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Philosophy 

철학 - 지혜의 탐구

Concerning Heaven

하늘(天)에 대하여

Chinese philosopher Xunzi was an important early figure in Confucianism, a major system of thought that originated in China. Xunzi wrote the book that bears his name sometime during the 3rd century BC. In direct contradiction with his predecessor, the Chinese philosopher Mencius, Xunzi argued that humans are evil by nature, and that only law, order, and adherence to the rules of etiquette can lead humans away from the chaos caused by their self-centered desires. Xunzi considered heaven a detached force that operated independently of human society. He disapproved of superstition and held up practices such as the proper cultivation of crops, decorum in behavior, and just government as correct ways to prevent hardship.

From the Xunzi

Chapter 17: Concerning Heaven

Heaven operates with constant regularity. It does not prevail because of [a sage-king like] Yao; nor does it cease to prevail because of [a tyrant like] Jie. Respond to it with good government, and blessings will result; respond to it with misgovernment, and misfortune will result. If the staples of livelihood are built up and used economically, then Heaven cannot impoverish the country; if the sustenance of the people is provided for and their energies are employed in keeping with the seasons, then Heaven cannot afflict the people. If the Way is followed and not deviated from, then Heaven cannot send misfortune. Under such circumstances, flood or drought cannot cause a famine, extreme cold or heat cannot cause any malady, and unnatural apparitions cannot cause disaster. On the other hand, if the staples of livelihood are neglected and used extravagantly, then Heaven cannot cause the country to be rich; if the sustenance of the people is deficient and their energies are employed inordinately, then Heaven cannot make the people healthful. If the Way is violated and conduct becomes unseemly, then Heaven cannot send blessings. Under such circumstances, even if flood and drought do not come, there will be famine; even if cold and heat have not become oppressive, there will be maladies; even if unnatural apparitions do not appear, there will be calamities. Seasonableness and prosperity go together; catastrophe and prosperity do not. It is useless to complain against Heaven, for such is the Way. Hence he who knows the distinctive functions of Heaven and of men may be called a great sage.

To accomplish without exertion and to obtain without effort, this is what is meant by the office of Heaven. Therefore although the mind of the sage is deep, he will not deliberate on the Way of Heaven; although it is great, he will not pass any judgment upon it; although it is minute, he will not scrutinize ithis is what is meant by refraining from contesting with Heaven. Heaven has its seasons; earth has its resources; man has his government. This is how man is able to form a triad with Heaven and earth. If man should neglect his own part in this triad and put all his hope in Heaven and earth with which he forms the triad, he is making a grave mistake.

The fixed stars make their revolutions; the sun and moon alternately shine; the four seasons succeed one another; the yin and yang go through their great mutations; the wind and rain affect all things. The myriad things acquire their proper harmony and thus grow; each thing obtains its proper nourishment and thus attains its full maturity. We do not see the cause of these occurrences, but we do see their effectse call it the efficacy of spirit. We all know the results achieved, but we do not know the invisible sourcee call it the work of Heaven. It is only the sage that does not seek to know Heaven.?/P>

Heaven does not suspend the winter because men dislike cold; the earth does not reduce its expanse because men dislike distances; the gentleman does not alter his conduct because inferior men make a clamor. Heaven has a constant way of action; earth has a constant size; the gentleman has a constant demeanor. The gentleman conducts himself according to a constant principle, but the inferior man schemes after results. It is said in the Book of Odes:

If a person acts according to the rules of decorum and righteousness,

And does not deviate from them,

Why should he be anxious about people's talk?"

This expresses what I mean.

