I had to share this with you, a segment from the 2008 Reith Lecture given by Professor Jonathan Spence. I am quoting Dr. Spence's words as he spoke at the British Library earlier this month.
Confucius (551 B.C.-471 B.C.)
At fifteen, I set my heart on learning.
At thirty, I found my balance through the rites.
At forty, I was free from doubts about myself.
At fifty, I understood what heaven intended me to do.
At sixty, I was attuned to what I heard.
At seventy, I followed with my heart what my heart desired without overstepping the line.
These six stages of life for Confucius were clearly moral stages in which the need to strive at different levels was confronted and conquered. And of course his six stages are worlds away from Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man where growth and the path to age and death are seen in terms of physical fluorescence and decay. Confucius is concerned with intellectual motion in his charting of our life's course.
At fifteen, he tells us, he sets his heart on learning because he has already learned and absorbed so much of the history and poetry from the past. At thirty, he finds his balance through the rites that bring order and meaning to people's relations with each other and with their rulers rather than the rights - R.I.G.H.T.S - as we now view them in terms of our freedom to act according to our own inclinations. At forty, Confucius felt free from doubts because he was beginning to understand the purpose of his enquiries into the moral world and the wellsprings of purposive social action. He was fifty when he came to sense what heaven intended him to do. This was not a judgment about religion for this was heaven as a compelling force beyond interpretation, a silent pointer to the past and the future. At sixty, Confucius felt attuned to what he heard, as striving diminished; and at seventy to achieve one's innermost goal without further pressures or insecurities. How rich that seemed. How good an end to a long life.
And now for Shakespeare's "As You Like It"--
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Confucius had been expelled by Communism in 1949, and now after 60 years--considered a complete cycle in the Chinese cosmology--Mao's Little Red Book has disappeared, and Confucius has returned to sell over 6 million copies of the "The Analects," a book of sayings which his disciples wrote down, the way Plato and other students remembered and propagated the thoughts Socrates.
My not-so-secret hope is that the best of Confucian values will be absorbed by the West. China has been promoting the teachings of Confucius in the West by establishing schools in Europe and America (Rhode Island, Texas, South Carolina).
One of my favorite movies back in the early 80s was "Blade Runner"; seeing the melding of East and West was endlessly fascinating. It was certainly not reality then. I am astounded I am indeed living in the Blade Runner landscape, now a quarter of a century beyond the film's premiere.
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