Signs of the End, according to the Muslims

A recent discussion on Gornahoor, which was scrubbed from the site’s comments section, makes this quite relevant:

SAHIH BUKHARI, Volume 9, Book 88, Number 237. Narrated by Abu Huraira.

The traditions of Bukhari are considered the most authentic hadith and were compiled in the 9th century.

Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established

[Signs of the Hour]
(1) till two big groups fight each other whereupon there will be a great number of casualties on both sides and they will be following one and the same religious doctrine,
(2) till about thirty Dajjals (liars) appear, and each one of them will claim that he is Allah’s Apostle,
(3) till the religious knowledge is taken away (by the death of Religious scholars)
(4) earthquakes will increase in number
(5) time will pass quickly,
(6) afflictions will appear,
(7) Al-Harj, (i.e., killing) will increase,
(8) till wealth will be in abundance… so abundant that a wealthy person will worry lest nobody should accept his Zakat, and whenever he will present it to someone, that person (to whom it will be offered) will say, ‘I am not in need of it’,
(9) till the people compete with one another in constructing high buildings,
(10) till a man when passing by a grave of someone will say, ‘Would that I were in his place!’
(11) and till the sun rises from the West. So when the sun will rise and the people will see it (rising from the West) they will all believe (embrace Islam) but that will be the time when: (As Allah said,) ‘No good will it do to a soul to believe then, if it believed not before, nor earned good (by deeds of righteousness) through its Faith.’ (6.158)

[Swiftness of the Hour]
(12) And the Hour will be established while two men are spreading a garment in front of them but they will not be able to sell it, nor fold it up;
(13) and the Hour will be established when a man has milked his she-camel and has taken away the milk but he will not be able to drink it;
(14) and the Hour will be established before a man repairing a tank (for his livestock) is able to water (his animals) in it;
(16) and the Hour will be established when a person has raised a morsel (of food) to his mouth but will not be able to eat it.”

Posted: July 11th, 2013 | Signs of the Times | 1 Comment »


The Tale of His Majesty’s Capital

In the sixth ward of Asakusa’s theater district, there is a little storefront where the crowds never thin. It’s not an aquarium, nor is it a sideshow. It is, of course, the “haunted house”. Long-necked hags, knife-handed beasts, mermaids, and snake-women beckon spectators from the signboards.

Of course, we can’t forget the Ryōunkaku, the nation’s first skyscraper. Ascend to the twelfth story of that great tower, and all the splendor of His Majesty the Meiji Emperor’s Imperial Capital stretches out before your eyes. To speak of the fruits of civilization and development, we must be reminded of that twelve-story “Ele-Vator”. Thanks to the power of this device all of us may ascend to the very top.

But today, the curtains have been raised on one program that will catch the eyes of all Asakusa. The title: “The Exorcism of Rashōmon!”

The rabble assembling below the Ryōunkaku, the women of ignoble trades, the honky-tonk(?) Salvation Army band trying to save their souls, maids and apprentices with a half-day’s freedom, clerks of the big storefronts, everyone, everyone lines up for the peep-hole show.

Right in front of the doorman, an unasked-for barker drums up the crowd in a high-pitched voice. From inside the room we hear an accompaniment of well-kept bells ringing, twinkle, twinkle

Step right up, step right up, His Majesty’s Realm is full of civilization and development, and our peep-hole show is like never before!

Step right up, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and feast your eyes upon the Oni of Rashōmon! We’ve got an Oni! The Oni is here!

Observe, if you will, within the peep-hole, the arm of the oni itself. Shock as you watch it claw towards heaven, writhing in agony!

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an educational experience, a once-in-a-lifetime experience you can tell your grandchildren about, the arm of a living oni, something you’ll never see again, so have a look today!

Before you’ve even time to be surprised, look again within the peep-hole, and there she is, the snake-woman. Observe this sorry girl, born in the northern wilderness, where her woodsman father one day struck the trunk of a viper with his hoe. His children were punished by the viper’s curse, and this is the sad result!