The King of Chu has a thousand chariots following himhis is not because he is wise. The gentleman eats pulse and drinks waterhis is not because he is foolish. In each case, it is just what is fitting to the external circumstances. Whereas for a person to have his purpose cultivated, to have his virtuous conduct strengthened, to have his knowledge and deliberations clarified, to live in this age but to emulate the ancientshis is what lies entirely within his power. Therefore the gentleman carefully develops what is within his power, and does not desire what is from Heaven. The inferior man neglects what is within his power, and seeks for what comes from Heaven. Because the gentleman carefully develops what is within his power, and does not desire what comes from Heaven, he progresses every day; whereas because the inferior man neglects what is within his power and seeks for what comes from Heaven, he degenerates every day. Therefore, it is one and the same reason why the gentleman progresses daily and why the inferior man degenerates daily. And this also accounts for the difference between the gentleman and the inferior man.

When stars fall or the sacred trees groan, all the people become afraid and ask: "What is the significance of all this?" I would say: There is no special significance. This is just due to a modification of Heaven and earth and the mutation of the yin and yang. These are rare phenomena. We may marvel at them, but we should not fear them. For there is no age that has not often experienced eclipses of the sun and moon, unseasonable rain or wind, or occasional appearances of strange stars. If the ruler is intelligent and the government just, even though these phenomena should all occur at once, it would do no harm. If the ruler is unintelligent and his government is bent on evil, although not one of these strange phenomena should occur, still it would be of no help. Hence the falling of stars and the groaning of the sacred trees are due to the modification of Heaven and earth and the mutation of the yin and yang. These are rare phenomena. We may marvel at them, but we should not fear them.

Of all occurrences and phenomena, human portents are the most to be feared. To plow improperly so as to injure the crops, to weed improperly so as to miss the harvest, to govern recklessly so as to lose the allegiance of the people, to leave the fields uncultivated and to harvest poor crops, to let the price of grain rise high and the people starve and die on the roadsidehese are what I mean by human portents. When the governmental measures and orders are not clear and just; when decisions of the state are not opportune; when the fundamental tasks are not attended tohese are what I mean by human portents. When the rules of decorum and righteousness are not cultivated, the inhabitants of the inner and outer quarters are not kept apart, and men and women become promiscuous, parents and children distrust each other, the ruler and ruled are at cross purposes, and invasion and disaster arrive at the same timehese are what I mean by human portents.

If people pray for rain and it rains, how is that? I would say: Nothing in particular. Just as when people do not pray for rain, it also rains. When people try to save the sun or moon from being swallowed up [in eclipse], or when they pray for rain in a drought, or when they decide an important affair only after divinationhis is not because they think in this way they will get what they seek, but only to add a touch of ritual to it. Hence the gentleman takes it as a matter of ritual, whereas the common man thinks it is supernatural. He who takes it as a matter of ritual will suffer no harm; he who thinks it is supernatural will suffer harm.?/P>

You exalt Heaven and meditate on it:

Why not domesticate it and regulate it?

You obey Heaven and sing praises to it:

Why not control its course and employ it?

You look on the seasons with expectation and await them:

Why not seize the seasonal opportunities and exploit them?

You rely on things increasing of themselves:

Why not exercise your ability and multiply them?

You speculate about the nature of things:

Why not manipulate them so that you do not lose them?

You admire the cause of the birth of things:

Why not assist them in their completion?

Hence, I say, to neglect human effort and speculate about Heaven,

Is to miss the true nature of all things.

Chapter 23: Human Nature Is Evil

The nature of man is evil; his goodness is acquired.

His nature being what it is, man is born, first, with a desire for gain. If this desire is followed, strife will result and courtesy will disappear. Second, man is born with envy and hate. If these tendencies are followed, injury and cruelty will abound and loyalty and faithfulness will disappear. Third, man is born with passions of the ear and eye as well as the love of sound and beauty. If these passions are followed, excesses and disorderliness will spring up and decorum and righteousness will disappear. Hence to give rein to man's original nature and to yield to man's emotions will assuredly lead to strife and disorderliness, and he will revert to a state of barbarism. Therefore it is only under the influence of teachers and laws and the guidance of the rules of decorum and righteousness that courtesy will be observed, etiquette respected, and order restored. From all this it is evident that the nature of man is evil and that his goodness is acquired.

