that of ren(benevolence), or love (See Huang 2005a). Because sentiment is not a thing or a being, such sentiments of life should be regarded as the Being itself. In the primordial view, what is viewed is neither a metaphysical being nor a physical beings but the sentiment of love or benevolence. Confucians usually call it “the very root or source”, “the fresh fountainhead of the stream” – the source not only of physical beings, but also of metaphysical beings.

Both metaphysical beings and physical beings are beings, while the origin, as the Being itself, must be nothing. “While all things prosper, I would view their returning,” (Dao De Jing, Chapter 16) Laozi said, – not only returning to the metaphysical being – the Dao as a thing, but also “returning to nothing.”( Dao De Jing, Chapter 14) That is because “all things under the Sky are born from being, and being is born from not-being.” That is, “all the beings” are born from “pure being”, and “pure being” is born from “not-being.” [3] Therefore, as a member of all things, we not only have to return to a metaphysical being, but also to the original “not-being.” This is Laozi’s primordial view – the view on returning. In such a view on returning, he is indeed “viewing nothing”; because when everything returns to nothing, there is nothing to view.

1“Viewing nothing” in Yi Jing

This idea of “viewing nothing” is expressed in the hexagram text of Guan:

Guan (viewing): Guan (washing hands) but not jian (offering sacrifices), therein is sincerity grand.

Wang Bi, a commentator in the Wei Dynasty, thus annotated the above text: “In all the sights of an emperor’s majesty, nothing is more splendid than (the ritual held in) the royal ancestral temple; and in all the sights in the ancestral temple, nothing is more splendid than the rite of guan wan you 万有 (all beings) is just another way to express wan wu 万物 (all things). As for the following rite of jian, it is too simple and brief to be worth viewing. That is why the Yi Jing tells us to view ‘guan but not jian.” (Orthodox Implications of Zhou Yi, Guan) Wang Bi tells us that what is seen in this hexagram is the rites in the royal ancestral temple. However, there is a problem. According to Wang Bi, the reason why we should view guan instead of jian is that the former is splendid while the latter simple and brief. Such an explanation is not new if we check the works of Confucians from the Han dynasty. Li Dingzuo (Tang Dynasty) quotes Ma Rong (Han Dynasty): “The time (of guan ) is the peak moment in the sacrifice ritual. When the rite of praying for the gods to descend and offer sacrifices begins, the ritual becomes simple and plain, and is no longer worth viewing.”(Li 1991) This saying has since been adopted. However, such an explanation, that whether rites are worth viewing or not depending on their splendor or briefness, is not convincing. After all, rituals are not like a fun activity or admiring scenery. In fact, guan and jian are two sequential steps in the sacrifice ritual. Li Dingzuo quotes Ma Rong: “Guan means holding jue(an ancient wine vessel with 3 legs and a loop handle) to water the land, praying for the gods to descend.”(Ibid) Zhu Xi (Song Dynasty) challenged his predecessor and interpreted it as “washing hands before the sacrifice ritual.”(Zhu 1987) According to Ma’s explanation, the ritual already began when doing guan; but according to Zhu Xi, the ritual has yet to begin. Considering the structure of the character, Zhu’s opinion is preferable. According to Shuo Wen: “Guan, bathing hands, pertaining to the character-head  (resembling the image of two hands). Watering () hands () before a container () is the act that we call “washing hands” today, not “water the land,  praying for the gods to descend.” Washing and cleaning hands before the ritual starts has nothing to do with “splendid”; it is nothing more than preparing for jian (offering the sacrifice). As for jian, Kong Yingda said: “jian is the rite of displaying and offering the sacrifice after watering.”(Orthodox Implications of Zhou Yi, Guan) Zhu Xi makes it even briefer: “jian, to uphold the wine and food and to offer.”(Original Implication of Yi, Guan) This is the proper ritual, and there is no reason to regard it as “simple and brief” and not “splendid.”