Eighteen years of age this year, no legs, her trunk all wrapped up. Hanako’s her name, Hana-chan to her friends! Ten cents an adult, five cents a child. Half price for one eye, but women with child pay double!

Step right up, step right up. It’s an Oni, an Oni, the Oni is here! In the midst of civilized, developed, Tokyo, it’s a real, live Oni.

Look while you still can. It’s an Oni! The Oni is here!

It’s an Oni!

It’s an Oni!

Heeere’s the Oni!

The people of Tokyo, being invited by the Oni of Rashōmon, were taken up by the eerie sights and sounds of the little storefront. Oni, long-necked hags, snake-women, all the monsters of the pre-civilized past had come together in Asakusa. But these monsters were pathetic, captured creatures. None of them would ever take a single step outside the confines of the little storefront.

So, the safe, content people could get hooked on the spectacle of the monsters. They scowled at the snake-women and mermaids. But at the same time, none of them knew that one quite uncaptured, raging, and real Oni had begun swaggering its way towards His Majesty’s Capital Tokyo.

So it was, that in the 40th year of Emperor Meiji, that oni was revealing the famous 2000-year grudge of the oni as, unaided, he slipped into the Emperor’s capital…

Posted: June 29th, 2013 | Translations | 3 Comments »


Academic institutionalization I

One of the most complex maneuvers of modernity is the reduction of original thought and creativity to a quantifiable labor product. An apprentice in a Renaissance studio, placed in a time machine and dropped in a 21st century “art school“, would be perplexed about how this could have happened at all.

The method is subtle, and sinister: institutionalization. In an ex-convict, it means inability to adapt to life outside the prison. In an ex-humanities student, it means an inability to adapt to the world outside the academic bubble, and a confusion of one’s own life goals with the goals of the academy itself. In both, a sufferer finds little society and few peers outside the institution. This year I will return to graduate school, because I was asked to do so, but at the very grave risk of making my institutionalization more severe. For expatriate English teachers such as myself, the rate of recidivism is quite high.

Institutionalization has conquered every branch of the art and humanities. About a year ago, I was surprised to learn that one can now get not only a postgraduate degree called “MM”, Master of Music, but something called a “DMA”, Doctorate of Musical Arts, in their favored instrument, e.g. trombone. That is to say, if it is not enough to study the theory of trombones for four years before you start a professional career, you can extend your trombone studies for several more years, or even indefinitely, for roughly $200,000 in non-cancelable loans. The MM was invented around 1890, and the DMA was invented in 1955. Only recently have people begun to notice that both show marks of a scam.

A childhood friend of mine on Facebook is a part-time art school postgrad. Despite the fact that she works half the time, her highest goal in life is getting that continued nod of appreciation from the academy. She recently posted this message to her wall: “I feel so uplifted by passing the review. I feel like I finally did something right and my life commitment to art hasn’t been a total waste.” This is, to me, a perfectly legitimate and honest feeling. But it’s also a symptom of institutionalization that may become lifelong.

Mencius Moldbug wrote about this phenomenon in poetry. Poetry, the most anti-social and solitary art of them all, is now an institutional product, by which one might aspire to tenure by writing a good quantity of poems and soliciting reviews from “established” academic poets (of all the absurdities). I disagree with Moldbug about how this happened, but he does link to a good essay on the subject at the Mises Institute, which should highlight how completely the academy has transformed. This is some guy named Albert Jay Nock, speaking in 1931:

Traditionally, the university was an association of scholars, grouped in four faculties: Literature, Law, Theology, and Medicine. When I say an association of scholars, I mean that it was not quite precisely what we understand by a teaching institution. The interest of the students was not the first interest of the institution. Putting it roughly, the scholars were busy about their own affairs, but because the Great Tradition had to be carried on from generation to generation, they allowed certain youngsters to hang about and pick up what they could; they lectured every now and then, and otherwise gave the students a lift when and as they thought fit.

