The Wisdom of China: part two

An investigation of the philosophy and folklore of ancient China in two parts


In our introduction to part one of this two-part investigation, we said there is one land that stands out like a huge mountain peak of great beauty amongst all the great civilizations of the earth, and that is China. Perhaps we should use the past tense and say 'stood out' for, as we mentioned at the end of our afterword to part one, we do not know to what extent, if any, traditional religion, folk customs and magic still prevail under Communist rule. We suspect very little and even less of the wonderful Wisdom to be found in the books we shall discuss in this part. All this is a very great pity as we feel sure you will agree, especially as we watch with great sadness and deep compassion the dreadful ways in which the present Communist rulers are waging war against the so-called coronavirus 'Pandemic'. The videos to be found on social media when we were writing this investigation of screaming citizens confined against their will in hi-rise apartment blocks, many with limited or no access to food or medical care, are truly harrowing and will haunt the writer forever.

How is it possible that such a great civilization could fall so low? The answer can be found in the occult scientific doctrine of successive Ages — called Yugas in Indian esoteric philosophy — in which light is followed by darkness, order by chaos, and goodness by evil, as we discussed in our article on these great Cycles. The present Age is called the Kali Yuga or the 'Black' age. It is a time of very severe tests and trials during which many bitter lessons have to be learnt. Present-day conditions in China reflect this more so than other places on earth. For these ages do not affect each part of the world in quite the same way or at the same times. This is the best answer that can be given to the question posed earlier. Meanwhile, let us be thankful that some of the very great Wisdom of China is still extant and that we are able to benefit from it.

In part one of our investigation we discussed the philosophy of Lao Tzu, the way or path known as the Tao, Chinese religion and some of the teachings of the Sage known as Confucius. In this part we examine the major classics of Chinese philosophical, historical and cultural literature, namely the Shuh King, the Li Ki, and the Shih King which deals with Chinese poetry. We conclude our investigation with a brief look at the teachings of the Confucian philosopher Mencius. In part one of our customary afterword we told you about some of the traditional ceremonies the Chinese perform in connection with the so-called 'dead' as well as some of the superstitions they believe in. In this final part we conclude that survey and discuss some of their magical practises, including the system of divination known as the I Ching. If you have not read part one, now is the time to do so or you will not reap the full benefit of this investigation.

chinese immortals

Shuh King

One of the great classics of Chinese Literature is the Shu King. In fact it is the most ancient of all, containing historical documents of various kinds, relating to the period from about 2357 to 627 B.C. Confucius used it in connection with the historical records of antiquity, in distinction from the poems, the accounts of rites, and other monuments of former times. It is not a complete history of China, nor does it provide us with the annals of that history. It is simply a collection of historical documents, extending over a period of about 1700 years interrupted with frequent gaps. It gives accounts of the great rulers of China and all they achieved for their people. As such it repays careful study, especially for those readers who work for the governments of their country, for it contains many lessons of great value, as the following few sayings from the mouths of some of the famous rulers of ancient China amply testify. "It is virtue that moves heaven; there is no distance to which it does not reach. Pride brings loss, and humility receives increase; this is the way of Heaven. Entire sincerity moves spiritual beings. If the sovereign sincerely pursues the course of his virtue, the counsels offered to him will be intelligent, and the aids of admonition that he receives will be harmonious." Would that such wisdom still prevailed today among our rulers and was followed by them!

The Shu King lists nine virtues: affability combined with dignity; mildness combined with firmness; bluntness combined with respectfulness; aptness for government combined with reverent caution; docility combined with boldness; straightforwardness combined with gentleness; an easy negligence combined with discrimination; boldness combined with sincerity; and valour combined with righteousness. A perfect code we're sure you will agree. If only these virtues still prevailed and were also followed nowadays!