If the above analysis is reasonable, why should we “view guan but not jian”? Could it be that hand-washing before the ritual deserves to be viewed more than the actual ritual? To explain this, we turn to Confucius. He said, “As for the ritual of di (a grand royal ritual), I am not willing to view the rites after guan . (Ba Yi, Analects)

Di is a ritual. Zhu Xi quoted Zhao Boxun’s explanation: “Di, a grand royal ritual of worship and offering sacrifices. Once a king established his ancestral temple, he would pay respect to the ancient di (the primal emperor) from whom his earliest ancestors came from. The primal emperor will be worshiped and offered sacrifices in the primordial ancestor’s temple, together with the primordial ancestor.”(Ba Yi, Collected Annotations of the Analects, Zhu 1985) It tells us that di is the worship ritual for both the primordial ancestors and the prime emperor. “Guan”, Zhu Xi said, refers to the process “in the beginning of the ritual, the worshiper waters the land with sacrificial wine, praying for the gods to descend.”(Ibid) His explanation here does not correspond to the definition he gives to guan. Here, he adopted an idea from He Yan’s Collected Explanations of Analects: “Guan, to water sacrificial wine over the land of the primordial ancestral temple in order to pray for the gods to descend.”(Ibid) In fact, the guan here should be taken as the same as the guanin the hexagram text of Guan in Yi Jing. The former, according to Shuo Wen, was originally the name of “a river that originates in Lu Jiang and Yu Lou and flows north and joins the Huai River.” However, here, the character is borrowed, that is, guanis a substitute of guan, meaning “bathing hands” (washing hands) instead of “holding the jue and watering the land.” Therefore, “the rites after guan” is nothing but “the rites after guan”; to be clear, it refers to the rite of jian. In the above quote of the Analects, Confucius’ meaning is exactly the same as the hexagram text of Guan– to view “guan but not jian.”

Why is Confucius “not willing to view the rites after guan”? In Collected Explanations of the Analects, He Yan wrote: “After guan, the respectable and the inferior are differentiated, and the ancestors are worshiped according to the proper sequence of generations. But the state of Lu worships Xi Gong poorly and disturbed the sequence of generations; therefore (Confucius) was not ‘willing to view.’”(Ba Yi, Annotations and Explanations of Analects) Zhu Xi quotes Zhao Boxun, and also regarded the worship of Lu as a violation of etiquette, although for a different reason: “Cheng Wang bestowed Lu with grand rituals of worship because of Zhou Gong’s great contribution. Lu was permitted to hold the ritual of di in the temple of Zhou Gong. Wen Wang was considered the prime emperor from whom the clan came, matched by Zhou Gong. But this violates etiquette.” (Ba Yi, Collected Annotations of Analects) However, such an explanation is not at all convincing. Let us see if Confucius was “not willing to view the rite after guan”, would he view guan, the preparation for the illegal rite? Whatever explanation we give for guan, may it be “washing hands” or “holding a jue and praying for gods to descend”, the reason that Confucius viewed guan instead of jian cannot be the illegality of the worship ritual of Lu. It does not seem reasonable. But Zhu Xi forced an explanation: “As Lu’s ritual is illegal, Confucius originally was not willing to view it. He sighed because he thought that Lu’s ritual had left the middle way of etiquette.”(Ba Yi, Collected Annotations of Analects) That is to say, originally Confucius was not even willing to view the guan. But, why did Confucius finally watch it? Evidently, the traditional explanation is not satisfactory. In fact, “I am not willing to view the rites after the guan” implies that the guan is what he “is willing to view.”

Why was Confucius willing to view the guan (, or), but not the jianthat came after it? It comes down to the essential difference between guan and jian. Let us go back to the hexagram text of guan in Yi: “ (guan) (er) (bu) (jian),有 (you) (fu) (yong) (ruo).” The combination you-fu always means “to be honest and sincere” in Zhou Yi. Kong Yingda (Tang Dynasty) explained: “ (fu), to be sincere.” “ (yong) is the appearance of solemnity and righteousness. (ruo) is a modal particle.” “It means, when one views the guan, he became honest and sincere, and solemn in appearance.”(Guan, Orthodoxy Implication of Zhou Yi) The interpretation of (yong) is not quite exact. According to Shuo Wen, “ (yong), big head.” From here grandness is derived. 颙若 (yong ruo) can be interpreted as “grandly”, “greatly” or “very much”, which, in the above quote, describes the degree of honesty and sincerity. Thus, 有孚颙若 (you fu yong ruo) means to be of great sincerity, or very sincere. Such sincerity is demonstrated in the ritual of di, showing sincerity to ancestors and di (in fact, in that belief that combines God and ancestor worship, di is also ancestor). Such sincerity is somewhat religious.  The hexagram text of guan “emphasizes that the most important thing in the ritual is not the richness of the offering, but the sincerity in one’s heart.” (Huang 1995, p.100) The hexagram text of ge in Yi Jing also similarly emphasized: “There must be sincerity before divination.”

