From David Cain’s Wild Wild West persona Kwang Chai Cain, the peripatetic peace-loving Shaolin monk to Disney’s Mulan, Kung Fu Panda and upcoming Moana to the Karate Kid, the allure of Eastern Thought has held a certain popular appeal. Here we listen to noted Chinese novelist, philosopher, translator and inventor (a Chinese typewriter plus a toothpaste-dispensing toothbrush) Lin Yutang as he reconciles his upbringing as the son of a Chinese Pastor with his learning in Chinese Classics and later return to Christianity.
Lin Yutang, From Pagan to Christian (New York and Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1959).
Finally caving to my curiosity about Orthodox Theologian/Philosopher David Bentley Hart’s defense of universal salvation, I downloaded That All Shall be Saved: Heaven, Hell & Universal Salvation, his much ballyhooed book that came out in the fall of 2019. I still have not made it very far in the book, but my inner Sinophile was amused to find him state how he had
“already been fascinated with Asian literature, cultures and religions for years … I suspect it all started very early in childhood, with a large anthology of classical Indian and Chinese texts edited by Lin Yutang … [as well as] various collections of Asian myths and legends and poems, and such condensed versions of great Indian epics as were available … and, I have to admit, the television program Kung Fu had something of a powerful influence over me at an impressionable age”
 David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2019), Kindle, loc. 179, Ch. 1.
Separated at Birth?
My familiarity with Asian thought likewise had been initially spurred by David Cain’s tv show Kung Fu, when, as a fairly devout Christian youth, I was curious how and what people from other parts of the world thought about religious matters. I had more recently run across mention of Chinese literary and legendary classics such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms (in fact I had a video game by the same title back in my Nintendo 64 days) and Journey to the West, but Hart’s mention of such a Christian Chinese Philosopher and author proved irresistible, and I managed to find the book, a 1959 title with the price of $3.50 printed on its cover, online and order a copy. It turns out to serve as a valuable introduction to Chinese thought since the days of the ethical and rational Confucius, the mystical and Taoist Laotse (author of the I’Ching) and Buddha, drawing parallels between these figures and their Western philosophical counterparts such as Immanuel Kant, logical positivists, and Romantic poets.
Yutang, born in the village of Poa-a near the mountains of South China in 1895, earned his doctorate in Chinese Philology from the University of Leipzig in 1923, after which he spent his career teaching English Literature, writing novels for both Chinese and English audiences, translating Chinese literature and popularizing Chinese culture for the West. He was raised Christian as his father was a Christian pastor, but came to lament how his early Western and Christian education extracted a cost of near complete ignorance of traditional Chinese culture; From Pagan to Christian chronicles Yutang’s journey from his Christian roots to consideration of Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist beliefs and finally his return to the Christian faith. Yutang describes his journey between “the Scylla of a damning hell-fire and the Charybdis of Pharasaism … of organized belief” as arduous but worth the effort, though, like Hart, he found himself a disciple of Jesus and a Christian while yet questioning the particular doctrine of hell. His journey is instructive for not just understanding but feeling the worth of an Asian mindset and philosophy, and also for seeing how the Asian mind and soul can best find their answers in the person of Jesus. Yutang describes his early inclinations towards faith as follows:
“There is something about living in the country so close to the high mountains, for to be close to them is to be close to Gods greatness … Those high mountains have become a [part of me and my religion, for they give me a richness and inner strength and sense of independence which no man can take away from me. It gives reality to the Biblical line ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him …’ and I am inclined to believe that no man who has not known the pleasure of letting his toes touch the wet grass can truly know God.” (21)
Yutang’s youth was not immunized against such influences as Confucianism, as his father would discuss such classics and even read from the Confucian Book of Poetry to his family. Yet, Yutang realized that “any Chinese laundryman was better acquainted with the heroes and heroines of The Three Kingdoms than I was … when I discovered that the tears of Chi Liang’s widow, on finding her husband dead as conscript to build the Great Wall, had melted away a good section of the Great Wall, my rage was terrible” (35). Yutang’s revulsion to the (Christian) West grew from the irony of Western gunboats ultimately paving the way for the opium trade (one is reminded of the nationalistic, anti-Western and anti-Christian Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901), though he was more deeply moved by the misunderstanding of Confucian practices of ancestor “worship.” “Confucius was practically doing antediluvian research when he tried to re-establish the evidences of the forms and rules of ancestor worship of the founders of the Chou Dynasty some seven centuries before him” Yutang claims, adding that “ancestor worship for the Chinese is the embodiment of reverence for the past and continuity with the past, and of the strong and deep family system and therefore of the Chinese motivation for living… only by the wildest stretch of imagination could they be called idolatry” (37). As Confucius put it, “to gather in the same places where our fathers before us have gathered; to perform the same ceremonies … this is the highest achievement of true filial piety;” Yutang adds “scratch a Chinaman and you will find an indelible pride in his ancestors” (38). Or, as the Chinese proverb states “when you drink water, think of its source” (38).
 Lin Yutang, From Pagan to Christian (New York and Cleveland, The World Publishing Company, 1959), 14.
Yutang cites two Chinese intellectual figures as exerting a strong influence on him in his early days: Dr. Hu Shih “whose name spells the Chinese Literary Renaissance of 1917” (44), and the Philosopher Ku Hung-Ming, who “played a critical role in the direction of my beliefs by turning everything upside down” (46). The Chinese Literary Renaissance exhibited “true resolve on the part of intellectual Chinese to make a complete break with the past” (45) while Republican armies were otherwise battling those of the warlords. Hu Shih offered a moderating, scholarly voice to offset that of Communists like Chen Tu-shiu who damned Confucian values such as chastity, widowhood and foot-binding. Ku Hung-ming, returning from study at universities in Berlin, Edinburgh and Oxford, was described at length by Somerset Maugham in On a Chinese Screen, best summarized with “but his study of Western philosophy had only served in the end to satisfy him that wisdom after all was to be found within the limits of the Confucian canon.” (48). His translation of three of the Confucian Four Books, as well as his own Discourses and Sayings of Confucius studded with references to Goethe, Schiller and Ruskin, were illuminating at a time when Chinese concepts such as ren (benevolence, mercy, humanity), yi (justice) and li (ritual, courtesy, social order) were only vaguely understood (51). Ku railed against Christendom – opium, gunboats and missionaries – but found a basis for religion in Confucius, “what you are: that is your religion, it is not your religion which makes you what you are” (55). Thus, Ku concluded, the unselfish and merciful can be “Christian” whereas the opposite are Philistines and heathen. But to understand the Chinese, nations such as America, Germany, England and France must appreciate the qualities of depth, broadness, simplicity but, above all, a delicacy of mind which can only be gained by a study of China’s literature and culture (57).
