Self, the Ultimate and “others” in pre-Qin conceptions of sagehood
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AbstractThis study is an analysis of sagehood in pre-Qin Confucianism from the perspective of the relations between the self, the Ultimate and “others”. By examining the etymological, textual and philosophical evolutions on the concept of sheng (聖) in pre-Qin Chinese tradition, I argue that the pre-Qin Confucians developed a dual system of the Ultimate and hence a dual process of sagehood cultivation.
The pre-Qin Confucians since Confucius inherited the ancient idea of the transcendent Ultimate in the names of Di (帝) and Tian (天) with the transcendent Ultimate, the ancient sage-kings, the people and the Rituals as the authorities. Meanwhile, they developed ideas regarding the immanent Ultimate that linked it to Nature (Xing 性), as well as specific corresponding ideas about the self, including Nature, mind/heart (xin 心) and body (shen 身) rooted in the early Zhou dynasty. The ideas about Nature, mind/hear and body broke or redefined the self-other boundaries between the self, the Ultimate and “others”. This new perspective made it possible and feasible for the self to know and become one with “others” intellectually, emotionally and empathetically in accordance with the Way of the Ultimate.
Thus, the pre-Qin cultivation of sagehood became a two-fold process. On the one hand, the self willingly chooses to be subjected to, and even internalize, the authoritative “others”, such as the transcendent Ultimate, the sages and the Rituals. On the other hand, the self willingly chooses to be subordinate to the immanent Ultimate via his/her own Nature, mind/heart and body, and to grow from within and enlarge itself from the basic unit shen until becoming one with the Ultimate vertically and all others horizontally in accordance with the Way of the Ultimate. This two-sided process is conducted simultaneously, interactively and ceaselessly as different aspects of the same process. In this process “shen" is located at the center, being self-consciously transformed by the Ultimate, while also transforming “others” from near to far.