The point is that the whole burden of education lay on the student, not on the institution or on the individual scholar. Traditionally, also, the undergraduate college put the whole burden of education on the student. The curriculum was fixed, he might take it or leave it; but if he wished to proceed to a bachelor of arts, he had to complete it satisfactorily. Moreover, he had to complete it pretty well on his own; there was no pressure of any kind upon an instructor to get him through it, or to assume any responsibility whatever for his progress, or to supply any adventitious interest in his pursuits. The instructor usually did make himself reasonably helpful, especially in the case of those whom he regarded as promising, but it was no part of the institution’s intention or purpose that he should transfer any of the actual burden of education from the student’s shoulders to his own, or contribute anything from his own fund of interest in his subject by way of making up for any deficiency of interest on the part of the student. I ask you, with your permission, to remark this point particularly.

[... The topic turns to today's colleges.] At Columbia College (which is an undergraduate college controlled by Columbia University) a student may complete the requirements for a bachelor’s degree by including in his course of study such matters as the principles of advertising; the writing of advertising copy; advertising layouts; advertising research; practical poultry raising; business English; elementary stenography; newspaper practice; reporting and copy editing; feature writing; book reviewing; wrestling and self-defence. By availing himself of some sort of traffic arrangement with a sister institution belonging to Columbia, he may also count as leading to a degree, courses in the fundamental processes of cookery; fundamental problems in clothing; clothing decoration; family meals; food etiquette and hospitality; principles of home laundering; social life of the home; gymnastics and dancing for men, including practice in clog dancing; instruction, elementary or advanced, in school orchestras and bands.

Without the least wish to be flippant, one cannot help remarking points of resemblance here between the newest type of institutional organization and the newest type of drugstore.

And this was before the late 1960s nuked the liberal arts beyond recognition. How many liberal arts students today would even know what Nock is talking about when he mentions the “fixed curriculum”? A conservative group recently confused the hell out of an entire liberal arts college by simply referencing that concept. The idea of a standard humanities curriculum is simply vanished from the shrinking liberal arts intellect, despite its continued use in the hard sciences, which are now considered to be of a different essential quality than the humanities.

In Nock’s early modern academy, success was based on quality of thought, regardless of whether it was performed inside or outside a specific kind of building. (Think Hegel, and the Young Hegelians who debated him and each other. Unthinkable today.) What existed then, that does not exist anymore? Well, only the reason you went to college in the first place: self-betterment.

Today, the humanities do not aim to complete a well-rounded education, but to point learners towards a type of specialization and critical thought which involves them in the academy itself, directing students to publish their original research and thoughts within the institutional system. This self-obsession has a large number of consequences, most notably tricking people who merely wanted an education into pursuing a professorship they usually do not need and cannot achieve.

Now, I am not going to try to make an argument about the quality of research produced by this system, because that would be another essay entirely. My point is that maybe the people who are going into this shouldn’t be attempting to “produce research” at all. I am not an activist — far from it — but there is one thing I will say in their favor: someone who wants to “change the world” and is reduced over the course of years to writing about it has been duped, and anyone who sees through this smokescreen should be applauded. Even in 1916, many academics recognized that their life energy was being redirected into something slightly silly:

Thirty years ago I went to Harvard University to study the antennae of ‘palaeozoic cockroaches’ . . . I knew there were more palaeozoic cockroaches in Harvard than in any other institution. I divided my time between regular courses and the antennae of palaeozoic cockroaches. At the end of the year I went with my manuscript, quite a bundle of it, dealing with the antennae to the Professor of Cockroaches. I wanted it considered toward the requirements for the doctorate. I was told that Harvard University was not interested in the antennae, that it was interested only in the thorax . . . The Professor would not even look at my manuscript. The manuscript covered really only the first two joints of the antennae of palaeozoic cockroaches. It was afterward published, as the first of a series of occasional volumes by the California Academy of Sciences, and I believe is still the Authority . . .