From Pagan to Christian is divided into chapters reflecting Yutang’s journey through Asian systems of thought: The Mansion of Confucius, The Peak of Mount Tao and The Dissolving Mist of Buddhism. The focus on Confucius, Laotse the founder of Taoism, and Buddha makes historical sense, as all were essentially contemporaries:
Laotse 570 (?) – (?) B.C. [though some argue that Laotse belongs to the 4th century B.C.]
Buddha c. 563 – 483 B.C.
Confucius 551 – 479 B.C.
Yutang follows these discussion by shorter chapters describing his journey back to Christian faith, titled Reason in Religion, The Challenge of Materialism and The Majesty of Light. A summary of each stage follows.
The Mansion of Confucius
Yutang begins by characterizing Chinese thought with “now the Chinese, I must say, have no aptitude for abstract ideas” for example, “big-small” denotes size, “light-heavy” denotes weight, while more abstract concepts such as “right,” “justice” and “loyalty” are difficult to distinguish, as are shih (true and false) and fei (right and wrong), or shin which represents both the head and the heart; consequently, “there is no danger of being submerged in the process of abstract ratiocination too long” (60). Thus, China could never produce a mind like Kant’s, talk of ding-an-0sich, the thing in itself, would dissolve with a rejoinder like “No, we Chinese do not understand what Kant is talking about, may we now go eat our banana?” Nor could China produce an Aristotle, though they would be amazed at the breadth of his learning, but less taken with his systematic classification. As Confucius advised his disciple Tseshia who gathered facts, “Be a gentleman scholar; do not be a petty scholar” (62).
Yale Philosopher FSC Northrop’s 1946 book
The Philosopher F.S. C. Northrop, on the other hand, captured the Chinese mentality well when he spoke of the “undifferentiated esthetic continuum” of a totality that the Chinese size up from their more immediate level of perception; they thus resemble descriptions of the transcendentalist poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, “an absolute Impressionist in his style, his composition, his thought” (62). Otherwise, Yutang lists a number of schools of thought which he does not address: Sophists, Logicians, Legalists, and Motians (Motseans) with their question-and-answer approach including asceticism and self-sacrifice based on the Fatherhood of God (using the Chinese term for Heaven as a proxy for a monotheistic God) and brotherhood of man.
Yutang’s view of Jesus cuts across the various systems while yet superseding them. Yutang states
“The teachings of Jesus are admittedly in a category by themselves, unique and of a strange beauty, teaching something which is not found in other religions” (65)
though he claims that systems of thought are rarely mutually exclusive at all points” and the Chinese have the “ability to admit truth and beauty wherever they are found” (65) Great Chinese minds like Po Chuyi (8th c.) and Su Tungpo (11th c.) “lived Confucian lives, and wrote Buddhist poetry permeated with Taoist sentiments. Yutang illustrates the interplay of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian sentiments with the story of Su Tungpo, a Confucian scholar and poet, and his love poems to his young Buddhist mistress after mourning the loss of his wife in 1094 A.D. Tungpo writes of her putting aside her dancing dress and bonds of mortal marital union (Confucianist) for the (Taoist) pill of immortality (once produced by the “pill furnace”) to enter the fairy mountains, while a celestial Buddhist maiden (Vimalakirti) scatters flowers the petals of which glance off the saints but stick to those still bound by their mortal desires. Yutang claims that “it is this very problem of human life … with all its pathos and its beauty … which Jesus solved with such clarity and simplicity” (67).
Yutang claims to be “more of a Taoist by instinct than a Confucian by belief,” though Neo-Confucians have brought a Buddhist perspective; otherwise, “Confucianism and Taoism are regarded as opposite poles of Chinese thought: Confucius was a positivist, Laotse was a mystic, Confucius’s main concern was with man, while Laotse’s main concern was with the mystery and the nature of the universe; Confucius regarded the universe as part of man, while Laotse considered man as part of the universe” (68). Confucius studied ancient works, giving us the Five Confucian Classics; in his moralizing and wisdom, Confucius can be compared to the likes of Samuel Johnson, Socrates and Jesus. Confucius believed in (a monotheistic) God or “Heaven,” stating “when you have offended Heaven (God), you have no one to pray to” (74). Of death and the afterlife, Confucius’s teachings were typically unconcerned, though in the Analects he does exhibit a “sense of awe and piety in the presence of death” (75). His interest in the Book of Changes showed homage to a God which directs the ways of man; of religious rites, he stated “If one only understood the meaning of these sacrifices to Heaven and Earth, and the significance of the services in ancestral worship in summer and autumn, it would be as easy to bring peace and order to a nation as to point a finger at the palm” (75). Confucius’s love of music shows his aesthetic side and openness to invisible influences, as he described music as a crowning “consummation” of education (75).
Confucius was concerned primarily with two things: the problem of man and the problem of society. His distrust of merely legal solutions to these casts him as more of an ally with Aristotle than with Plato, and held to an Aristotelian position that habits (and custom) reinforce ethics, as “from the emperor down to the common man, the cultivation of the self is the foundation of all” (76). Ren, or true manhood (it is the symbol for man; also interpreted as kindness, humanity) was the ideal towards which we should strive (79); a ren man, the human ideal, would be ren-ren.
