Disagreeing with Confucius

Confucius turns up as the purveyor of wise and witty quotes from the profound to the absurd. Who doesnt aspire to to doing a job they love so that they will never have to work a day in your life? I cannot be the only one who has experienced that no matter where I go there I am or to be heartened and know the truth that the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.

The first thing to know is that Confucius was a real guy, a Chinese teacher, editor, politician and philospher who was born around 551 and lived until his early 70s dying in 479 BC. Like all the best of heroes his life was not plain sailing; he attained political recognition as Prime Minister of the State of Lu in his 50s. Under his influence the Prince and the State of Lu became increasingly properous and powerful. Ultimately this had a corrupting impact. Confucius stepped down his position in Lu and spent the rest of years touting his politics in the hope that he could put them to good us. This was not to be and he died dillusioned.

Confucius sayings are short and to the point; often laced with metaphor and using a play on words it is perhaps no surprise that this structure has been appropriated irreverently to capture witicisms that have nothing to do with personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity that were fundamental to Confucian philosophy. So we know that man who drops watch in whiskey wastes time is more about the foibles of English than a guideline for living and no offense to Confucius is intended. Life is simple when I can nod sagely with the deeply meaningful and laugh at the irreverent trueisms. Recently things have become a little more interesting. I have come across a Confucian saying that I cannot agree with or laugh at. The conclusion, to my consternation, is that I am in disagreement with this Chinese philospher of great standing.

Confucius says apparently that “he who cannot describe a problem will never find the solution to that problem.” In my experience much time is spent describing problems, wailing and bemoaning problems, dissecting and mulling over problems but not necessarily solving problems. The problems of world hunger, poverty, war are problems well described but despite the trojan efforts of the best of humanity we continue to struggle with them. The currency of human survival is the struggle to surmount and overcome problems. In support of Confucius it could be argued that the ability to effectively describe problems is underdeveloped but here I prefer to pull on the more recent observation of Einstein that “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” The trick I believe is to subvert the consciousness of separation that is fundamental to the human perception of life and switch to a consciousness that is based on a unity that transcents the dimensions of time and space. Description is inherently a tool of the rational mind constrained by an egoic perception of the world. Imagination on the other hand is the paintbrush of the soul that can take us to the highest vibration of what we would love to create giving us a 360 degree view of what we rationally define as problem.  I was curious to read that Confucius was relatively unconcerned with the nature of the soul believing that the answer to  cultural and social problems was found in humanity itself, not in anything supernatural [1].  I wonder at the limitations that this puts on Confucian thinking.  I dont want to argue that Confucious is wrong and Einstein is right but rather to remind myself, to remind all of us to go for the premises that serve the greatest possibilities, to examine and question the received wisdom embedded in our thinking and in our culture.  It is only then that we live our lives at the highest vibration; skimming the hurdles to cross the finish line as the champion of our own truth.

[1] Leadership University, Pat Zukeran

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