It is summer vacation time and for most of us that means that we take a break from the normal routine. Oh, we may still be working long hours and wish that we could "get away," but there is oft times a relaxation in the day-to-day pace of life, with long hours of sun and warmth.
Oh, summertime! But what does it mean, if anything, for the teachings and practices of religion?
Our dominant Judeo-Christian heritage places great importance upon winter and its symbolism of the return of light with the passing of the solstice. In turn, Spring and the return of life plays heavily in our religious thinking. But summer? Well, there is, of course, summer solstice and certainly to some ancient and not-so-ancient traditions, great meaning attached to this ultimate extension of light. But for most of us, it is simply summer and a time to relax.
What of Confucius?
I ask this question not factitiously, but to focus upon a certain question often asked about Confucius and his teaching - a question perhaps best answered in the summer! In the leisure of our own thought, we ask the question of the nature of Confucius' leisure.
It is a fascinating question in the general history of religions. We tend not to think of a founder of a religious tradition or their zealot followers as having many moments of leisure - sharing a laugh, a joke even, much less taking a summer vacation! But is that an accurate impression? Have we, in our seeking of the ideal religious type, placed an image upon the founder and the religious follower that largely precludes leisure and levity - a summer vacation?
I dare say, we don't think too much about a Moses or a Jesus getting away for the weekend! It is a bit hard as well to imagine an Ezekiel, Isaiah or Job as light-hearted fellows! And then there is John the Baptist - probably not the sort of fellow with whom to go on a luxury cruise for a vacation! He might convert the deck-side pools into baptismal fonts or sites of baptism by immersion! Jokes aside, is there any room for a break from the serious business of the salvation of humankind or rectification of the world?
The question is relevant to the Confucian tradition because of the often-held stereotype of its founder as well as its followers that suggests an almost exaggerated sense of seriousness in saving the world. The irony of "Confucius says" jokes is that Confucius did not say jokes! It is a stereotype, but if you want humor and light heartedness, study Taoism not Confucianism. Taoists tell jokes, Confucians save the world!
It is often said that traditionally the average Chinese was both Confucian and Taoist. He was Confucian in terms of his responsibilities - his profession, his family and his allegiance to the state. He was a Taoist in retirement or short of retirement, on weekends! Is this image, however, an entirely accurate accounting of either Confucius or the Confucian tradition?
As it turns out, the Analects describe Confucius at leisure - contemplating perhaps even a summer vacation, though probably not a luxury cruise!
The setting of the passage I have in mind is Confucius sitting with four of his disciples. He asks them to describe what they would most like to do with their lives, the actions of their heart's content that they might make a place for themselves in the world.
To the question, three of the disciples respond by suggesting the seeking of posts in government in order to rectify the world, suggesting what appears in the much later Confucian expression, "first in taking on the troubles of the world and last in enjoying its pleasures." They would bring the people and thus the state to the teachings of righteousness, propriety, veneration of the ancestors and the ways of the ancients - all good Confucian teachings.
Confucius then asks the same question of the fourth disciple, Tien, who is sitting playing the lute.
Tien replies: "'My wishes are different from the cherished purposes of these three gentlemen. In this the last month of Spring...along with five or six young men who have assumed the cap (i.e., ritually recognized as having reached manhood), and six or seven boys, I would wash in the River I, enjoy the breeze among the rain altars, and return home singing.' The Master heaved a sigh and said, 'I give my approval to Tien.'" (Analects XI:25)
It is with the disciple Tien that Confucius expresses his own sympathy and agreement. Does this sympathy make Confucius a Taoist at heart? Not at all! Confucius does not reject the goals set forth by the other three disciples. His focus remains always the rectification of individual and society to emulate the ways of Heaven, T'ien-Tao.
Does the disciple Tien differ from the other three disciples in the goals he sought? Not actually. Peace and contentment are to be found for Tien not in the eremitic ideals of the Taoist, but ultimately in the commitment Confucius has made to the moral rectification of the world.
But everyone needs a break! Everyone needs some "down time!" Everyone needs a summer vacation of the body and mind to renew and refresh us for the challenges that never cease. Even Confucius!
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