What are the Key Components of Confucian (Ruist) Virtues?

by J.D. (“Joffre”) Meyer

First of all, Confucianism is a Western-imposed misnomer. We prefer to be called, “Ruists.” Let’s start with The Five Virtues as an introduction to the philosophy.

The Five Virtues are (1) humanity, (2) propriety, (3) appropriate-assertiveness, (4) wisdom, and (5) faith. Humanity (jen) is the first virtue, and its beginning is compassion. Mencius asserted that one would rescue a child that had fallen in a well out of compassion, not the desire to advance in society. The Chinese character for jen is a person standing next to the number two, symbolizing a person in society—a simple four stroke character. The last virtue is faith (hsin), meaning the completion of the other four virtues. The Chinese character is a person standing next to “word.”

The beginning of propriety (li) is deference. The beginning of appropriate-assertiveness (i) is shame. Through courage, we move from withdrawn shame to assertiveness. This concept is usually translated as “righteousness.” David Nivison introduced the more accurate translation as “appropriate-assertiveness.” The beginning of wisdom (chih) is distinguishing right from wrong.

Let’s examine propriety according to the concepts of pattern-principle and vital force. If we don’t exhibit enough pattern-principle in our expression of propriety, we are rude. On the other hand, if we don’t show enough vital force, then we’re boring. Through appropriate-assertiveness, we add to propriety.

“When, How, & Why Ruism (Confucianism) Hooked Me,”3rd Edition

“When, How, & Why Ruism Hooked Me,”   By Joffre (“JD”) Meyer

The roots of how I became hooked on Ruism (Confucianism) began in the third grade with my interest in Japan—history, culture, architecture, etc. Memorizing the historical periods was like learning the geologic time table, which I’d done in first grade.

Some 15 years later, I became inspired to start research for an interdisciplinary thesis, eventually named, “Approaching Cognitive-Behavioral & Existential Therapy through Neo-Confucianism.” https://www.academia.edu/4683421/Approaching_Cognitive-Behavioral_and_Existential_Therapy_through_Neo-Confucianism_M.S._thesis_in_Ed.Psy_at_Texas_A_and_M It was the culmination of my M.S. in Educational Psychology at Texas A&M in 1984. One afternoon, I decided to browse a couple of journals in the Texas A&M Library: Philosophy East & West and Journal of Chinese Philosophy. I found a reference to the unity of knowledge and action (chih hsing ho-i) in these journals, something I’d run across in an Ed. Psy. textbook.

I became fascinated by the Confucian Virtues from the story of rescuing the baby who fell in the well to standing by your word. That’s the beginning of jen (benevolence) to evolving to hsin (faithfulness), in case any rookies are reading this essay for the Ruist Fellowship. I showed how the virtues related to existential thought on the self-theory. A couple of my favorite teachings include that a sincere will before a convention of propriety (ch’eng-yi toward li) is needed to preserve the spirit of the ancients. That’s a great concept for change! I love David Nivison’s description of the virtue i, usually translated as “righteousness” as “appropriate-assertiveness.”

Wang Yang-ming’s Four Axiom Teaching showed parallel evolution to the cognitive-behavioral therapist, The 1st Axiom is basic human goodness. Aaron T. Beck’s method for avoiding automatic thoughts between yi (intentionality) and liang-chih (conscience). Intentionality (yi) must be paired with knowledge (chih) to make the jump from Axiom 2 to 3. Imagine a depressed person who dismisses past achievements as meaningless compared to flaws or alienation issues. That person won’t view his/her sincere authentic conscience (liang-chih) as good enough. Ko-wu is the 4th Axiom. It has been described as “investigating the principles of events” by Chu Hsi (1130-1200) and “rectifying affairs” by Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529). Perhaps ko-wu can occur when our conscience unconsciously defeats itself, but we’re willing to try. Simultaneously, we move past withdrawn shame as we evolve in appropriate-assertiveness (i) through courage.

Aside from a distinguished history prof, I had few fans of my research at the conservative college. Then I had an enlightenment (satori) experience after my Aggieland days ended, I realized that “Spontaneity as conforming to pattern-principle” (tzu-jan chi li) could be viewed as self-confidence in one’s sincerity and the goal of the unity of knowledge and action (chih hsing ho-i). I was inspired by an article from Philosophy East & West, by Frederick J. Streng too: “Three approaches to authentic existence: Christian, Confucian, & Buddhist.” http://www.jstor.org/stable/1398611 The Confucian scholar studied was T’ang Chun-i. T’ang sees social harmony as the most important aspect of human existence. T’ang asserts the essence of things “is exhibited in the capacity for adaptation and creation through interaction with a changing environment.” Change is either harmonious or disharmonious.