In 1940, 70% of Harvard faculty were unsure what criteria were used to judge their worthiness for promotions and tenure, and most of them viewed this as a bad thing — contra Moldbug, by the 1940s the academics had already become completely institutionalized, and their institution had devolved into something less than a Socratic symposium. Today, we can happily (?) say that the criteria have become much more clear. Contribution to the interests of the institution, both scholarly and economic, the ability to produce continued quantities of research that do justice to the institution’s intellectual reputation, and keeping one’s nose out of trouble are among the ideological principles most valued by the postmodern academy.

To be continued.

Posted: June 24th, 2013 | Signs of the Times | No Comments »


Japan reporting, take III

Here’s another example of strange Japan reporting that is plopped into American newspapers every day. I have a suspicion that the American media has similarly rubbish standards for reporting on other “faraway” countries like Germany, but I know Japan, so let’s peer inside a Japan story.

Social-network gaffes plague Japanese politicians

When I open up a Japanese newspaper I am always happy to be treated to a broad span of news, which besides usual entertainment and sports, might include complex stuff like labor union negotiations, proposed law revisions, international affairs, etc. etc. The only American-produced mainstream source which I am aware of for this kind of stuff is the Wall Street Journal‘s excellent Japan Real Time blog. In today’s posts alone, the WSJ gives us both amusing sidebars, like “ McDonald’s Premium Burgers an Abenomics Indicator? “, and good indications of what’s going on in the country, like “Constitution Talk-Fest Draws a Crowd“. The coverage is brief but decent and I imagine one story every day could be chosen to run in a national print newspaper.

I have a Google News feed that gives me all the Japan-related stories in English. The WSJ stories appear to be limited to their blog and are not reprinted in any newspapers. Instead, newspapers across the country print tosh like the AP story linked above, a collection of recent gaffes made by random high and low officials in Japan (not even part of a single group, just completely unrelated people), which can not really be said to inform the reader about what is going on in the country.

Okay, whatever, it’s a bad story. But it’s bad in a really strange way, that as far as I can tell is part of an extremely consistent pattern with American reporting on Japan.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: June 19th, 2013 | Japan | No Comments »


The Beauty of Unturned Stones

Natsume Soseki was once an English literature teacher, and a student attempted to render the phrase “I love you” into Japanese.

The scene: a starry, moonlit, romantic night, the man turns to his lover and says, “I love you”. The student plopped the clunky corresponding words, “as-for-me-I love you”, into the translated document.

“No no no,” said Soseki. “You must write this the way a Japanese author would write it: ‘The moon is beautiful tonight.‘”

Gao_Qipei_-_Bamboo,_Plum_Blossoms_and_Moon_-_Walters_35298E

Here’s an excerpt from an essay by Ryōtarō Shiba, author of Clouds Above the Hill, on this subject.

I’m a big fan of the sayings of Confucius called the Analects. But what would an American think if you had him read this book?

In a book I read a long time ago, someone offered an American scholar a copy of the Analects, and this is what he said:

“It’s like the talk of an Indian chief!”

When I read that book I belted out a deep laugh. This encapsulates the difference between East and West perfectly.

Let’s translate the famous first line from that first paragraph of the Analects as if an Indian chief were saying it.

“You must learn, children, and review what you have read. That is fun, see.”

Suddenly, in the next line, a different topic entirely: “Friends — those are good. Especially, when a friend is coming to visit you from far away. There is nothing as good as that.”

And then another: “Some people get angry when the world fails to acknowledge them. That is no good. Unemotional and calm under pressure — that is what we call character. Got it?”

In the East, the Analects are like a sacred book. This book was mandatory reading in China from the early centuries B.C.E., and when it came to Japan through Korea in the 5th and 6th centuries, it was treasured.

Here we see none of the logic of Aristotle, and none of the piercing rhetoric of the modern West. To put it bluntly, it’s like a a bunch of anecdotes about an old man, and it’s full of unclear sayings, leaps of logic, and blank spaces. The reader has to figure it out for himself, thinking, “Ah, that’s what he’s talking about, right?”