The following teaching contains many things of interest. "Heaven hears and sees as our people hear and see; Heaven brightly approves and displays its terrors, as our people brightly approve and would awe; such connection is there between the upper and the lower worlds. How reverent ought the masters of territories to be." Nothing could be more true than this last statement, though all are true. Men in their blind wilfulness go about their affairs at times as if the eye of the Supreme Ruler were closed in deep somnolence, forgetting that every deed we perform, every thought we think in the innermost secrecy of our hearts and minds is recorded for evermore on the eternal tablets of our own memory. These tablets are there for all to see when the time of weighing and balancing arrives, as we discussed in our investigation of the ancient Egyptian ceremony of the 'Weighing of the Heart'. This prompts the question: "who then is the judge of all our thoughts and actions?" Firstly, we ourselves, as we explained in the aforementioned article, as well as in many other articles. Secondly, the various gods who rule the Universe under the Supreme Deity who will reward us accordingly.

Later on in the Shu King we may read: "Find your repose in your proper resting point. Attend to the springs of things." In other words go to the root of all things as we continually advise our readers to do. Here are a few more sayings which everyone can profit from. "He who finds instructors for himself, comes to the supreme dominion; he who says that others are not equal to himself, comes to ruin. He who likes to put questions, becomes enlarged; he who uses only his own views, becomes smaller than he was. To revere and honour the path prescribed by Heaven is the way ever to preserve the favouring appointment of Heaven."

And now a salutary lesson for the lovers of astrology: "Calamities sent by Heaven may be avoided, but from calamities brought on by oneself there is no escape." Although the meaning of this is obvious, it is also true that under certain 'hard aspects' of the sun, moon and planets we may find obstructions placed in our way that will test us to breaking point. It is the way in which we respond to such tests that will enable us to overcome all difficulties by right conduct, or make things worse by either submitting supinely to the decrees of fate, or fighting wrong with wrong. In the latter case we stand a good chance of being destroyed in the end.

Next follows some good counsel from Yueh, the chief minister of King Wu-ting who reigned for nearly sixty years in the 13th century B.C. We would add in passing that one wit has suggested 'B.C.' stands for 'better conditions' and 'A.D.' for 'after dark.' If Yueh were alive today we're sure he would agree! Here is his excellent advice. "Wood by the use of the line is made straight, and the sovereign who gives ear to reproof is made sage. It is the mouth that gives occasion for shame, indulging the consciousness of being good is the way to lose that goodness; being vain of one's ability is the way to lose the merit it might produce. Do not open the door for favourites, from whom you will receive contempt. Do not be ashamed of mistakes, and go on to make them crimes. Let your mind rest in its proper objects, and the affairs of your government will be pure." Sadly, we fear that such advice would be lost on Boris Johnson who is so bent out of shape that no lines could ever straighten his twisted nature. Later on Yueh tells the kings: "In learning there should be a humble mind and the maintenance of a constant earnestness; in such a case the learner's improvement will surely come. He who sincerely cherishes these things will find all truth accumulating in his person. Teaching is the half of learning; when a man's thoughts from first to last are constantly fixed on learning, his virtuous cultivation comes unperceived."

The ancient Chinese taught that the three virtues are: correctness and straightforwardness; strong rule; and the third, mild rule. In peace and tranquillity, correctness and straightforwardness must hold sway; in violence and disorder, strong rule; in harmony and order, mild rule. The five sources of happiness are: Long life; riches; soundness of body and serenity of mind; the love of virtue; and fulfilling to the end the will of Heaven. The six extreme evils are; misfortune shortening the life; sickness; distress of mind; poverty; wickedness; and weakness. Though the Chinese taught these virtues and exhorted all to cherish them they were well aware of the weaknesses of the average human being and they therefore said: "Seek not every quality in one individual. Have patience with all, and you will be successful, have forbearance, and your virtue will be great. The people are born good, but are changed by external things, so that they resist what their superiors command, and follow what they themselves love. Do you but reverently observe the statutes, and the people will be found in the way of virtue; they will thus be changed and advance to a degree of excellence."