As we can see, the above quote of Confucius implies that in di’s sacrifice ritual, there is sincerity in guan and none in jian, or at least not necessarily. Confucius paid attention not to the rich offering, but to the sincerity and honesty of those offering the sacrifice. This attitude corresponds to what Confucius said another time: “Lin Fang asked about the basis of li (: rites, etiquettes). The Master said: ‘What a great query! Li, better to be frugal than excessive; funeral, better to mourn than be orderly.’ ”(Ba Yi, Analects) “The basis of li” means the essence of li, referring to the essence of the ritual of sacrifice. Zhu Xi said: “frugality is to display the plain nature of the objects, and to mourn to show the sincerity of the heart.”(Ba Yi, Collected Annotations of Analects) Confucius meant to say that the offerings in jian are best frugal and not excessive, and the funeral ceremony is best held with full expressions of mourning than under apparent order. Confucius values feeling for the ancestors. We can find another example. Confucius said: “Failing to be generous in a high position, failing to be respectful in the performance of rituals, failing to be mournful in a funeral – how should I view such a man?”(Ba Yi, Analects)  If a funeral, however rich the offerings are, lack the true feeling of mourning, it does not deserve to be viewed.

That then brings us back to the very root and source of Confucianism: life’s sentiments.

We can now return to the essential meaning of guan (to view) in Hexagram guan. As discussed above, what is viewed here is the rite of washing hands instead of offering sacrifices. That is to say, we are viewing the sentiments expressed in the rite. The viewing of the sentiments is primordial viewing. All sentiments are matters of life. That is why the hexagram Guan also said, “view my life” and “view its life.” The viewing of sentiments is to watch life. The Being itself was apprehended by Chinese ancients as “surviving” and “being”, in another words, in a primordial situation – the co-existence of human and plants. Therefore, the Being itself was understood to be “living”, or to be clear, the life of plants – the character (to live), stems from the character-root which resembles  a grass, symbolizing the life of plants. Zhou Dunyi wrote in his poem, “the weeds before my window that I won’t allow to be removed”, because he felt that the existence of the weeds was “somehow similar to that of myself.”(Book IX, Zhou 1990) He realized that “the weeds” were in fact “a member of my family” which co-exists with me. They are not “things” that must be separated from human beings; on the contrary, they are living beings in the same primordial life. A dividing line between two realms of beings, say, human and weeds, does not exist. From here springs forth ideas such as “all people share my womb and all things my company” and “all people should be regarded equally.” When we view with such a non-discriminating attitude, primordial viewing is occurring.

But how can an invisible thing such as sentiment be “viewed”? The answer lies in what we call the primordial understanding of life. (Huang 2005b) Understanding life is not a problem of epistemology – of the so-called “perceptual knowledge” or “rational knowledge.” Apprehension is not knowledge. All cognitive activities take place under the subject-object structure, in which both the subject and the object are beings or things; but understanding life is only possible in the layer of “nothing”, or in the primordial context before there was any being. It is in this context that beings or things acquire the possibility to be. In this primordial viewing, we are looking, but not “observing” in an epistemological sense, not even “looking in a phenomenological way.” In Husserl’s “phenomenological way of looking”, pure transcendental consciousness is viewed, which Heidegger defined as the subjective being. (Heidegger 1999) But in primordial viewing, we understand life’s sentiments, hence life itself. In the rite of guan, when Confucius watched he who was making a sacrifice wash his hands, he was objectively looking under the subject-object structure. But, does the act of washing hands really deserve to be watched? In fact, washing hands is something Confucius “looked at but did not see.” What he really “looked at” is the feeling to ancestors, which, of course, is not a being, or a thing in any sense. In primordial viewing, nothing exists. We view, but nothing is viewed. Then, we are viewing nothing.

From physical viewing, we return to metaphysical viewing. And from metaphysical viewing, we again return to primordial viewing. Such a process is in fact the pursuit of an original state, which runs counter to the foundation-laying process of ideas[4], which is “the things themselves”:

Laying of foundations→

Not-being = Nothing

Being = Dao as a thing.

All things.

← Original State

Living sentiments

Metaphysical Being

Physical Beings

The process of foundation-laying is explained well in Laozi: “All things under the sky are born from being, and being is born from no-being” (Laozi, Chapter 40). As for the pursuit of the original state, it is first “all things prosper while I view their return”, then “returning to nothing.” This is the evolution of Chinese ideas: from the primordial idea on life’s sentiments to the ideas on metaphysical being, and then to the ideas on physical beings such as those of ethics, epistemology, etc.

