Zigong’s Shu Doesn’t Fit
In my thread on ritual, “Small and Great: Follow It!” the subject of “shu” 恕 came up. I suggested that shu is integral to the subject of “real” ritual performances (if the function of ritual is to play a constitutive role in the promotion of harmony). I’m hoping we can use this thread to discuss the notion of “shu” through examining the character of Zigong to see if there is, as I suspect, a fundamental connection. Below the fold I lay it all out.
I’ll try to line up the relevant text here, and then advance a modest thesis towards the end. Let’s start first with the text on Shu and on Zigong:
A. Shu and Zigong
1. “Shu” comes up in a prominent role in 4.15:
The Master said, “Shen, my doctrine is that of an all-pervading unity.” The disciple Zeng replied, “Yes.” The Master went out, and the other disciples asked, saying, “What do his words mean?” Zeng said, “The doctrine of our master is to be true to the principles of our nature and the benevolent exercise of them to others, this and nothing more.”
Here, “shu” comes up in the second part: it is said to lie in the “benevolent exercise of (the principles of our nature) them to others”.
2. Again, in 15.24:
Zigong asked, saying, “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” The Master said, “Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others
Here, “shu” is described in a way as to make it look like “the golden rule”, or that one should “do unto others as one would want them to do unto you.”
3. At 5.12, Zigong is admonished by the Master,
Zigong said, “What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to men.” The Master said, “Ci, you have not attained to that.”
But what is he admonished for? Clearly here he is functioning as a negative exemplar of Shu. In some sense, he fails to follow the golden rule, and so fails to employ “the principles of his nature” in a benevolent way.
The reason for this, I suspect: Zigong is judgmental.
5. As 14.29 puts it:
Zi Gong was in the habit of comparing men together. The Master said, “Ci must have reached a high pitch of excellence! Now, I have not leisure for this.”
4. As a result, it seems, Zigong is given a name-tag in 5.4:
Zi Gong asked, “What do you say of me, Ci!” The Master said, “You are a utensil.” “What utensil?” “A gemmed sacrificial utensil.”
The Master’s condemnation should be insulting; by calling Zigong an instrument or utensil of limited capacity, he argues that Zigong is not accomplished, for an accomplished scholar (and one would suppose that Zigong aspires to this, in his study of ritual) is not a utensil (2.12).
B. Talking about Rituals and He
There are many passages in the Analects that link rituals to harmony. I won’t hash those out here (unless someone thinks one is important). Instead, I’ll talk in general about them here as a way of making a modest proposal. If specific text needs to be incorportated, we can do it in the comments section below.
One place to start is here at 13.23. Here, we are told that the junzi seeks out “harmony” and “not sameness”. We are also told that the junzi “agrees without being an echo” — this raising up the image of a person who can come to agreement with others without having to be identical to those others. He can, in a sense, converge on the same end point from a different perspective or point of view.
Typically, such “agreements” or “seeking sameness” instead of harmony is done through the performance of ritual. Harmony itself is understood as reliant upon a way in which a ritual performance dance plays out; some such performances harmonize the contributions of the partners towards a common goal, some do not (there are a variety of different reasons for this, I suspect).
A general picture emerges. Two (or more) partners engage in communicative ritual performances moving towards a common goal. However, within that dance is likely a hierarchy. It could be a mother/son relationship, or a ruler/subject, or a teacher/student. So how does this play out differently with respect to the differences in power status?
One argument that has been put forth is this: the person in the situation who is the “benefactor” (the one in the higher position; mother/ruler/teacher) has, as a part of their “job”, the “benevolent” exercise of that role’s power. In one sense, it might be argued that whether the relationship, in its performance of ritual, is harmonious depends strongly on the capacity for “shu” in the benefactor.
The reason for this, I suspect, is that the benefactor has it within his/her power to squash difference in the performances of the beneficiary and to thus count them as non-virtuous or suspect. Thus, the temptation lying in the role of benefactor is to see the _way_ in which roles are carried out in an overly parochial way. One very real way of doing this would be to use rituals in an overly rigid way.
An example: it may be that it is the role of a son to treat his mother in an X way in a Y situation in order to express Z. It may be, in a particular interaction, that the son is unable to X in Y, but still wishes to Z. It could be that the son could A or B in order to Z, but these are departures from “the way” things are done. It could be that allowing for A or B means “relaxing” the rituals in a way that seeks to find ways for the beneficiary to put in a virtuous ritual performance without having to live up to the “letter” of them, but instead having to live up to “their spirit” (so to speak). In this example, some imaginative projection on the part of the benefactor shows that expressing Z in this context is the spirit of the ritual, and the reasoning for Xing in Y, and some “putting oneself in the place of the other” shows that A and Bing are consistent with Z (this seems consistent with 15.29, where the Master said, “A man can enlarge the principles which he follows; those principles do not enlarge the man.”).
However, it could be that, with respect to the person the benefactor is, “giving up” or “letting go” in this way — letting the other bring something unique to the situation — requires a kind of sacrifice of the benefactor’s parochial, selfish interest. Due to an inability to overcome this (perhaps a reference to 12.1?), some benefactors fail to “open up the space” for virtue in the other, and thus rule out, through a failure of Shu, the possibility for harmonious ritual dance between the two.
It is in this context, I think, that Zigong’s failure becomes clearer. He fails at Shu because he treats the “letter” of the Li too seriously. He studies the Li not as a way to communicate in a harmonious way with his fellow relational partners, but rather as a way to beat those that he meets over the head with judgments — as the Master notes, this is his personality. He seems to enjoy “comparing people”. As a result, Li has become a tool for him — one that allows him to feel better about himself, one of the key vices and dangers that the Master points out throughout the work. he does not seek to “embody” Li, he seeks to use it as an external hammer for the benefit of his own ego.
Zigong does not seek difference, he seeks sameness. He is not interested in allowing the other to bring uniqueness to the situation at hand in a way that can yield an interesting harmony. He seeks not to blend, but to impose.
This has been a long, long, long post. So I’ll stop here. Hopefully most of the above makes sense, or at least enough to get a good conversation going.
Note: I’ll be slower in responses to this thread. I have a pile of recommendations to write, a article review to finish, and some papers to grade. So I’ll be “in and out” so to speak.