This is very similar advice to that given by the Frisian Sage Nyhelennia, whose teachings we discussed with you in the afterword to part three of our investigation of the legacy of Atlantis. What she had to say is well worth repeating: "The sparrows follow the sower, and the people their good princes, therefore it becomes you to begin by rendering yourselves pure, so that you may look within and without, and not be ashamed of your own conduct. Now, instead of purifying the people, you have invented foul festivals, in which they have so long revelled that they wallow like swine in the mire to atone for your evil passions." This prompts the question: 'do the present rulers of the world set a good example for the people to follow?' You know the answer to that question as well as we do! This shows us that persistent wealth and power had the same results thousands of years ago as we may observe today. It was for this reason that in ancient China it was said: "Families which have for generations enjoyed places of emolument seldom observe the rules of propriety. They become dissolute, and do violence to virtue, setting themselves in positive opposition to the way of Heaven. They ruin the formative principles of good; encourage extravagance and display; and tend to carry all on the same stream with them." This could have been written today.

The Li Ki

Another great Chinese classic is the Li Ki. If you wish to read it you cannot do better than to study it in the translation of James Legge (see Further reading list). The Li Ki is a collection of treatises on the rules of propriety or ceremonial usages, and as Confucius said:" It is by the Odes [Shih King] that the mind is aroused; by the Rules of Propriety [Li Ki] that the character is established; from Music that the finish is received." Confucius and the learned Chinese, as well as many Europeans, held the Li Ki in the greatest esteem, and with good reason, as Confucius explains: "Without the Rules of Propriety, respectfulness becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, timidity; boldness, insubordination; and straightforwardness, rudeness." How much we might all learn today from this one sentence alone! In this investigation we can only give you a flavour of the book, but the following few extracts will illustrate the subjects it deals with.

The Li Ki begins with a 'Summary of the Rules of Propriety' which tell us: "Always and in everything let there be reverence; with the deportment grave as when one is thinking (deeply), and with speech composed and definite. This will make the people tranquil." Could there be a better rule for strict and noble behaviour? We cannot think of any. Here is another rule. "Pride should not be allowed to grow; the desires should not be indulged; the will should not be gratified to the fill; pleasure should not be carried to excess." Is this not splendid advice? And does it not confirm all we have laboured to put before you in our article about Inner Peace through applied Wisdom, as well as in many others? This rule is followed by advice which might have come straight from the lips of the fifth Dynasty Egyptian Sage, Ptah-Hetep, who flourished some six thousand years ago: "When you find wealth within your reach, do not (try to) get it by improper means; when you meet with calamity, do not (try to) escape from it by improper means. Do not seek for victory in small contentions; do not seek for more than your proper share. Do not positively affirm what you have doubts about; and (when you have no doubts), do not let what you say appear (simply) as your own view."

Every aspect of life and every possible problem arising from life is discussed in this great classic in a wise and masterly manner. We may compare it to some extent with the Book of Proverbs, only like the Wisdom Teachings of Egypt mentioned above, it goes much farther and shows still greater experience of man and all his frailties, and how to overcome these in the correct manner. Good behaviour has always exercised the minds of many wise men and women, for it is the most important part of the theory of manners practically applied. Good behaviour is like a mirror into which each man or woman shows his or her image. Today we are told that eccentricity and peculiar behaviour may often accompany 'genius', but we should say that when they do they detract from genius not add to or adorn it. The man or woman of true genius will never affect to distinguish themselves by whimsical peculiarities. This applies especially to the long-haired, sandaled, black toe-nailed and generally unwashed specimens of 'magician' we may encounter in so-called 'occult' circles. We're sure you can think of other examples yourself.

chinese flowers

Ancient Chinese poetry

No survey of the Wisdom of China can be considered complete without considering ancient Chinese poetry, so we shall consider this next. Our source is the Shih King, a venerable collection of ancient Chinese poetry, thought and customs. The name means 'Book of Odes' and comprises some 300 odes selected by Confucius from a collection of 3,000 covering a period of at least a thousand years up to 775 B.C. As we shall see these remarkable poems provide us with many details about the beliefs and rituals of the early Chinese. The Shih King was translated by James Legge and published in 1879 as volume 3 of the Sacred Books of the East and can be read online (see Further reading list at the end of the sidebar). We have selected the following ode to give you some idea of the allegorical and symbolical nature of the poems to be found in the book.

