Not a Utensil

This post began, before I reverted it to a blank, with a discursive way of defending life choices that center around enough, which contains not the luxurious cushion of cash that lounges on the chaise. It has always been an art to live by the golden mean; proof of that pudding is the criticism from people on either side of the table.
Also, one is wont to ask, what is this path that is off the beaten one, that formed a platitude in so many year books? I would forward to say that the time zone of the worldly and that of finding one's own way is at odds. The world will ask: what have you to show for yourself? Ah, but the world is not a stoic like Epictetus who excuses one from lacking the benefits of obsequity. "Have you nothing, then, instead of the [fancy] supper [that you were not invited to]? Yes, indeed, you have: the not praising him, whom you don't like to praise; the not bearing with his behavior at coming in." (25). Or, like Confucius says - twice - Fine words and insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue.
How I wish sometimes to retreat to the Classics, and stay there. Last night, as I was trying to find the words to articulate the feeling behind this post, I sought out Confucius. I had been riddled by what to do if flesh and blood develops the tactics of the leach. I am a lover of filial piety. But I had forgot of Confucius' principle of  正名 (rectification of names) which is really a beautiful ideogram: before the character for 'rank' is a character of a foot that has 'reached completion' - which reminds me of the 'tethering rope with legs' hieroglyph, which means 'to take possession of, to acquire'. It is not enough to bear the title (of teacher, ruler): one is to attempt to live up to it.
But it is unfair to expect something to live up to its rank if it has not been treated correctly: this is also part of the rectification of names, e.g. a maltreated son is not expected to act correctly towards his father. Which brings me to the principle of  仁, containing a version of the character for person with the number two - which some say represents heaven and earth, connected by man. This is the principle of humaneness: to love a thing means wanting it to live.



The Master said, "He who aims to be a man of complete virtue in his food does not seek to gratify his appetite, nor in his dwelling place does he seek the appliances of ease ... such a person may be said indeed to love to learn." (XIV) But in our hedonistic world, not only is forgetfulness of death somewhat worse than death, the platitude for indulgence Nunc est bibendum is lifted from its historico-political context and we become dumber.
Sometimes, I would rush to Cassian's desert just to clear my thinking. But such extreme measures are perhaps not necessary if I could just face up to myself. Accept the discrepancies (Tao 28). For such sincerity opens one to the clean slate of the universal. Be the valley of the universe! Ever true and resourceful, Return to the state of the uncarved block. "The world is formed from the void, like utensils from a block of wood. The Master knows the utensils, yet keeps to the the block: thus she can use all things." (28)
It is all right to take the slow road - a different route from the changing fashions.
In moments of weakness, we may want a token from the past, to be recognised beyond the picture of want. When the ancient masters said, If you want to be given everything, give everything up, they weren't using empty phrases. (22) Yet simplicity awaits us in the wake of sacrifice: "Just do your job and let go", "Trust your natural responses". (24, 23). What a fluid model and so contrary to the drone we are fed that we are but automatons with tasks like "jobs," "cooking," "parenting." Confucius also wrote that the educated man is no utensil: 君子不器 (II:12), we are not to be mere technicians, cogs.
Thence the scholar's rock (供石) that ought to perch on the desk, reminding us of our jutting, irregular shape, our juxtapositions. What I keep battling to retain. My edges, versatility, growth, endurance. Dignity. Not ceding to the destruction that is so desperate to tear it all down.
Confucius says, Undergoing difficulties and only then reaping the rewards (VI.22) "With a single bamboo dish of rice, a single gourd dish of drink, and living in his mean narrow lane, while others could not have endured the distress, he did not allow his joy to be affected by it." "Enough," at odds with the ornament of language, is the no-frills of life, accepted for what it is, not plastered over with those other wants. "Express yourself completely, then keep quiet" (23).




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