Zhu Xi and Mental Attention
One of Chu Hsi’s aphorisms in Learning to Be a Sage stuck out to me, and I’m not sure if it is the translation that seems peculiar, or if there’s an idea there that I’m not picking up on. Click below for the passage: hopefully there are a few Chu Hsi’ers out there who can help.
At 6.60, Chu Hsi says:
In practicing inner mental attentiveness, you have to look back. To be righteous, you have to look forward.
In reading the text, Chu Hsi points out that inner mental attentiveness (IMA) and righteousness are linked in a way that might suggest that the former is the “making orderly” of what is inside, whereas the latter is the making orderly of what is exterior. I suppose that Chu Hsi means that the latter is Yi, which leaves me wondering what exactly IMA corresponds to in the Confucian lexicon.
Now, in the rest of the text, Chu Hsi is forceful that what we need to be able to “get hold of” is principle; we need to be able to concentrate on it, and we need to be able to see it in the books we read. So I am supposing here that he thinks that IMA corresponds to Li, which are typically understood to be rituals but can also be understood as principles.
If this is right (I’m not sure that it is), I’m left now returning to 6.60 and Chu Hsi’s mention of “looking forward” and “looking back.” To “look forward” and link it to Yi makes some sense to me in a way. If Yi is the “making orderly” of what is external, then it is the “making orderly” of the way in which one engages with one’s plans and projects as one pushes forward. One makes sure that one’s decision to take on this or that aim is in accord with Yi. Seen in this way, Yi seems to correspond to the future.
But what about “looking back” and its association with Li? I wonder: is what Chu Hsi saying here that we need to be able to, with IMA or resolve or reverence, be capable or holding fast to what is past? After all, the Li are the respository of the Yi of past generations (to conjure up an Amesean phrase). Is what Hsi is saying here that one must learn to connect the past and the future in one’s life? That one’s present actions must, in a way, find a “home” in a narrative that continues out of the past and pushes forward into the future?
Yeah, that’s a lot to squeeze out of one cryptic aphorism, but what the hell. Any thoughts?