Confucian philosophy is best articulated in some chapters of Liki (a Confucian classic) written by Tsesze, Confucius’s grandson. The universe is spiritual by nature, and by living in harmony with its moral law, man realizes his true self (as well as finding harmony with the universe); the chapter in which this is articulated, the Chung-yung, was so highly regarded and central that it formed one of the Four Books for Chinese schoolchildren. “This moral law [Tao] is to be found everywhere, and yet it is a secret,” a product of “Nature [which] is vast, deep, high, intelligent, infinite and eternal” the Chung-yung declares (82-83). The Chung-yung summarizes
“In the Book of Songs it is said:
The ordinance of God.
How inscrutable it is and goes on for ever!
That is to say, this is the essence of God.” (83).
The Chung-yung further argues that our human nature is fulfilled by observance of God’s law:
“What is God-given is called human nature.
To fulfill that nature is called the moral law (Tao).
The cultivation of the moral law is called culture.” (85)
Assuming a Taoist connection here, however, is premature. Confucius himself often used the word “Tao” to denote moral order without being considered to have borrowed doctrines from Laotse, the originator of Taoism (and in fact, Confucius’s contemporary). Similarities do occur, however, as the Taoist doctrine of inaction echoes almost eerily in statements by Confucius in the Chung-yung such as “such being the nature of absolute truth, it manifests itself without being seen; it produces effects without motion; it accomplishes ends without action” (86).
Later Confucian doctrine followed one of two schools: Hsuntse who emphasized the wickedness of human nature and the need for restraint, and Mencius (372 – 289 B.C.) who emphasized man’s innate goodness, which requires encouragement and cultivation. “The great man is one who has not lost the heart of a child” Mencius preached, along with the virtue of “the expansive spirit,” the soul which is at risk of devolving from man to beast without “proper nourishment and care” (87-88). Yutang compares the teachings of Mencius (expansive spirit, a higher self and great man rather than simply a gentleman) here to the elan vital of Henri Bergson, and recalls his father speaking of “the nobility of the God of Mencius from the Christian pulpit” (89).
Confucius’s deep imprint on Chinese character is given witness by the prominence of his teachings for 2500 years, “affecting manners, customs, family life, and social habits and religious worship” (91). In contrast to recent social theories which often result in tyranny, Confucius “kept clear of economics but laid a tight hold on human psychology, particularly on the love of man for woman and of parent for child. Whoever flouts these laws must perish soon, despite bayonets and prison walls. Even today,” Yutang further declares, “Confucius is still the most terrible underground leader in Red China, for the sentiments nourishing revolt are Confucian” (92). Confucian teaching centers on human relations (jen-lun) and the five basic (ta-tuan) relations, each with a particular moral quality attached:
Loyalty between rulers and ruled
Love and respect between father and son
Affection between husband and wife
Humility between juniors and elders
Honesty between friends
These all come under the concept of li or “good form” and social order. Even corrupted relations in China are attended by at least a veneer of good manners if not personal relation. The family system is the core of Confucian teaching, from which social action follows naturally.
Confucianism gripped China for nearly 2500 years, forming the backbone of governmental and educational examination system, and creating an aristocracy of merit and virtue. Enlightenment era Europeans admired Confucian humanism, from Voltaire to Leibniz to Diderot, with Leibniz’s “pre-established harmony” of monads one such evidence, as well as his suggestion that “Chinese missionaries should be sent to us to teach us the aim and practice of natural theology, as we send missionaries to them to instruct them in revealed theology” (104).
But, in the East, just as in the West, the Rationalism of Confucius was followed by the Romanticism of Laotse and Chuangtse. Rationalism could produce a well-scrubbed, functioning but boring mansion, but “man has feelings, and sometimes not unreasonable dreams” Yutang reminds us; thus, “Romanticism had to follow Rationalism.” “Fortunately, for China, the Chinese were half of the time Taoists.” (106).
The Peak of Mount Tao
Yutang likens the Romanticism of Taoism to Ralph Waldo Emerson the 19th century American Transcendentalist philosopher, who similarly “communicates that excitement of the soul which every American college youth must have experienced” (108). Neo-Confucian transcendental idealism could be found in the teaching of Lu Chiu-yuan (A.D. 1139 – 1192), seven centuries before Kant and Hegel, but it is in packing of “oracular wisdom into five thousand words of concentrated brilliance” that Laotse influenced the thought of a nation like no other philosopher (107). While Confucius “kept the spirits and God Himself at arm’s length,” Laotse dared to ask what lie beyond duty and doubt, giving voice to that “lurking desire to explore the beyond, to take a daring leap into the dark void and ask a question or two of God Himself” (109). Laotse’s advice to the young Confucius, “give a ceremonial bath to your mind,” Yutang likens to Jesus’s declaring that “unless your righteousness be greater than that of the Pharisees and Sadducees, you cannot enter the kingdom of God,” or Emerson “I unsettle all things.” Laotse, not Confucius, made China philosophical (and, though they are good merchants, China will never become a ‘nation of shop-keepers!’).
A wistfulness of soul, “that tongue-in-cheek submission to authority, that mighty nonresistance which determines to suffer and sit it out and outlive any tyrant” – all this is Taoism, Yutang declares. Two facets of the Chinese soul can be found: one of “action and doing and believing” is augmented by the other “of being, of doubting, and wondering, which invests life with a dreamlike quality” (111). “The greatest epigram maker in the world” and “full of paradoxes which are crisp and clear and unforgettable,” Laotse taught that
“He who knows others is learned; he who knows himself wise”
“He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know”
“To yield is to be preserved whole.
To be bent is to become straight.
To be hollow is to be filled.
To be tattered is to be renewed.
To be in want is to possess.
To have plenty is to be confused.”
Yutang likens Laotse’s paradoxes to Jesus’s “He who loses his life will find it” and Paul’s foolishness of this world confounding the wise. Behind Laotse’s paradoxes and epigrams with their own beauty and a scent of religion, such as
“He who embraces this Tao
Guards against being over-full.