I’ve faced many challenges and endured stumbles since my “self-confidence in sincerity enlightenment,” but the lows haven’t been as bad. Later at the University of North Texas, I proposed that li (propriety) without li (pattern-principle) is rudeness, and li (propriety) without ch’i (vital force) is boring. Meanwhile, we create new rules of li (propriety) through i (appropriate-assertiveness)!

Later, I stumbled onto Dr. Tu Wei-ming’s essay in Life Magazine (1988) in response to their question about “The Meaning of Life” that was given to 50 prominent people world-wide. Dr. Tu has been a long-time favorite author of mine in Neo-Confucianism. (Chung-ying Cheng, Wm. Theodore deBary, and David Nivison are other favorites from my thesis era). I loved how he noted that four Western thinkers had complicated but enriched issues for the modern age: Copernicus, Darwin, Marx, and Freud. Then Tu showed the process theology style of the Ruist tradition by noting that Heaven is everywhere, probably all-knowing, but not all-powerful. Without our participation, we can’t realize Heaven’s pattern-principle. At last, Ruism made it into a popular magazine. I published an analysis of Dr. Tu’s entry for “The Meaning of Life.” http://hubpages.com/education/The-Meaning-of-Life-according-to-Dr-Tu-Wei-ming-New-Confucian

I gave a sermon called, “The New Confucians,” in 2005 at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Tyler (UUFT). It drew heavily on the work of Dr. John Berthrong of Boston University. Moreover, I included Tu’s “Meaning of Life” statement. https://www.academia.edu/1703755/The_New_Confucians Later I submitted an edit of Wikipedia’s Boston Confucians entry, drawing on the references for my talk–but not the talk itself. Importantly, the Boston Confucian movement hails “The Western Inscription by Chang Tsai (11th Century) for its ecological concerns. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Confucians

I like Tu Wei-ming’s grouping of chih hsing ho-i (Unity of knowledge and action) as unifying the existential hsin chi li ((Mind is pattern-principle) and the normative chih liang-chih (Extending authentic conscience). I’ve used it to resolve a neighborhood soap opera in assuring the good neighbor that I wouldn’t talk badly about him. Existential: He’s big and lives across the street. Normative: I’ve proven myself to be pleasant and honest unlike the bad neighbor, who later evicted!

Now we reach my modern age! For years, my Facebook description of my religious views included the disclaimer “…since the Confucian Church of Indonesia hasn’t moved to East Texas.” Remember Dr. Thomas Kang; he used to work for the Library of Congress.

I found “Friends from Afar,” a closed Facebook group and the Boston University Confucianism group in 2015. Now I get to have philosophical discussions, complete with Chinese footnotes, any time of the week. Thanks go to Bin Song and Ben Butina for starters. Bin Song publishes articles regularly on Ruism for the prestigious Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/binsong1981-695. I had grown tired of the vacuous or rude (namban) churches in my hometown, vastly preferring to watch CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS twice on Sunday morning. Then I was invited to join the Ruist Fellowship in 2016 and started getting homework. Maybe now I know how Fukuzawa Yukichi of Meiji Era Japan felt when the barriers to trade with the West were lifted.

Friday the 13th with SOL2015: Meet two Thai Hot Sauces__Sriracha & Chili Paste with Soya Bean Oil

I’m not waiting until the last minute today, regarding my midnight SOL of yesterday. Instead of my usual granola and soybean milk, I’ve gotten creative with toast, sauce, and fruit. I toasted a medium dark bolillo roll. Apple butter, Sriracha, and Chili Paste with Soya Oil are the sauces, but not at the same time. The fruits are watermelon chunks and blueberries donated to me by a couple of Stanley’s BBQ bartenders (bartendrettes?) Sriracha is an old favorite of mine, the squirt bottle legend.

Sriracha has brief list of ingredients: red jalapenos, sugar, and garlic mostly. For those of you used to Mexican hot sauces (like me), you’ll notice sugar instead of tomatoes in East Asian hot sauces. Sriracha was actually invented by a Vietnamese immigrant to California–the founder of Hu Fong Foods.

Chili Paste with Soya Oil is my new favorite, and its title doesn’t do it justice. Like the world-famous Sriracha, it’s a Thai sauce. The wild blend of spices will leave you stunned: fish sauce, tamarind ( a fruit), shrimp…sugar, shallots, garlic, coriander, and cumin–to name most of them. Last time, I fried firm tofu in the complicated sauce. This morning, I spread it on toast, following the suggestion of the Asian Emporium store-keeper.