In hexagram guan, six lines in sequence demonstrate a hierarchy of ideas which corresponds with the above process. They are about the evolution of ideas from the original state.

Prime SIX: Viewing as a child. No blame for xiao ren小人 ( a petty person, or a small person), but humiliation for jun zi君子 ( a gentleman, a superior man).

SIX to the second: Viewing in a peep. Furthering for the perseverance of a maid.

SIX to the third: To view my living forward or backward.

SIX to the fourth: To view the glory of the nation. Suitable to be the guest of the king..

NINE to the fifth: To view my living. No blame for jun zi. 

Top NINE: To view his living. No blame for jun zi.

The first and second lines are viewing at the same level. “Furthering for the perseverance of a maid” [5] shows that “viewing in a peep” is the viewing of a lass; then the “viewing of a child” must be the viewing of a lad. Therefore, xiao ren and jun zi are used here not in the usual sense, but  refer to a lad and a grown-up respectively; in Zhou Yi, sometimes they are also called xiao zi 小子 and zhang fu 丈夫. [6] The viewing of a lad and lass is somewhat close to  Feng Youlan’s State of Nature. (Inner States, Feng Youlan 1964) Such a state is, in essence, the untainted or naive sentiments of life, which allows neither subjective consciousness nor objective consciousness; it appears to be non-discriminating. As a matter of fact, the highest state we pursue in our lifetime is to return to the untainted sentiments of life, however, now, with an enlightened understanding. It is a non-discriminating wisdom.

The third and fourth lines are about political observations jun zi made as a grown-up. Obviously, they are physical views. “To view my living forward or backward” means “to observe my political future”; it is a kind of utilitarian consideration. “To view the glory of the nation” refers to political ethics, meaning “to observe the good or evil of policies.” This is something like Feng Youlan’s State of Utilitarianism and State of Morals. (Ibid) Although none of the six lines mention the state of metaphysical beings, we cannot doubt that it is metaphysics that laid the foundation for physics according to the idea of foundation-laying. (Huang, unpublished)

The fifth and sixth lines are about viewing at another level – through the subjective “to view my living” to the primordial “to view his living.” The subjective “to view my living” is something like Feng Youlan’s “State of Sky-earth” (Inner States, Feng 1964), as subjectivity is, in essence, the only being or the absolute thing of metaphysical being. Heidegger said, what is the subject that philosophy studies? … It is the subjectivity of the consciousness. The subject of philosophy as metaphysics is Being of the beings, which is the presence of beings in forms of substantiality and subjectivity. (Heidegger 1999, p.76) The primordial “to view his living” is primordial because the “his” here is not designated. For example, when commenting on the sentence “him I’ll kill” in Shang Shu, Cai Shen (Song Dynasty) wrote: “him, object undesignated.”(Jiu Gao, Cai 1985)  Also in Zuo Zhuan: “Yan Zi stood outside of the gate of Cui’s residence when the man was asking: ‘To die?’” (25th Year of Xiang Gong, Zuo Zhuan) “The man” here is also used in a similar way. According to Liu Qi: “The man is an alternative expression for ‘someone’, ‘somebody’.”(Liu 2003) This undesignated person is contained in the idea of “nothing.” The undesignated “to view his living” is the viewing of life itself.

2Viewing nothing in Shi Jing

The above discussion reminds us of when Confucius said: “poetry helps us to view.” Real poetry, as Wang Guowei said, leads us to a kingdom of non-ego, where we are “ignorant about which is I and which are the things.” In this sense, poetry is a typical pattern of “viewing with nothing to view.” Therefore, Confucius said:

Poetry helps us xing(to arouse our sentiments), guan(to view the situation of the nation), qun (to become sociable), yuan( to express our complaints). From it, you learn the immediate duty of serving your father and the remoter one of serving your jun (monarch, lord). From it, we become largely acquainted with the names of birds, beasts, and plants.( Collected Annotations of Analects, Yang Huo)

What Confucius said here has three aspects: “xing, guan, qun, and yuan” as the first; “serving father and jun” as the second; to “become largely acquainted with the names of birds, beasts, and plants” as the third. Obviously, the last aspect is related to knowledge, and the second is about ethics – “all the matters of leading a moral life are included in the Poetry; these are two that deserve mentioning.” (Collected Annotations of Analects, Yang Huo) But then what are “xing, guan, qun, and yuan” about? Zhu Xi treated them as ethical problems on a physical level and commented, “to touch the sentiment and arouse the will”, “to observe and find achievements and failures”, “to get along well with people but not follow the current blindly”, and “to express complaints but not burst into anger.” But his interpretation is no more than a repetition of the ethical problems of “serving father and jun.” According to Confucius’ thoughts, if “xing, guan, qun, and yuan” are not to be regarded as epistemological or ethical problems on a physical level, they must be either metaphysical or primordial matters. Obviously, they are not metaphysical problems because they do not appear to have a relationship with metaphysical beings such as the One or the Absolute. Therefore, “xing, guan, qun, and yuan” must be primordial matters of life’s sentiments.