But you can’t figure it out without guessing and filling in the blanks. The Analects is not carefully argued logic but a collection of brief and broken phrases. In every verse, you can only determine 50% of the meaning from what’s actually written there. The other 50% must be figured out by the reader himself. In other words, there is no reading without guessing.

I don’t know whether this is related to the Analects or not, but Japan is full of these brief and broken phrases, not only in reading ancient texts but also in everyday conversation. You don’t rigorously explain everything you’re thinking to the person you talk with, but have them read your intentions, and you read theirs as well.

Japanese people don’t like to argue. Even in the courtroom, laying out cold, precise logic to make your conversation partner fall to his feet and beg for forgiveness invites them to form a grudge, so it can only cause trouble later. So when we negotiate, we speak in brief and broken phrases like an Indian, and add a quiet little smile for breathing room. Someone who can do this well in Japan is said to have character or even worth, but a longtime foreign correspondent once warned me drunkenly over beer, “if you pulled that in America, they’d call you an idiot!”

Fair enough: in Japan, if you attempted to demonstrate the strength of your opinion using endless layers of logic, you’d be the idiot! The listener already understands what you’re trying to prove.

From Amerika Sobyou, 1986

Posted: June 9th, 2013 | Confucius | No Comments »


A whale of a tale

Ahoy, me hearties! Are ye ready for a sail on the S.S. New York Times? Come with me through the colorful Sea of Invented Trend Stories, avoiding the Rocks of Outright Fabrication by a treacherous journey through the Straits of Distortion!

Surely you can’t have forgotten our last encounter with New York Times Japan reporting. Well, here’s a little flashback to 2002, when they declared, “Yuk! No More Stomach for Whales“.

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan, May 24 — High on a bluff in a city park here stands the Whale Museum, a whimsical creation where children once clambered up white-painted steps into the tail of a concrete blue whale, passed historical exhibits, then peered through a Moby Dick-sized mouth at a port once busy with ships returning with whale hauls from Antarctica.

But the museum is now padlocked. The company that donated the museum in 1958, a year when whaling supplied one-third of the meat consumed in Japan, has changed hands. The new owner did not want to finance a project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals.

Okay, now before you read what actually happened, look over those two paragraphs. What common sense conclusions can you make? Was there a museum devoted to whaling in Shimonoseki? Is there still such a museum? Did the owner change his mind about his support for whaling?

Here’s what actually happened in Shimonoseki, which the Times never saw fit to report on. Spoilers ahead!

  1. The structure being referred to was not a “Whale Museum”. It was an aquarium! Specifically, the shuttered institution was called the Shimonoseki City Aquarium下関市立水族館. The popular nickname for one of the buildings at the aquarium was the “Whale Building”くじら館, because it was shaped like a whale — duh.
  2. The donation occurred in 1956, not 1958. The “company that donated the museum”, that is, the local business that donated a whale-shaped building housing an emperor penguin exhibit to a city aquarium, was a seafood operation called Maruha Nichiro Seafoods, Inc. At the time it had several different fishery and whaling businesses going, but a giant salmon probably would not have been a very exciting addition to the aquarium.
  3. The aquarium is not “a project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals.” It is the Shimonoseki City Aquarium. I regret to inform the New York Times that whales are too large for aquariums.
  4. The aquarium is city property and has nothing to do with Maruha which since 1956 has relocated to Tokyo and no longer has an office in Shimonoseki. Note the very careful wording of these three sentences: “The museum is now padlocked. The company … has changed hands. The new owner…” They strongly imply that the new owner of the company has control over whether the aquarium is open or closed, when in fact, it is a public aquarium in Shimonoseki that has nothing to do with a private business in Tokyo.
  5. Maruha turned over its whaling operations to the Institute of Cetacean Research following international law on the matter, but the company was still canning whale meat when the story was written in 2002, so its “owner” could hardly be opposed to whaling. I am guessing, given the deceptive way the sentence is constructed, is that he actually “did not want to finance” a public aquarium in his corporation’s former headquarters hundreds of kilometers away from his office, which is far from obvious from the wording given.
  6. All that deception builds up to this revelation, which reflects horribly on the heartlessness of the journalist who fabricated this story: The aquarium is not “padlocked” because nobody wants to fund it anymore. It was destroyed by a typhoon in 1999.
  7. The article implies that the aquarium does not exist anymore. Actually, in 2001 the exhibits were moved to the Shimonoseki City Shimonoseki Aquarium, which is also shaped like a whale.

