"Protagoras answered: Young man, if you associate with me,
on the very first day you will return home a better man than you came,
and better on the second day than on the first,
and better every day than you were on the day before."
Platon: Protagoras

The Great Learning

While Buddhism is relatively well understood in the West, the much simpler teachings of Confucius is often misinterpreted. I came across many books that says that the essence of Confucianism is a sort of conservative moral: be an obedient son of your parents and an obedient subject of the ruler of the state. Indeed, Confucius did say things like that, but the deep meaning of his teaching is something completely different.

His teachings was misunderstood in the West in the same way as the title of this confucian classics: Daxue (), translated as "The Great Learning", although it really means "Education (self-development) for Adults".

While Western literature usually contrasts good and bad, or crime and virtue, the Eastern classics rather compare "great virtue" and "mediocre (or small) virtue". For example, in Daxue we find:

When the inferior man is at leisure, there is no limit to the extent of his improper behaviour. But when he sees a Superior Man he will be ashamed; he will conceal his bad side and show off his good side. When people observe you, they see right to your core. So what's the use of being deceitful? Therefore we say: "internal sincerity expresses itself outwardly without obscuration." Therefore the Superior Man must be watchful over himself when he is alone.
The Daodejing compares "true virtue" and "superficial virtue" in its famous 38th verse:
Unlike the Confucian classics, the Daodejing is intentionally obscure and difficult to understand. So there are many translations to this verse; the following is by Charles Muller:
True virtue is not virtuous, Therefore it has virtue.
Superficial virtue never fails to be virtuous, Therefore it has no virtue.

True virtue does not "act", And has no intentions.
Superficial virtue "acts", And always has intentions.
This translation corresponds to the usual interpretation of Taoism: non-acting is the source of all virtue. But here is another translation, or rather, a different interpretation, by T. McCarrol:
A person of high virtue is not conscious of virtue
and therefore possesses Virtue.
A person of little virtue tries to be virtuous
and therefore lacks Virtue.

A person of high virtue does not make a fuss
and is not seen.
A person of little virtue always makes a fuss
and is always seen.
Now the analogy with the passage from Daxue is obvious.

Back to main page

This webpage is printer-friendly, free of ads, banners, CSS, and JavaScript.
(C) 2002, Zoltan Barczikay