Crooked wood needs to undergo steaming and bending by the carpenter's tools; then only is it straight. Blunt metal needs to undergo grinding and whetting; then only is it sharp. Now the original nature of man is evil, so he must submit himself to teachers and laws before he can be just; he must submit himself to the rules of decorum and righteousness before he can be orderly. On the other hand, without teachers and laws, men are biased and unjust; without decorum and righteousness, men are rebellious and disorderly. In ancient times the sage-kings knew that man's nature was evil and therefore biased and unjust, rebellious and disorderly. Thereupon they created the codes of decorum and righteousness and established laws and ordinances in order to bend the nature of man and set it right, and in order to transform his nature and guide it. All men are thus made to conduct themselves in a manner that is orderly and in accordance with the Way. At present, those men who are influenced by teachers and laws, who have accumulated culture and learning, and who are following the paths of decorum and righteousness, are the gentlemen. On the other hand, those who give rein to their nature, who indulge in their willfulness, and who disregard decorum and righteousness, are the inferior men. From all this it is evident that the nature of man is evil and that his goodness is acquired.

Mencius says: "The reason man is ready to learn is that his nature is originally good." I reply: This is not so. This is due to a lack of knowledge about the original nature of man and of understanding of the distinction between what is natural and what is acquired. Original nature is a heavenly endowment; it cannot be learned, and it cannot be striven after. As to rules of decorum and righteousness, they have been brought forth by the sages, they can be attained by learning, and they can be achieved by striving. That which cannot be learned and cannot be striven after and rests with Heaven is what I call original nature. That which can be attained by learning and achieved by striving and rests with man is what I call acquired character. This is the distinction between original nature and acquired character. Now by the nature of man, the eye has the faculty of seeing and the ear has the faculty of hearing. But the keenness of the faculty of sight is inseparable from the eye, and the keenness of the faculty of hearing is inseparable from the ear. It is evident that keenness of sight and keenness of hearing cannot be learned.

Mencius says: "The original nature of man is good; but because men all ruin it and lose it, it becomes evil." I reply: In this he is gravely mistaken. Regarding the nature of man, as soon as he is born, he tends to depart from its original state and depart from its natural disposition, and he is bent on ruining it and losing it. From all this, it is evident that the nature of man is evil and that his goodness is acquired.

To say that man's original nature is good means that it can become beautiful without leaving its original state and it can become beneficial without leaving its natural disposition. This is to maintain that beauty pertains to the original state and disposition and goodness pertains to the heart and mind in the same way as the keenness of the faculty of sight is inseparable from the eye and the keenness of the faculty of hearing is inseparable from the ear, just as we say that the eye is keen in seeing or the ear is keen in hearing. Now as to the nature of man, when he is hungry he desires to be filled, when he is cold he desires warmth, when he is tired he desires rest. This is man's natural disposition. But now a man may be hungry and yet in the presence of elders he dare not be the first to eat. This is because he has to yield precedence to someone. He may be tired and yet he dare not take a rest. This is because he has to labor in the place of someone. For a son to yield to his father and a younger brother to yield to his older brother, for a son to labor in the place of his father and a younger brother to labor in the place of his older brotheroth of these kinds of actions are opposed to man's original nature and contrary to man's feeling. Yet they are the way of the filial son and in accordance with the rules of decorum and righteousness. It appears if a person follows his natural disposition he will show no courtesy, and if he shows courtesy he is acting contrary to his natural disposition. From all this it is evident that the nature of man is evil and that his goodness is acquired.