In summary, here are those same two paragraphs, annotated.

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan, May 24 — High on a bluff in a city park here stands the remains of the Whale Building of what was once the city aquarium, a type of structure which a lunatic might call a Museum. This building, which housed one of the exhibits of the aquarium, was a whimsical creation where children once clambered up white-painted steps into the tail of a concrete blue whale, passed historical exhibits, then peered through a Moby Dick-sized mouth at a port once busy with ships returning with whale hauls from Antarctica.

But as the result of a non-political, freak disaster which caused animals to die and which anyone with a soul would call unfortunate, the ruin of the former aquarium which only a moron could confuse for a museum is now padlocked not due to any lack of interest from the local public, but owing to the unwanted patronage of a typhoon which tore it up; this information need not grace the ears of our readers. Thankfully a new aquarium also shaped like a whale has opened in its place; but we see no need to tell you this, either. Rather, we would like to share, although it is completely unrelated and irrelevant, that the company that donated the building shaped like a whale to the former aquarium which we continue to refer to as a museum in 1956, a year some have been known to confuse with 1958, a year when whaling supplied one-third of the meat consumed in Japan, has changed hands and locations, although it continues to process whale meat. Wasn’t that enlightening? The new owner lives in Tokyo, so he did not want to donate to, or “finance“, the Shimonoseki city aquarium, understandably. But this is unrelated to whaling, and he had no control over the typhoon, nor did his company ever have control over the opening hours of either of the aquariums, which we will happily conflate into one and the same “Whale Museum”. We will also happily slander both institutions, which have educated children about the city’s most important industry for over 60 years, as a single project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals and nothing else, although such an inaccurate characterization of two aquariums was clearly irrelevant to the “owner” of the Tokyo company, since his company continued to process, can, and sell whale meat to customers across the country as of press time.

What did you think, everyone? Did the New York Times accurately report the tragedy of a beloved city aquarium destroyed by a typhoon?

Are you getting your news about Japan through the New York Times? Well, you should stop doing that!

Posted: May 27th, 2013 | Japan, Res pueriles | No Comments »


Wang Yangming on Gornahoor

I have published an essay about the Confucian scholar Wang Yangming on Gornahoor.net. Anyone will be able to enjoy this exposition of Traditional doctrine. Below is an appendix to that post.

Yōmeigaku, the study of Yangming’s teachings in Japan, was especially prominent during the period of modernization. During the Russo-Japanese War, Emperor Meiji did a perfect imitation of Evola’s anecdote:

During the Russo-Japanese War, the emperor never felt impelled to offer advice on the conduct of the war, and he rarely revealed his emotions, even when told of Japanese victories. As soon as he learned of the fall of Port Arthur, the vice chief of the general staff, Nagaoka Gaishi, rushed to the palace to inform the emperor. … Nagaoke, too overcome by joy to even wait for the emperor to be seated, declared that serving as the messenger of glorious news was the greatest blessing of his life. Having blurted out these words, he started to make his report. He looked up at the emperor’s face. It was calm and self-possessed, exactly as it always was, not revealing a trace of emotion. During the fifteen or sixteen minutes while Nagaoka described the victory, the emperor nodded almost imperceptibly a few times … Nagaoka was deeply disappointed. [Donald Keene, Meiji and His World, 619]

During that war, the Admiral of the Japanese Navy is known to have carried a stamp with him that read, “A life dedicated to following the example of Yōmei”.