Primordial matters are life’s sentiments. Evidently, “complaining” is one such sentiment. As we know, many pieces in Shi Jing are expressions of complaints. This complaining comes from love. Mencius mentioned that feeling of “from love to complaining” when talking about the Emperor Shun. He called it “admiring complaints”:

Wan Zhang asked, “Shun went to the field and cried to the vast sky and wept. What did he cry and weep for?” Mencius said, “Admiring complaints.” Wan Zhang said, “If his parents were fond of him, he should rejoice and not forgot them; if his parents disliked him, he should work without complaining. Was he complaining?” (Mencius) said, “A child has admiration for his father and mother. When he becomes conscious of the attractions of beauty, he will have admiration for a young lady. When he comes to have a wife and children, his admiration is for them. When he obtains office, his admiration is for his sovereign -- if he cannot get the regard of his sovereign, he burns within. But the man of great filial piety, will admire his parents until the end of his life.  In the great Shun, I see the case of one man, who at the age of fifty, still had admiration for his parents.” (Mencius 1980)

Zhao Qi said, “to admire, to have a longing for.” (Orthodox Implications of the Mencius, Part I, Wan Zhang) “Admiration” is the result of sentimental “longing”; both originate from “love.” When discussing the feeling of mourning in a funeral, the author of Query of Funeral, Li Ji, says “to bid farewell to the dead with admiration.” Zheng Xuan commented, “admiration is mentioned because the parent is in front.” (Li Ji, in Annotations and Explanations to the Thirteen Canons) When Shun “cried to the vast sky and wept”, he complained because he was incapable of convincing his parents to accept his love. From love, there is longing; and from admiration, there is complaint.

Qun (sociability) is a sentiment of life. Sociability, in this level, is “co-existence” – the primordial context of life – in which there is nothing to discriminate between “you for you and I for me” (Part I of Gongsun Chou, Mencius), not even between human and objects. When the ancients use the character qun, which originally meant herd, to describe gathered human beings, they were apprehensive about the primordial context of co-existence. Similarly, when they use sheng, the life of plants, to describe human life, they were also apprehensive about the primordial context of co-existence. It was only when this primordial context was objectified, being-ized and materialized that qun  came to be perceived as an ethical matter.

Therefore, “poetry helps to arouse sentiment” is also about life’s sentiments. Zhu Xi is not to blame for interpreting xing as “to touch the sentiment and arouse the will.” However, the question is what he meant by his interpretation. Zhu Xi defined xing: “xing means to introduce desired words by mentioning other matters in advance.” (Guan Ju, Zhou Nan, Zhu 1980) Since “other matters” went “in advance”, Zhu Xi inevitably fell into the metaphysical “nature-thing” or “subject-object” structure. Zhu Xi’s interpretation was based on such ideas: “Man is born still; which is a nature bestowed by the heaven. He moves in response to objects; which is the desire of nature.” (Collected Commentaries of Shi, Preface) Obviously, subjectivity comes before. But here comes the question – How is subjectivity possible? The establishment of subjectivity relies on xing, as Confucius said: “to rouse through poetry” (Tai Bo, the Analects). Confucius told us: it is from poetry that subjectivity is aroused and erects itself; because poetry is the utterance of a primordial life sentiment. Therefore, “poetry helps to arouse sentiment” means that poetry helps us establish subjectivity in an utterance of sentiment. Only in this context is Zhu Xi’s interpretation of xing meaningful.

From this we see, in “poetry helps to arouse sentiment and to view”, what is talked about is sentimental viewing. In sentimental viewing, the viewed is not the subjective itself, but the possibility of the subjective. Viewing the subjective is the “back-to-self” viewing, or “retro-thinking.” It is the self-examination of the subjectivity. It is still a matter of metaphysical being, with no access to the root and source. The viewing of that which is possibly subjective is “viewing sentiment”; it is in fact the primordial understanding of life itself. As for the beings or the things, nothing is viewed in the understanding of life; there is nothing except the “not-being.” However, as for life’s sentiments, is viewing something – life itself which is “nothing.” This is the arousing view of poetry.