It may be asked: "If man's original nature is evil, whence do the rules of decorum and righteousness arise?" I reply: All rules of decorum and righteousness are the products of the acquired virtue of the sage and not the products of the nature of man. Thus, the potter presses the clay and makes the vesselut the vessel is the product of the potter's acquired skill and not the product of his original nature. Or again, the craftsman hews pieces of wood and makes utensilsut utensils are the product of the carpenter's acquired skill and not the product of his original nature. The sage gathers many ideas and thoughts and becomes well versed in human affairs, in order to bring forth the rules of decorum and righteousness and establish laws and institutions. So then the rules of decorum and righteousness and laws and institutions are similarly the products of the acquired virtue of the sage and not the products of his original nature.?/P>

Man wishes to be good because his nature is evil. If a person is unimportant he wishes to be important, if he is ugly he wishes to be beautiful, if he is confined he wishes to be at large, if he is poor he wishes to be rich, if he is lowly he wishes to be honoredhatever a person does not have within himself, he seeks from without. But the rich do not wish for wealth and the honorable do not wish for position, for whatever a person has within himself he does not seek from without. From this it may be seen that man wishes to be good because his nature is evil. Now the original nature of man is really without decorum and righteousness, hence he strives to learn and seeks to obtain them.?/P>

Straight wood does not require the carpenter's tools to be straight; by nature it is straight. Crooked wood needs to undergo steaming and bending by the carpenter's tools and then only will it be straight; by nature it is not straight. As the nature of man is evil, it must be submitted to the government of the sage-kings and the reforming influence of the rules of decorum and righteousness; then only will everyone issue forth in orderliness and be in accordance with goodness. From all this it is evident that the nature of man is evil and that his goodness is acquired.

It may be objected: "Decorum and righteousness and the accumulation of acquired virtues must be in the nature of man so that the sage could bring them forth." I reply: This is not so. Now the potter pounds and and molds the clay and produces earthenware. Are the earthenware and clay then in the nature of the potter? The workman hews a piece of wood and makes utensils. Are furniture and wood then in the nature of the carpenter? So it is with the sage and decorum and righteousness; he produces them in the same way as earthenware is produced. Are decorum and righteousness and the accumulation of acquired virtues then in the original nature of man? As far as the nature of man is concerned, the sage-kings Yao and Shun have the same nature as the wicked King Jie and robber Zhi; the gentleman has the same nature as the inferior man. Should we now regard decorum and righteousness and the accumulation of acquired virtues as being in the nature of man, then why should we prize the sage-kings Yao and Yu and why should we prize the gentlemen? We prize Yao, Yu, and the gentlemen because they were able to transform nature and produce acquired virtue, and from acquired virtue decorum and righteousness issued forth.?

There is a saying: "The man on the street can become a Yu." How would you account for that? I reply: All that made Yu what he was was that he instituted humanity and righteousness, laws, and government. However, there are principles by which humanity and righteousness, laws and government can be known and practiced. At the same time any man on the street has the faculty for knowing them and has the capacity for practicing them. Thus it is evident that he can become a Yu. Should we assume there were really no principles by which humanity and righteousness, laws and government could be known and practiced, then even Yu would not be able to know them or practice them. Or, should we assume the man on the street really had no faculty for knowing humanity and righteousness, laws and government, or the capacity for practicing them, then the man cannot know, on the one hand, the proper relation between father and son and, on the other, the proper discipline between sovereign and minister. Thus it is evident that the man on the street does have the faculty for knowing and the capacity for practicing these virtues. Now let the man on the street take his faculty for knowing and his capacity for practicing humanity and righteousness, laws and government, and bring them to bear upon the principles by which these virtues can be known and can be practicedhen it is self-evident that he can become a Yu. Yes, let the man on the street pursue the path of knowledge and devote himself to learning, with concentration of mind and a singleness of purpose; let him think, search, examine, and re-examine, day in and day out, with persistence and patienceet him thus accumulate good works without cease, then he may be counted among the gods and may form a triad with Heaven and earth. Hence sagehood is a state that any man can achieve by cumulative effort.

Source: Sources of Chinese Tradition. de Bary, William Theodore, et al., eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960.

   


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