Yōmeigaku was shoved aside after 1945 to make way for foreign ideologies, but it captured the interest of Yukio Mishima. Just before his failed coup d’état, he wrote an article on “Yōmeigaku as a Revolutionary Philosophy”. The newspapers of 1972 were written by young, postwar-educated reporters who had no idea of even the most basic tenets of Yōmeigaku, but that didn’t stop them from blaming the unfamiliar old tradition for driving Mishima to suicidal heroism, and if you Google any of these terms today you will find all sorts of baseless slanders about the philosophy online. This is a shame, because both Japan and the world have much to learn from Wang Yangming

Posted: May 13th, 2013 | Confucius, Kokoro | No Comments »


Foreign shrinekeeper in Shibuya

Green Shinto reports that a European is now a shrinekeeper at a major shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo. This position required top-level appointment.

Unlike Green Shinto, I don’t consider this a “breakthrough” from the Japanese side. Shintoists have theorized about shrines for other nations since the 19th century. Although there was strong opposition from the populace to letting foreigners enter Japan at all, shrinekeepers have never moved to stop anyone from visiting shrines. On the contrary, shrines are considered so nonsectarian that there was no objection to exporting shrine practices to Hawaii, Brazil, Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria. Recently a shrine was built in Washington with foreigners as its specific mission.

It is certainly a “breakthrough” on the side of the gentleman who had to learn all the norito, though. Good work, Rev. Wiltschko!

Posted: May 4th, 2013 | Kokoro | No Comments »


Kure Tomofusa on nepotism and filiality

The following is a translation from The Analects for the Modern Man (2006) by Kure Tomofusa.

The Magistrate of Shou said to Confucius, “There is a very honest person in our village. When his father stole sheep, he prosecuted his own father.” Confucius said, “In our village, honesty is different from yours. Father defends his children and Children defend their father. Here you may find true honesty.” [Analects 13.18]

I’d like to use this commentary to think about Confucianism’s strong point, filial piety.

When most people think of Confucianism, they reflexively think of filial piety, moreover a stiffly imposed filial piety. In Legalism, to be sure, filial piety is symbolized by bad customs like the Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars. But, recently, filial piety has received notice as a way of thinking to overcome the limits and pathologies of Western individualism. This is the treatment of filial piety as an assimilation of oneself with the whole, of filial piety as symbolizing the continuity of life. In an age where it has become necessary to consider the standpoint of the whole human race, since it is difficult to create a principle for conceiving of humanity from an individualist perspective, this is only natural. We must recognize the absurd spectacle of Western rationalism or individualism being unable to judge the relationship between parent and child.

Parents cannot choose their children, nor can children choose their parents. For that reason, love and hatred are tangled together. The undertaking of that entangled love and hatred– is that not what we call filial piety?

This view is not so far-fetched. When the Analects speak of filial piety, more often than not they are speaking specifically of this social system. Here is an example from the first book:

The Teacher said, “While a man’s father lives, we should evaluate his character by his home life and aspirations. After one’s father dies, we should evaluate his character by his public life and deeds. Three years after his father’s death [when the period of mourning has ended], if his conduct is still in line with his father’s, he can be called a dutiful son.” [Analects 1.11]

This is clearly regarding a social system. The “way of the father” which the son is meant to imitate is furthermore that of the management of a fiefdom, the selection of faithful stewards, and statesmanship. Don’t be tempted to confuse this “way of the father” with knowing when to flip the burgers on the barbecue; such erroneous readings are on the rise these days.

Filial piety is part of this system, and it took form naturally preceding Confucius, as Pre-Confucianism. Taking this as the soil, Confucius was the one who consciously gave it meaning. This meaning-giving could rather be said to give readings to unclear parts of filial piety. The above passage is such; let’s translate it.

The Magistrate of Shou put a question to Confucius. Shou was a province in China, and this magistrate was known for being a wise man, but a haughty one. [Rest of translation omitted; it's as above.]