"In the depths of the marsh though the crane may cry,
It is heard in the lands around.
In the deep dark pools though the fish may lie,
In the shallows may some be found.
Yonder lawn may be fragrant with sandal-trees,
Yet are withered dead leaves in their shade.
And the rocks on the hill that one yonder sees
Into polishing-stones may be made.
In the depths of the marsh though the crane may scream,
Yet its notes may be heard in the sky.
And though fish be found in the shallow stream,
There are those that in dark pools lie.
Yonder lawn may be fragrant with sandal-trees,
But the nettles will grow in their shade.
And the rocks on the hills that one yonder sees
Serve to polish your gems of jade."

Those of you who have read our article on the Wisdom of the Druids will note how similar the sentiments are to those found in the Druid Triplets. These, like the odes of the Shih King, contain a series of innocuous observations upon some natural phenomenon subjoined to a seemingly unconnected remark which, when considered together, conveys one or more important moral teachings. Though the style of the Druid Triplets differs from that of the Chinese odes, the descriptions of nature, of birds, animals and the weather is remarkably similar, as are the sublime teachings each was intended to convey to the instructed reader. Once again, all this points to a common source, and that source is Atlantis where ages earlier, such forms of didactic versification must have been in vogue. Later, the art was exported all over the world, taking on local colour and expression as it did so, yet always retaining the unmistakable clues to its origin in the motherland.

Not all the odes in the Shih King are allegorical or contain hidden meanings. Some are simple, joyous celebrations of the glories of Nature, like this delightful little Spring Song:

"Tis well, 'tis well! King Ch'in
In brightness hath approached you.
Lead forth these husbandmen
To sow their various seeds.
Grandly begin the work
All o'er your own broad acres;
And set behind your ploughs
Your myriad men in pairs."

This is followed by a Harvest Song:

"Exuberant is the year!
Of millet and rice what store!
And the corn-lofts high are filled
With million loads and more,
For brewing sweet drinks and strong,
For offerings to our sires
And grand dames gone before,
And for all each rite requires,
Ay blessings without end
Of every sort descend."

Here is a strange little ode to the blind musicians, celebrating the first grand performance by blind performers, forming the orchestra of the Duke of Chow, in the temple of King Wan.

"Lo, the blind players, the sightless band,
There in Chow's palace-precincts stand!
There are the music-stands arrayed:
Plumes on the high tooth'd beam displayed;
Drums small and large from the same depend.
Hand-drums too, and the sounding-stones;
Instruments signalling start and end.
Ready! Now all strike up the air;
Pipe and flute in the concert share.
Loud are the melodies and refrains,
Solemn, harmonious, tuneful strains.
These will the shades of our fathers hear!
So shall our visitors, when they come,
Long to their perfect art give ear."

We cannot refrain from quoting the following short ode for the offering of the first fish taken in spring:

"O, in the streams of Ts'iu and Ts'ih
Numbers of fish in the pools there be!
Sturgeons are there, the large, the small,
Salmon and smelt, and carp, and all;
Offerings meet for altar and shrine,
That for still greater blessings call."

The mention of offerings for 'altar and shrine' suggests that this little poem may well have a deeper meaning, like, yet unlike the verses we analysed earlier. Is not the heart the 'altar' of our being upon which, or through which, we approach divinity? The ancient Chinese and the ancient Egyptians both thought so. And does not our own Bible tell us that the body is the temple of the Spirit (Higher Self in our terminology) which we pollute at our peril? But read the book yourself and see how the Chinese worshipped Nature and understood her mysteries. And not only do the Chinese give evidence of their deep understanding and love for Nature in their verses, but their painters have always excelled in portraying Nature's glories in a refined and delicate manner that leaves most Western Art far behind as you can see in the examples illustrating this investigation.