Because he guards against being over-full
He is beyond wearing out and renewal”
is his great principle of the Tao. Silent, all-pervasive, evasive, elusive unseen and invisible, all-powerful, the origin of all things and also the principle to which all manifested forms of life eventually return (120), the Tao is also known as The, the active principle of Tao (virtue in a way) when Tao manifests itself in the world (as from the title Tao-teh-Ching). Thus, Taotse states
“Therefore Tao gives them birth,
Teh fosters them”
“Before Heaven and Earth existed
There was something nebulous:
Standing alone, changing not,
Eternally revolving without fail
Worthy to be the Mother of All Things.
I do not know its name
And address it as Tao.
If forced to give it a name, I shall call it “Great.”
Being great implies reaching out in space,
Reaching out in space implies far-reaching,
Far-reaching implies reversion to the original point.” (120)
Laotse’s paradoxes rest as well on the eternal balance of yin and yang, or Being and non-Being, female quiescence and male action, which even Confucius studied, as Laotse declares
“It is the Way of Heaven to take away from those who have too much and give to those that have not enough … This is the Subtle Light.” (122)
A return to nature, to our original nature, lies behind the quiescent non-interference of Taoism:
“There are those who will conquer the world
And make of it (what they conceive or desire).
I see that they will not succeed
(For) the world is God’s own Vessel,
It cannot be made (by human interference)
He who makes it spoils it.
He who holds it loses it.” (124)
The innocence Laotse sought to preserve, imitating “uncarved wood” and “keeping whole the soul” led the way for Taoism to later become associated with magic and occult arts.
Laotse argues that the honesty and loyalty of the heart are lost by Confucian practice: in perhaps a Nietzschean twist, benevolence, justice, kindness, loyalty, and li (good form) leads to a “thinning out” of the heart of man,
“The prophets are the flowering of Tao
And the origin of folly” (124)
Instead, Laotse began to a preach gentleness reminiscent of Jesus and the meek who would inherit the earth:
That weakness overcomes strength
And gentleness overcomes rigidity …
He who can see the small is clear sighted;
He who stays by gentility is strong.
“Requiting hatred with virtue” is another of Laotse’s teaching that approach those of Jesus,
“Who bears himself the sins of the world
Is the king of the world” (127)
In the political realm, Laotse strongly taught peace
“He who by Tao purposes to help the ruler of men
Will oppose all conquest by force of arms” (127)
“Even in victory, there is no beauty
And who calls it beautiful
Is one who delights in slaughter” (128)
Laotse resembled Jesus, and perhaps Gandhi, in his advocacy of “Three Treasures” of love, never too much and never be the first in the world:
“Through love, one has no fear
Through not doing too much, one has amplitude of power
Through not presuming to be the first in the world,
One can develop one’s talent and let it mature” (129)
Yutang Lin summarized Laotse’s teaching with a poem of his own:
“I teach the wisdom of the foolish,
The weakness of the strong,
The strength of softness which is water,
The untarnished lowly born
I teach the lesson of humility –
O-erstretched snaps the bow
The usefulness of futility
The advantage of lying low
How come the king of rivers, the sea,
But from lowly reavines
Even in clash and clang of battles
The Man of Sorrow wins.” (129)
Chuangtse, a contemporary of Plato and Mencius I the 4th century B.C. (c. 335 – 275 B.C.), like Laotse came from Chu, the modern states of Honan and Hupei north of the Yangtze (then considered the South of China), and Yutang c0nsiders him “the greatest prose master of Classical China” (129). Chuangtse wrestled the problems of the soul, immortality, the nature of being, of knowledge and, as a metaphysical monist, anticipated Shan (Zen) Buddhism.
Chuangtse utilized three different methods of teaching:
- Serious words of wisdom, such as
“Our mind is finite, but knowledge is infinite. To pursue the infinite with our finite intelligence – alas! What a dangerous occupation”
- “Ladle words” which flow as much from the mind as from the imagination
“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt that I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming that I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming that I am a man.”
- Allegories to illustrate a point, or “lambaste the great of his days”
Such as the dialogue between the k’uei (one-legged hopping animal), the centipede, the snake, the wind, the eye and the mind in which, for instance, the wind brags of its ability to uproot trees and topple houses yet be defeated by the simple poke of a finger, “from a great number of defeats I achieve the great victory.” Similarly, clouds and nebula discourse on the virtue of silence and inaction.
But, while Laotse taught a meekness, Chuangtse encouraged the spirit to robustly “roam in the realm of Nowhere” (132); Chuangtse presented an active male yang to Laotse’s meek and feminine yin: for instance, the symbol of water for Laotse showed the “strength of softness” and “virtue of seeking the lowly” while for Chuangtse, it spoke of the “enormous latent power in quiescence” (133).
