Friday, May 20, 2011

Confucius and the Lin


Confucius (谿山行旅)(551 BC-479 BC)

         The older Confucius grew the more disappointed was he that his life should have been spent in vain.  We are told in the Lun Yu that he said: 

        “No wise ruler rises; no one in the empire will make me his master.  My time has come to die.”

          Saddened by the fact that his moral views were rejected by the princes of the nation, he predicted the coming of turbulent times and civil wars, events which had indeed become unavoidable through the degeneration of many petty courts and their disregard for the welfare of the people.

The Lin (麒麟)

         Once it happened (so Kung Yang [1] informs us) that a strange creature had been killed on a hunt of the Duke Ai of Lu, and the sage was called to inspect the body and give his opinion.  Confucius declared it to be that supernatural animal called Lin, the appearance of which is deemed a rare occurrence.  In his despair, Confucius looked back on the death of this royal beast as a bad omen and he exclaimed: “My teaching is finished indeed.” [2]

         It is pathetic to observe the sage’s despair at the end of his career:  but such is the fate of reformers and this saying of Confucius sounds very much like a literal translation of Christ’s last word, “It is finished!” 

Fan Kuan, Travellers Amid Mountains and Streams (谿山行旅), Song Dynasty, ca. 1000, ink and slight color on silk, National Palace Museum, Taipei

        Two years later Confucius felt the approach of his end.  While he walked in front of his house he muttered this verse:

                                   “Huge mountains wear away.

                                    The strongest beams decay.

                                    And the sage like grass
                                    Must fade.                             Alas!

(The original is quoted from Li Ki, The Book of Ritual.)

         These lines of complaint are the Eli, eli, lama sabachthani of Confucius.  He feels forsaken and fears that his work has been in vain.

        Confucius died in 478 in retirement, and his faithful followers built a tomb over his remains, mourning on the spot for three years.  His most devoted admire, Tze Kung, built a hut and lived there for three years longer.

Tomb of Confucius in Qufu

[1]  Kung Yang is one of the three commentators of Kung Tse's historical book Spring and Autumn, the others being Tso Chi and Ku Liang.
[2]  This is the verbatim translation of the four words "wu tao ch'iung i."

Excerpt from:  Paul Carus, Chinese Astrology.  LaSalle, Open Court, 1907. (Please click on link for Paul Carus biography.)

Paul Carus (1852-1919)

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