Intro: Mr Trevor Leggett is going to give his talk now on a Chinese Tao textbook. Mr Trevor Leggett.
Trevor Leggett: These are spiritual texts, but they have a different background and sometimes it’s a stimulus to hear from an entirely different tradition. In this Taoist tradition not so much stress is laid on devotion to God.
They are great teachers by humour; they like to use humorous examples, and they give many examples from the world, from officials in the world. In the classical Chinese times they had something unparalleled in the world; the offices of state were held by people who had passed examinations, and those examinations were never fixed. The examinations were held in things like knowing the Confucian texts, calligraphy, writing with a brush, being able to write poetry, so it produced a man of refinement and of intellect. He wasn’t too strong on things like economics.
Still, they did rule the country very successfully and the civilisation did maintain itself in spite of the collapse of the empire from time to time. You could say the civilisation did maintain itself very impressively. You will find that as a result of this exam system the idea of prestige and who you were in society was very enormously important in China – your rank. As an example of Chinese humour; at a funeral of a man who’s reasonably well off, the coffin is taken through the streets. Above the thing they would have a record of his achievements – who he was. Sometimes you would have, ‘Tutor to the Imperial family’. Then maybe a few months later there would be another funeral and that chap would be tutor to the Imperial family too. The Chinese officials used to allow people to use this title at funerals for the payment of a substantial sum. It did no one any harm because the man was dead, and he wasn’t obtaining money under false pretences. The idea was to raise the status of the deceased just for the time of the funeral.
I’ll just give you this example; from that you can understand when the great Zen master Lin-Chi was speaking about the true man he said, “The true man has no rank.” To us that means nothing, no rank, he’s not in the House of Lords or something like that. To a Chinese that was absolutely shattering. If you were anybody at all who was anybody you’d got some rank.
Anyway, one can bear that in mind, the background of officialdom, official ranking, and many of them were great idealists, many of these officials were wonderful artists. Almost all the great masterpieces of Chinese painting and poetry were produced by amateurs, not professionals. They were these officials who did it in their spare time or during their year off when the father died. The official was always given a year’s leave for mourning, but in fact he used to produce his art masterpiece.
There are 100, not exactly verses, there are 100 rhymed sections in the whole text, which is called, ‘Tsai Fong Tung’, it’s something like the ‘Discourses of a Mountain Sage Who Lives on Roots’, that’s to say he’s a man of the mountains. There’s no particular order in them and I’ve translated a few of them and I’ve used a very convenient commentary here by a modern Japanese scholar which helps one over the ancient Chinese and also adds some extra points.
So these will be sort of disjointed. They’re like little arrows that are shot and they either hit the target of one’s heart or they don’t. If they don’t, well, then another one, perhaps that may strike.
“A real fool is appealing and he’s easy to get on with. Then there are some people who are regarded by the world as idiots, but when you look a little they’re very talented and clever, they’re quite up to things. They’ve got something essential missing, like a splendid golden dancer’s fan of the utmost brilliance whose central pin has fallen out.”
The fan opens on this pin, this pivot here which runs through, if that falls out, of course, all the spokes disintegrate on which it’s fixed, on which it can be closed, turning on which it can be opened. These brilliant people are people where this has, so to speak, fallen out and their personality is all over the place and all their talents and their cleverness are wasted.
© Trevor Leggett
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