Chuangtse compares to Pascal in his “intense religious mysticism” and perspective on the limited role of reason: to Pascal’s sublime “the silent spaces terrify me,” Chuangtse declares
“There is great beauty in the silent universe. There are manifest laws governing the four seasons without words. There is an intrinsic principle in the created things which is not expressed. The Sage looks back to the beauty of the universe and penetrates into the intrinsic principle of created things. Therefore the perfect man does nothing, the great Sage takes no action. In doing this, he follows the pattern of the universe. The spirit of the universe is subtle and informs all life.” (133)
In the opening of his Prologemena, Chuangtse outlines an important stream of Chinese philosophy:
“Whence comes the spirit and how did consciousness ever arise? The Sage’s wisdom must have a source, and the king’s power must derive from something. The source of both is the One [of the universe].” (134)
Chuangtse assumes a medieval-like harmony of the universe,
“(Now) the world is in universal chaos. The ways of the wise and the sage are not understood, and Tao and Teh are taught in different ways… Without an adequate comprehension of he whole, these are but one-alley scholars … Alas, gone astray are th4 various schools of philosophy, unable to find their way back. They shall never find the truth. The scholars of posterity, unfortunately, shall not be able to see the original simplicity of the universe and the main foundation of thought of the ancients. Philosophy is thus cut up and falls apart.” (135)
Chaungtse eschews simple, incomplete ideologies, holding out for the permanence found by true philosophy:
“Some of the teaching of the ancients lay in this: reality is ever elusive and formless, and all life is constant change. What are life and death? Am I one with the universe? Where do the spirits move? The creation lies before me, but in none of these can be found the true source. Chuang Chou heard of such teachings and loved them. With unbridled fancies, facetious language and sweet romantic nonsense, he gives free play to his spirit without restraint … he cannot be understood from any detached sayings of his … His “ladle words” are a continual pouring forth, his serious words are true, and his “allegories” are broad in implications … Though his language is uneven, it is lively and good reading, for it overflows from the fulness of his thoughts and he cannot stop himself. Above, his spirit wanders with the Creator, and below he makes friends with those who transcend life and death and beginning and end. The foundation of his thought is big and wide, deep and unconfined. The core of his teaching can encompass all phenomena and reach up to the divine order. However, in its adjustment to the changing life and understanding of physical things, its principle is inexhaustible, traceless dark and formless, and it is difficult to get hold of.” (136)
Yutang claims that “Chuangtse, like Pascal, began with a searching inquiry into the cause of life, with something like despair” and a feel for “the pathos of human life”
“Joy and anger, sorrow and happiness, worries and regrets, hesitation and feats, come upon us by turns with ever changing moods, like music from the hollows, or like mushrooms from the swamp [??? 😊 ] “ … The body decomposes, and the mind goes with it. Is this not a great cause for sorrow? Is human life indeed such a puzzle?” (137)
Pascal’s echoes the same angst about the soul, claiming that
“The resting in ignorance is a monstrous thing … this is our true state; this is what makes us incapable of certain knowledge and of absolute ignorance … this is our natural condition, and yet most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses.” (138)
Chaungtse’s epistemology echoes (presages) that of Pascal and of Zen Buddhism, holding that language is inadequate to express “the Absolute:”
“Perfect Tao cannot be given a name. A perfect argument does not employ words … Who knows the argument which can be argued without words, and the Tao which does not declare itself as Tao? He who knows this may be said to have entered the realm of spirit.” (139)
Quite similarly, Pascal declares
“True eloquence makes light of eloquence, true morality makes light of morality; that is to say, the morality of the judgment, which has no rules, makes light of the morality of the intellect [Kant??]. For it is to judgment that perception belongs, as science belongs to intellect. Intuition is the part of judgment, mathematics of intellect. To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.” (139)
Zen and Motorcycles in Popular Culture
(“My name is Lobo, I ride alone” – S dot Guttenberg c. 1990)
The passage to Zen also can be seen, as Chuangtse continues
Granting that you and I argue … are we both partly right and partly wrong? Or are we both wholly right and wholly wrong. Since you and I cannot know, we all live in darkness … if we wish to reach the absolute, we must harmonize them [arguments] by means of the unity of God … but what is it to harmonize them by means of the unity of God? It is this. The right may not really be right … Take no heed of time nor of right and wrong. Passing into the realm of the Infinite, take your final rest therein.” (140)
Thus, the relativity “here at the end of all things” ultimately yields to, and is the expression of, “the constant Tao which manifests itself in change and flux and contradictory appearances which we now as life and death, beauty and ugliness, big and small, and even the contrast between being and nonbeing.” (quote by Yutang, p. 140). As Chaungtse states,
“take … a twig and a pillar, or an ugly person and a great beauty, and all the strange and monstrous transformations. These are levelled together by the Tao. Division is the same as creation; creation is the same as destruction. There is no such thing as creation or destruction, for these conditions are again levelled together into One. Only the truly intelligent understand this principle of the levelling of all things into the One.” (140)
“life arises from death, and vice versa. Possibility arises from impossibility … affirmation is based upon denial, and vice versa … This being the case, the true Sage rejects all distinctions and takes his refuge in Heaven. For one may base it on this, yet this is also that and that is also this. This also has its right and wrong, and that also has its right and wrong. Does then the distinction between this and that really exist at all? When “this” (subjective) and “that” (objective) are both without their correlates, that is the very “Axis of Tao.” And when that Axis passes through the center at which all infinities converge, affirmations and denials alike blend into the infinite One. Hence it is said that there is nothing like using the Light.” (141)
Chuangtse sounds nearly just like Pascal, who writes:
“What will he do then, but perceive the appearance of the middle of things, in an eternal despair of knowing either their beginning or their end. All things proceed from the Nothing, and are borne towards the Infinite. Who will follow these marvelous processes? The Author of these wonders understands them. None other can do so… The nature of our existence hides from us the knowledge of first beginnings, which re born of Nothing; and the littleness of our being conceals from us the sight of the Infinite.” (141)
Chuangtse essentially anticipates Zen Buddhism when he offers an escape from flux and uncertainty by the act of silence upon encountering the Tao:
“The common and ordinary things serve certain functions and therefore retain the wholeness of nature. From this wholeness, one comprehends, and from comprehension, one comes near to Tao. There one stops. To stop without knowing how one stops – this is Tao.” (143)
Finally, Chaungtse offered a philosophy of life and death as companions to each other, which nearly sounds like the Apostle Paul:
“But if life and death are companions to each other, why should I be concerned? Therefore all things are one. What we love is this mysterious life. What we hate is corruption in death. But this corruptible in its turn becomes mysterious life, and this mysterious life once more becomes corruptible.” (144)
However, Yutang concludes that
“the history of Taoism is a curious thing. Never was there a greater degeneracy from the height of Laotse’s wisdom to the occultism, the magic, and the frightful spirits and demons of ‘popular’ Taoism. Taoist priests nowadays are mostly useful for the exorcising of demons. Popular imagination always created the necessary gods if the philosopher refused to do. The most persistent strain of native Chinese thought was belief in the yin and the yang and the five cosmic elements (metal, wood, water, fire, and earth) and their mutual attraction and repulsion. This belief antedated and permeated both Confucianism and Taoism ” (147).
The Dissolving Mist of Buddhism
Key Dates, things:
Gautam Buddha (563 – 483 B.C.; possibly 480 – 400 B.C.; Team India)
King Asoka (272 – 236 B.C.; Mauryan Emperor, missionary of Buddhism to Asia in effect)
Fa Hsien (Chinese Monk): to India 399 A.D., most N China families became Buddhists
Kumarajiva (Indian Monk): translated texts for Chinese, c. 405 A.D.
