Mencius identifies three types of people: 1) those who seek out the unusual and live for fame and posterity, 2) those who want to live with integrity but who give up when things are difficult, and 3) those who consciously live in harmony with the universal order, whose lives remain unknown to the world and unnoticed by society. Of the three types, says Mencius, only the wise can pursue the third.
Two anecdotes from the historian Szma Ch’ien about Confucius:
- A father and son were ploughing a field when Confucius passed by with his disciples. A disciple went to ask for directions, introducing himself as a follower of Confucius. They said to him, “Rather than follow one who avoids certain people, why not follow someone who avoids society altogether.”
- Separated from Confucius one day, a disciple stopped an old man and asked him if he had seen the Master. The old man replied, “Master? You mean someone who does not work with his arms and legs and cannot tell one grain from another?” The disciple later related this exchange to Confucius, who said, “That man must have been a retired philosopher.”
Posture, the angle of light, intermittent shadows from a block of wall or a window, a redolent scent, an abrupt sound, a profound relaxation and lack of anticipation — all these things may plunge consciousness into a reverie that is so irresistibly familiar that one does not know where one is, for that moment, anyway. However familiar the moment, achingly so, we grasp at the evanescence of time and memory. The moment, like all moments, is fast gone, but leaves a lingering sense of mystery. The mind contrives the continuity of time and space that we take for granted. This moment, this space. Next moment, this space. And so forth. But once in a while, that continuity breaks down, like a veil, though it is too unexpected for us to appreciate. In that moment, the solitude that dogs us dissolves, and the connection of moment to moment — time — reaches beyond this space and that space. For a moment, we sense that everything is one.
A weed is a plant that is not wanted, as gardeners say. But weeds tell gardeners a great deal about the condition of the soil, and a bed of “weeds” often deflects insects otherwise eager for the garden proper. Weeds are not wanted but they beg to serve. In our locale, the inauspiciously-named beggar tick is a common weed, a scrawny plant with small white-petaled flowers and a yellow center. And the beggar tick is beloved by butterflies of all sorts. The field guide says beggar tick habitat includes “disturbed” ground, so we humans invite them as weeds after all. May the beggar ticks stay, hailed as companion flowers and bringers of butterflies.
Balancing an offense to the good cannot be achieved by human contrivance because offense itself is a human contrivance. We “take” offense. We “give” offense. And we “take” vengeance, or rather “give” it — but we cannot “take” justice. Justice and vengeance are relative, just as balance is.
It would be better to learn balance from nature, which is a cycle, than from human beings, who live and think linearly — and reach dead ends from doing so. It would be better to refrain from desire, from the desire to make everything perfect — which is the desire behind vengeance but also behind most people’s notion of justice.
Refraining from desire, we would look for the cause behind everything, and finding a cause we would remove from ourselves the sense of offense. We would not “act” and “react.” We would see only now, this moment, and only seek to understand why this moment is what it is, how it came to be, what it will become, and what we want to be when it passes. There would no longer be injustice or vengeance in our eyes, our minds, our hearts. We could let go, a process perhaps best undergone in solitude. Only then would we be ready to see justice as a certain equanimity in all beings.