Altogether, traditional Chinese “viewing”, especially that of Confucianism, implies that physical viewing is based on metaphysical viewing; and both are “viewing with something to view”, or “viewing things.” Metaphysical viewing originates from primordial viewing; it is “viewing with nothing to view”, or “viewing nothing.” In Confucianism, the viewing of nothing is in fact the viewing of sentiments – the understanding of life in life’s sentiments.

References

Cai Shen (1985). Collected Commentaries of Shang Shu, in The Four Books and the Five Canons, Vol. I, Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju

Dao De Jing (1980), version of Wang Bi, in A Proofreading and Explanation to the Collected Works of Wang Bi, compiled by Lou Yulie, Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju

Feng Youlan (1964). A Newly Rediscovery of Human, Shanghai: Shanghai Commercial Press,

Heidegger M. (1999). The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking, in What Called for Thinking, Chinese edition, trans. Chen Xiaowen and Sun Zhouxing, Beijing: Commercial Press

Huang Yushun (unpublished). To Lay a Foundation for Sciences – A Phenomenological Research on Sciences of Ancient China, online at confuchina.com: http://www.confuchina.com/04%20zhishilun/kexuedianji.htm

Huang Yushun (2005a). An Introductory to Living Confucianism, in Yuan Dao, Vol. 10, Peking University Press

Huang Yushun (2005b). From Western Philosophy to Living Confuciansim – A Speech in Humanity College, Tsinghua University”, Journal of Beijing Youth Political College, Vol. I

Huang Yushun (1995). A Research of the Ancient Odes in Yi Jing, Chengdu: Bashu Shushe

Mencius (1980). Annotations and Explanations to the Thirteen Canons, Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju

Li Dingzuo (1980). Collected Explanations of Zhou Yi, rearranged by Chen Deshu, Chengdu: Bashu Shushe

Liu Qi (2003). A Preliminary Discrimination of Particles, qtd. in Gu Xun Hui Zuan, ed. by Zong Bangfu, Beijing: Commercial Press

Wang Guowei (1986). Renjian Cihua人间词话, proofread by Teng Xianhui, Jinan: Qilu Press

Xu Shen (1963). Shuo Wen Jie Zi 说文解字, Version of Senior Xu, Bejing: Zhonghua Shuju

Zhou Dunyi (1990). Collected Works of Zhou Dunyi, Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju

Zhu Xi (1985). Collected Annotations and Explanations to the Four Books, in The Four Books and the Five Canons, Vol. I,  Beijing: Zhongguo Shudian

Zhu Xi (1980). Collected Commentaries of  Shi Jing, Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe

Zhu Xi (1987). Original Implications of Zhou Yi, Shanghai: Shanghai Guji Chubanshe

Zuo Zhuan, Annotations and Explanations to the Thirteen Canons (1980), Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju

 


[1] In Chinese, the notion of guan nian is much broader than the notion of “idea” in Western philosophy and phenomenology; it refers to all consciousness that is a result of viewing.

Translated by Liu Huawei from Sichuan Daxue Xuebao四川大学学报 (Journal of Sichuan University), Philosophy and Social Sciences Edition, 2006 (4) 67-74

Huang Yushun

Philosophy Deptment, Sichuan University, Chengdu 610064, China

[2] In Section I of the Great Appendix of Zhou Yi, What is metaphysical is called Dao; and what is physical is called qi. Qi, which usually refers to man-made objects, covers all things here.

[3] Pure being, a concept borrowed from Hegel, is the focus of his metaphysics, which is equivalent to Laozi’s concept of you (being). However, Hegel’s “pure being is not-being” is quite different from Laozi’s “being is born from not-being”. According to Hegel, because pure is the absolute idea to be unfolded, it is not specified. And as a highest category and the most immense concept, it is beyond any definition, therefore it is called “not-being”. Nevertheless, pure being is still a metaphysical being. As for Laozi’s wu (not-being), it is the Being itself. Wan you 万有 (all beings) is just another way to express wan wu 万物 (all things).

[4] “Foundation-laying” is a phenomenological concept that shows the relationship between two ideas: If idea A comes before idea B, then A is the idea that lays the foundation for B.

[5] The character(woman, lady, maid) in ancient Zhou Yi classics always refer to an unmarried lady.

[6] Jun zi in Zhou Yi classics  usually refer to a nobleman. When he grows up, he will be a governor of a certain rank.

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