Tripitaka : sacred Buddhist texts published from 517 – 618 A.D., 5 editions
Bodhidarma to china via Canton, father of Shan (Zen) early 6th c.
Tientai sect à Mahayan, Hinayan in 6th c.; Huayen (Idealistic) school in 7th c.
Hsuan Chuang returns in 645 A.D. with 657 texts from his 16 years of nirvana;
Japanese come to study Chang’an, Tang capital, 7th c.
800 A.D.: 8 Mahayana (includes “Paradise sect” of Kumarajiva), 2 Hinayana (classical school) schools, HanMan dies out
3 schools left:
Tientai (Mahayana the Greater Vehicle, Hanayan the Lesser)
Huayen (gathas, prayers, but merging of all things basically Taoism of Laotse, Chengtse)
Shen (close to Chuangtse, very Chinese (sardonic, logic-denying) but Buddhist)
Mencius + Liki esays (Great Learning, Central Harmony) + Analects, Mencius == Confucian Four Books
Opens “Great learning consists in refurbishing the (originally) clear character of man, renew the people, and in coming to rest in the ultimate good. Rest … stability of mind, tranquility, peace of mind, think discriminately” / “rest” very close to Tientian central doctrine … “One must realize the ultimate of the Universal Reason and strip oneself of the slightest human desire” (153)
Buddhism popularly fits the definition of a “religion” in China as much as any system. It offers not just a system of virtues, such as kindness, mercy, selflessness, suppression of sinful desires, self-conquest and self-discipline, but also the trappings of religion. Thus, temples, priests, Heaven and Hell, worship, a path of “salvation” from this life, saints and angels (bodhisattvas and arahats) and gods and goddesses (Buddhas and the Goddess of Mercy). Taoism came to offer many of these, including some Hindu deities, but the more philosophical and systematized Buddhism gained the respect of Chinese scholars which, owing to Confucius, were so prominent in China.
In 1189, Chu Shi said “The heretical doctrines of Nihilism and Nirvana are higher than the Great Learning, but not practical .. they seemed to approach Reason, but only helped to confuse it” (154)
“What is it in the Buddhist metaphysics that so compelled the respect and opened the eyes of the Chinese intellectuals? What happened was that Gautama had ruthlessly carried out the examination of consciousness and reality where Descartes and Kant later stopped. If Descartes had said “I feel, therefore I exist, he would have been a Chuangtse or a Whitman (“I am as I am”).. Descartes trusted the perceiving mind; Buddha strongly suspected it.” (154)
Suragama Sutra – philosophical masterpiece, pre-Kantian idealism, space eliminated by the Higher Mind. Charming to read, “not difficult like Kant” (!!)
Ex. “as there is no reality at the heart of either the sense organs and of the objects seen, or of the perceiving consciousness, they must all be as empty as the heart of reeds. As all the knots of the mind and all unloosening of knots have the same basis of unreality, it matters not whether we think of them as sacred or vulgar; there is but one path to emancipation and that is to escape from their bondage altogether .. the unloosening of knots is a gradual process; one must begin with the knots of the five sense organs, after which the knots of the sixth sense – the perceiving and discriminating mind – will loosen of themselves … it will be easier to enter the true Stream of Life that flows into the highest perfect Wisdom [Buddha here refers to the sense of hearing as leading most easily to a feeling of spirituality, as music does – Even I imagine God as a songster, without music life would be a mistake” – F dot Nietzsche]
[Story of Buddha and the 6 handkerchief knots of the mind] “it is the same with the disentanglements od the conceptions of the six senses. The first knot of false conceptions must be untied is the one relating to the false conception of an ego-personality … the next not to be untied is then one relating to personal attainments of any kind … must be utterly destroyed and never again be permitted to rise to defile the Essential Mind.” (161)
“With regard to the Kantian category of space, Buddha explained it as a ‘fantastic addition of the mind” as “but foam tossed about the waves of a great sea … as soon as this foam disappears, there is no more space and hence no more universes and all the three realms of sentient life, body, mind and ego-personality, vanish into nothingness.”
“Now, we are getting closer to the Shan approach, which is, in brief, intuitive grasp of the true reality in a flash. It is difficult to arrive at the liberation of the Mind Essence from any one of the senses,” Yutang states <then quotes> …
Finally, a Manjusri cautioned Ananda against even one’s memories:
“You have sought the secret lore from all the Buddha-lands without first attaining emancipation from the desires and intoxications of your own contaminations and attachments, with the result that you have stored in your memory a vast accumulation of worldly knowledge and built up a tower of faults and mistakes” (163)
Shan (Zen) Buddhism began when Maha-Kaspay gave a smile of understanding to a discourse on Buddhism; 28 generations alter, Bodhidharma brought “the Buddha heart” to China, founding the Shan school. 6 more generations of masters ended with the great Sixth Master Huei-neng; several dozen more generations passed until Prof. Suzuki lectured on Zen at Columbia University, performing “quite a feat to each by words a doctrine denying the use of words, and to explain the futility of the logical approach to a logically minded Western audience” (164). “What Shan tries to achieve is to attain an ‘indeterminate’ mind-state beyond the perceiving mind … [using] a method of pantomimes and conundrums … [to point towards] certain infinite truths beyond ordinary human understanding.”
“For Sha is all intuition … short for Shanna, which is the Chinese translation for the Sanskrit word Dhyana, or meditation, originally one of the six methods of Buddhist discipline. But it went far beyond mere meditation,” it is based on restoring the original Buddha-heart to its original state.
wiping it clean of all contaminations due to the sense perceptions and the perceiving, discriminating mind which is usually cluttered up with words and logical analysis and doctrines. Hence it is said ‘Lay down the butcher’s knife, and you will become a Buddha on the spot.’ “ (165) “Of course it is straight mysticism, but of a very special kind. What Buddha was trying to teach, by Shan or by any other method, was to knock out the a priori categories of thought … and all the other senses of perception … to be a kind of gentle superman … [who has] annihilated his own perceiving mind and therefore annihilated the notions of time and space … [and] risen to a position of freedom from all mental bondage to this sentient existence., and to a view of the universe and of all human life from a super sentient mind-essence which is Buddhahood itself.” (165) “When this ego feeling is annihilated, there is a ‘sublimation’ and a ‘transference’ of the self to the greater self, which includes all fellow men and dogs and cats in this wonderful cavalcade of creation. One obtains cosmic pity.”
