“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.