Parents could not be expected to rejoice in their child’s crime, nor could a child rejoice in his parent’s crime. With all that weeping and lamentation, trying to protect their kin by concealing the crime is only natural for humans. Confucius stressed people over laws. More important than good government is a virtuous people. This insistence in Confucian government, and the nepotism it generated, was the source of social stagnation. The importance of kinship and the restraints of nepotism warded off social progress. While we must remember that fact, even more than that, we must take note how a curiously strong insistence on the objective character of law arose in 20th century America. Believing that their own troubles were caused by the bad education they received from their parents, some American children have even sued their parents and sought restitution.

Li, Confucius’ son who preceded him in death, of course had an untroubled childhood, but was a perfectly mediocre individual. But for his father, Li was a beloved, wonderful son. “Whether or not he possesses genius, he is still my child.” (Analects 11.8)

There is a passage in the Analects which has eluded intepretation since ancient times:

Meng Wu Bo asked Confucius about filial piety. Confucius replied, 父母唯其疾之憂。 (Analects 2.6)

The following readings have been proposed.

Ba Yu of the Later Han: “One should only be concerned for one’s parents in times of terminal illness. At other times, we must not be concerned.”

Shu Shi of Sòng: “Parents are concerned for their children only in times of sickness, so we must pay attention to our health.”

Jinsai Itoh (1627-1705): “The first duty towards one’s parents is to be concerned for them in times of sickness.”

[By the way, here are some other modern readings: “The main concern of your parents is about your health.” ”Have your parents be concerned about only their health.” "Parents are anxious lest their children should be sick."]

In all of these readings, though, we see that the relationship between parent and child is not one of choice.

Confucius himself lost his father at the age of three, and lost his mother at the youthful age of 24. In the roughly 500 sayings of Confucius in the Analects there is not a single one about the kind of filial piety which the Teacher himself carried out. Nor do any of his disciples relate a single word about their teacher’s piety.

He was still a child when his father died, but it is thought as well that something must have happened, preventing him from meeting his mother.

Posted: May 3rd, 2013 | Confucius | 1 Comment »


From the Oomoto Shin’yu: Nao Deguchi on Materialism

The original sacred text of Oomoto was a piece of “Ofudesaki” automatic writing produced by Nao Deguchi, an illiterate farmer’s wife, channeling a kami that she called Ushitora no Konjin. We do not know if this text is authentic but people who knew her seem to think the following was really written by her in 1903. Also, this contradicts the teachings of Onisaburo, who printed the text. When it came time for him to select his favorite teachings of Nao’s this was not among them.

People use the fine earth planting trees and flower seeds, without a thought for the importance of the land, and do not produce the rice, wheat, beans and millet of our parents, which are the very life of the people. They are saying, “Rice, beans, wheat, whatever, we can buy it from foreign countries,” but that won’t last forever. Even in a place with cats, if you plant the five staple grains, they’ll come. Everyone accepts the foreign country’s material teaching, so in the country of Japan, live the Japanese way, and if you see someone planting those trees, dig them up. The ways of today won’t go on forever. People who are going up in the world won’t be able to accept this teaching today, but when that season comes, they must follow the way prescribed by God, and pass into this world.

If you don’t follow a teaching for Japan, the world will have no rule. If you copy the foreign countries, building your homes from stone and tile, building up your money, saying that you are living a developed life, sticking your nose up in the air, your nose will be so long it gets in the way of your eyes, and you won’t be able to see up, nor will you be able to see down, and while your nose sticks to the sky your feet become lazy, and when people are needed for the nation of God in the moment of truth, there is not a single one right now, so they will need to find the Japanese spirit in this Oomoto, so when the order comes to open the Gate of the Celestial Rock Cave again, we will have to save the universe. The selfish teaching of the foreign nations who say, “Things are all right,” dirties their hearts like beasts, and they will grasp nothing of this teaching.

November 9 [Old Style], 1903

This specific prophecy was suppressed by the Japanese government. Most of the issues of the magazine which carried this quote were destroyed.

Nao was spotted more than once pulling up flowers that Onisaburo had planted.

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Posted: April 5th, 2013 | Tradition | 5 Comments »