“Actually, this spirit of Shan … is Chungtsean. Shan’s fundamental distrust of the use of words … is repeatedly stated by Chuangtse. ‘Now Tao by its very nature can never be defined. Speech by itself cannot express the absolute.” (168) “Chuangtsea believed that affirmations and denials alike blend into the infinite One. The denial of logic and the leveling of all things and all antitheses is exactly the core and the basis of all Chuangtsea’s teachings.”
Prof. Suzuki: “Meditation is something artificially put on; it does not belong to the native activity of the mind … Upon what do the fish in the water meditate?” As Cheungtsea argued, “as fish forget themselves in the water, so should men forget themselves in the Tao” Yutang states, or “in Emersonian terms, a natural flow of goodness without conscious effort” (169).
All Shan training, including meditation, is preparation for that direct experience. Shan comes to ‘rest’ in the simple, everyday living, regarding it as a blessed gift, and enjoying every moment of it. I would call it a gratitude for living, a form of Oriental existentialism.” A Shan monk enjoys the humble chores” (170).
The burden of sin, however, remains. Life is subject to cares (fan-noo), creating an illusion (maya) of bondage; cumulative deeds (karma) follow us, dooming us to the eternal wheel of transmigration (lun-huei), though by intellectual effort, man can let the mind-essence take over to achieve “indeterminate, unconditioned Nirvana.” The Wheel of the Law (dharma) spins eternally, but the path of deliverance consists in three treasures: the Buddha, the Law and the Church (Sangha). This system conquered the Orient. Yutang argues the Freed described sin better than the (symbolical, mystical) Christian account, which ascribes sin as inborn to us all.
Instead, Freud gives a better account, who along with Buddha, Kant, Schopenhauer and Spinoza are the only (non Scientific) original thinkers, according to Yutang.
“Kant explored the limits of human knowledge in exhaustive German Fashion.
Buddha went further and explored an escape beyond all Kant’s Pure Reason. Of course, he saw
An awe-inspiring beauty, the beauty of knowledge which is as near God’s own as possible.
Schopenhauer discovered the basis of all animal and human life in the will to live, to survive, to reproduce, arising actually more from a collective racial instinct than from individual instinct … mysterious instinct. ‘A bull does not gore because he has horns. A bull has horns because he means to gore.’ I call this profound.
Spinoza discovered, like Chungtsea, the unity of all things and saw only the infinite substance (compare Tao) of which the finite existences are only modes or limitations (compare The). But Spinoza’s ‘intellectual love of God’ is only for the humanist, the intellectual.”
“Buddha, Schopenhauer and Freud … were all confronted with the fact of sin and desires”
“Buddha and Schopenhauer both advocated suppression of desires and asceticism, which I do not like because of the assumption that the desires ae in themselves evil”
“Spinoza discovered that man had, besides the basic instincts, also the noble instinct for good, to perfect himself.”
“The others – Kant, Mencius, Wang Yang-ming – traced it to ‘conscience,’ as something as much God-given, that is, inherited and ‘original,’ as sin itself.
“Why does no theologian discover an ‘original conscience’ and allow Calvin to run away with his ‘total depravity?’ … it is not because Jesus did not say ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ I believe in Jesus against Calvin.” (175)
“Freud’s discovery of man’s inner self resents a picture not so different from Buddha’s. What a nest of undesirable eggs within! All men are neurotic one way or another … We understand why Hebrew writers and other spoke of these forces as demons and personified them in Satan … about all religions and Buddhism in particular: ‘IF religion means otherworldliness, I reject it. If religion means we must run away from the present, sentient life and ‘escape ‘from it as fast as possible, I am against it.” One ought, I think, with Chinese common sense, come to live with the world and make terms with it, bravely, in the sense of the acceptance of the grace of living as the Shan believers do…. ‘The earth is bounteous and the fruit thereof,’ said St. Paul.” (176)
Reason in Religion
Yutang abhors scholastic, rational, scientific and/or Cartesian approaches to religion, as the Taoists, his first love it would appear, helped the Chinese to transcend such petty mindedness. “ ‘I cannot forgive Descartes,’ Pascal said” Yutang states, continuing “nor can I.” (177) Tools of reasoning such as the categories of space, time, motion and causation work fine in the material world, but
“in the realm of significances and moral values – in religion and love and human relationships – this method is curiously unadapted to the purpose and in fact wholly irrelevant.” (178)
Religion is based on wonder, appreciation, “reverence of the mind and an intuitive understanding by a man’s whole conscience.” Descartes’s first error was “assuming that human existence had to go begging for proof of its reality through cognitive reasoning” whereas “the Chinese, long ago … repudiated entirely the role of logic in religion,” including Zen Buddhism; the error is almost imperceptible and typically ignored in a world dominated by science.
“The weapon of science is the microscope; the weapon of religion is the still, small voice of the human heart and a warm, subtle awareness with an intuitive capacity to guess at the truth.” (179)
Yutang also (rightly) claims there are in fact very few atheists in the world.