Lao Tzu had this to say about inner attunement with Nature: "The man who is saturated with Virtue is like a little child. Scorpions will not sting him, wild beasts will not seize him, nor will birds of prey pluck at him. His young bones are not hard, neither are his sinews strong, yet his grasp is firm and sure. He is full of virility, though unconscious of his sex. Though he should cry out all day, yet he is never hoarse. Herein is shown his harmony with Nature. The knowledge of this harmony is the eternal Tao. The knowledge of the eternal Tao is illumination. Habits of excess grow upon a man, and the mind, giving way to the passions, they increase day by day. And when the passions have reached their climax, they also fail. This is against the nature of Tao. What is contrary to Tao soon comes to an end."

We would add that what is contrary to Nature always destroys itself in the end. Thus, the Way of Nature is The Way, the Path, the Tao, provided we do not abuse Nature as mankind is doing now and has been doing for many generations, and so lose the right to use the Path that leads upwards, to the Higher Realms of Light where we shall behold Nature in a more supreme expression of itself. These are the Heavenly Places described so beautifully and truly in The Golden Star where all sorrows will be healed, a picture so fair that no dream could envisage it on earth. We behold heaven as in a mirror when we immerse ourselves in Nature at its best, and this is what the Chinese peoples of all times have felt when they adore the beauties of earth as seen in field and flower, grass and tree, and delicate bird upon the wing. But — only those who are "filled with Virtue, like a little child," as Lao Tzu says, can behold the real glory of such creations. It is for this reason that the Bible tells that: "Except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18.3). Is it not wonderful how all these things connect up, all over the world, in all times and climes?

flowery branch


Before we conclude our survey of the Wisdom of China we must fulfil the promise we made to discuss the great Chinese philosopher Mencius (372-289 B.C.). Regretfully, lack of time and space mean we can only share a very few of his teachings, but we hope these will be sufficient to give you a flavour of his great wisdom. The explanations in square parenthesis are ours.

"Restrain the will, but do no violence to your motives. If the will is concentrated, it imparts activity to the motives; but if the motives are concentrated, they impel the will. Every man has a heart sensible of sympathy, shame, tenderness and conscientiousness, and he who is without these is simply not a man. The Ego [Higher Self] of every man contains these four germs; if he knows how to develop and perfect them, it is as when a fire begins to burn or the spring first gushes forth. If one is able to actually complete them [meaning to fully to mature or perfect them], they are then ample to provide for all within the four seas; if unable to mature them, it is not enough for the service of one's own parents. Cultivation of the heart [actually he means the Higher Self] is necessary on account of the desires for the enjoyment of external things." In other words, we must learn to control our desires. But the growth of the good cannot be forced, and Mencius quotes the man whose wheat would not grow quickly enough, so he went to his fields and tugged hard at it. When he came home he said: "I am very tired, for I have helped the wheat to grow." When his son rushed out to the field to see what had happened, he found the wheat all withered. This shows us that growth must be natural, never forced.

Mencius also said: "Benevolence [or love] is the heart of man, righteousness the way. It is pitiable to man to abandon his way and not follow it, to let slip his heart and not know how again to seek it. When people's fowls or dogs stray away, they know how to seek them again; they have an erring heart, yet they know not how to find that again. The aim of studies and investigations consists in nothing else than this, only and altogether the seeking of the erring heart." Of himself Mencius said "I wish also to improve the hearts of men, to put a stop to destructive doctrines, to oppose strange behaviour, to banish unseemly language, in order to act as representative of the three holy ones." No comment is needed for these are the true words of a true Messenger from God to man.

We would like to end our all too brief review of the teachings of Mencius and this investigation with a choice piece of advice all can profit from, whether they are occultists or not. Here it is. "When Heaven is about to impose an important office upon a man, it first embitters his heart in its purposes; it causes him to exert his bones and sinews; it lets his body suffer hunger; it inflicts upon him want and poverty, and confounds his undertakings. In this way it stimulates his heart, steels his nature, and supplies that of which the man would else be incapable." Think this over, dear reader if it should be the case that you have been placed in a position of authority or have an important task to perform, and it may provide encouragement and new perspective in your times of trial.

© Copyright Article published 17 July 2022.

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