Confucius explained why his followers often ended up being dogmatic and blockheaded. Confucius teaches us about the four stages of learning. The last stage is principle centered flexibility. Most of his followers fail to reach this stage and become dogmatic. Actually, we will encounter people at different stages of development. So don't treat them the same. Don't brand them. Just be wise and choose your friends and relationships carefully.The Analects Chapter 9:
- Can learn together, but may not share the same principles and values of life (the Dao).
- Can share the same principles, but may not adhere to them to be successful.
- Can adhere to them, but may not be able to be adaptable.
The Four Stages of Learning:
- Learning to acquire knowledge.
Learning and practicing should be a joy. (Analects Chapter 1v1).
- Knowing the Principles and Values of Life.
Learning is first about how to be a mature person and then acquiring other skills and arts. (Analects Chapter 1v6),
- Adherence to such principles.
Many people know what are the right things to do but they fail to do them. Even the great Apostle Paul said, "I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I do not want to do." (Roman 7:17). Even if they know and follow, there is the great danger of following to the letter of the Laws and neglecting the spirit of the Laws (Matthew 23:23). They become the legalists and become dogmatic and blockheaded.
- Principles centered flexibility.
The principles are unchanging but the application of the principle must be situational sensitive. Consider the case when you promised to take your child for swimming in the coming weekend. The weekend came but your child caught the flu and ran a fever. Now, do you still keep your promise and bring your child for a swim? The answer is no. You broke your promise but you keep a higher principle of caring for the child.
Principles Centered Adaptability
Zi Han: There were four things from which the Master was entirely free. He had no foregone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinacy, and no egoism.
Confucius followed his own teaching and summarized his life as:
The Master said, "At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right."
At seventy, Confucius said he finally could follow his heart freely and violate not any principles. He has internalized the values and wisely applies them in all kinds of situations.
It is not about freely doing anything you like but rather freely doing the right things bonded but the right principles. The Chinese have a saying for doing the things that fit the relationships, that are reasonable and abide the laws - 合情合理合法。This is how we should make changes and adapt to the ever changing world.
Lim Liat (c) 25 July 2017