Yutang cites not just Descartes but the Scholastics before him for the error, as “only monks with plenty of time, security and wine could produce such a brain child” as, presumably, doctrinal or creedal religion (?). Yutang lauds the approach of William James which admits, in whatever silly forms, the widespread prevalence, or Varieties of Religious Experience. Francis Bacon’s “Four Idols” of fallacies can be seen: Idols of the Tribe (God must be anthropomorphic), Idols of the Cave (national prejudices dominate), Idols of the Market Place (“verbal fictions and confusions” (?) ) and Idols of the Theater (fantastic philosophical tenets, such as Calvin’s “total depravity of man”) (183). Biblical misexamoels can also be seen today: Salome, Herod’s daughter who wanted John the Baptist’s head is akin to communism, Pontius Pilate’s desired neutrality can be seen in Jawaharlal Nehru (tuck between Colonial and Red Imperialists), Agrippa who could “almost believe” but was too apathetic, Pharisees whom Yutang identifies as hypocritical pietists, and even a George Fox who claimed God’s will led him to perform all manner of arbitrary acts. Yutang claims to have successfully navigated the “Scylla of damning hell-fire and the Charybdis of Pharisaism,” taking his stands on rationalism and humanism, and claiming status as a yet religious pagan rather than an atheist heathen. Thus, he is comfortable citing Marcus Aurelius “everything harmonizes with me, which is harmonious to thee, o Universe” even though he called on Zeus and not the Christian God. While “the fool has said ‘’there is no God,’” Yutang reminds us, “there have been surprisingly few fools in the history of thought.” (187). He finds it odd that the modern educated man in Christendom should find it easier to sympathize with a rationalist of humanist than with a religious follower.”
Plato, along with Buddha, Berkeley and Kant, provide the model of a religious conscience, as Plato found in his Republic that “the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images” of perceptions. Modern science as well has shown the triumph of the shadows rather than matter, given advances in quantum theory and atomic theory which undermine traditional notions of matter.
“Our sensory perceptions give us a picture of the world of phenomena only: that is all that ‘reason’ can tell us; behind the phenomena are the noumena, the Ding-an-sich, the thing-in-itself, the absolute truths ofwhich we can never know by the reasoning faculties of our mind”
Perception is subject to illusion, while the residue of he knowable world is incomprehensible by intellect. Plato and Buddha led the way, philosophers for the past three centuries have continued the fight, including “Hume – who is really better than Locke or Berkeley” in pointing out that “’rational beliefs are based on custom, observation, and expectations of experience” and “that there is a ‘moral sense’ or intuition, or unexplained and unexplainable command of conscience” (194). Western philosophers as well as Chuangtse have recognized such intuition (theologians misname it “faith”), or conscience,: to Kant, it was “intuition,” a “small voice within” and the “categorical imperative” given us, to Schopenhauer it was a love and intuitive identity with all beings, and “moral sense” to Hume. There is a wonder in the universe, that men strive for the good, and have a will to believe just as strong s Schopenhauer’s will to live and reproduce.
The Karate Kidlette and other Pretenders
The Challenge of Materialism
The materialistic interpretation of the universe poses the modern conflict with religion, however directly or indirectly it removes god from the picture. Yutang gives the following simple classification:
Idolatry – too much God
Humanism – a medium position
Materialism – not enough God
While contending that “a completely godless humanism is rare” as is pure atheism, the product of a specific age. The moral cynicism of the 20th century has eroded the “sweetness and light of the human spirit:” number among the culprits (and their casualties) Picasso (beauty), Stravinsky (harmony), Gertrude Stein (grammar), EE Cummins (punctuation), Lenin (democracy), Joyce (idiom) and Dali (sanity). Freud substituted “psyche” for “soul” and ushered in a primacy of instincts with his theory of the unconscious. However, his effect “stinks, but it fascinates” as it does lead to a deeper understanding of man’s soul (via the “psyche”), and leads, “through Jung, toward a more spiritual and mystical view of life.” (202) In science, “strangely enough … matter yield[s] ground to spirit rather than spirit yielding ground to matter,” and British biologist JS Haldane states, in the preface to his 1932 Materialism,
“What is dealt with is the impossibility of interpreting the phenomena of life and of conscious behavior in terms of physical conceptions, and the final necessity of a spiritual interpretation of our universe.” (207).
Yutang claims that “Chinese humanism had continued for about two thousand years without anyone giving in to a materialist philosophy” while there was only one atheist, Fan Shen around 500 A.D. (207) The Chinese placed more value on virtue than material goods, and preferred idolatry and animism to materialism; by contrast, in Europe advances in science in the 19th century spread through the human sciences through figures like Karl Marx, the sociologist August Comte, Darwin, the historian Taine and even theologians like Renan. But culture countered in some ways: that certain things were simply “not done” in English society spoke to a moral sense; “isn’t it the essence of culture to see beauty in good form?” Yutang asks. Yet, social scientists insisted on describing miscreant youths as “socially maloadjusted” rather than simply as brats or unlawful, the latter a term whose use, Yutang projects, could cut crime in half. Even WWI was a war fought for principle (preserve democracy) rather than simply to avoid material annihilation, as was WWII.
“I believe the instinct to worship something is in every man, and that no society exists, not even atheistic society, which does not worship something” Yutang declares (221). Idolatrous Soviets worshipped a mass murderer, unfortunately.
The Majesty of Light
“’Blow out the candles! The sun is up’ said a great recluse philosopher when Emperor Yao mounted the throne” Yutang recalls. Continuing, he declares “The world of Jesus is the world of sunlight by comparison with that of all the sages and philosophers and the schoolmen of any country” (223), as “Jesus’s teachings have that immediacy and clarity and simplicity which puts to shame all other efforts of men’s minds to know God or to inquire after God” (223).His personal example, in addition to his teachings, provide this, as “Jesus spoke as no teacher of men ever spoke.”
Jesus taught with “utmost naturalness and gentility “and “without hypothesis and without argument” when he said “He that has seen me has seen the Father” and “These things I command you, that you love one another.” Plato’s Phaedo (Socrates discussion of immortality during his final days) and the Gospel of John, Chapters 13 to 17, of Jesus’ final days) are the most moving accounts of human (im)mortality for Yutang. But Jesus’s account is “the most moving thing in literature” as they “contain such superior beauty, the beauty of a voice that the world has not heard repeated since Jesus’s death.” (225). The authentic quality of Jesus as he washed his disciples’ feet and called them his friends speak of both power and “something else – the absolute clarity of light.” It is a clarity of light “without the self-limitation of Confucius, the intellectual analysis of Buddha, or the mysticism of Chuangtse. Where others reasoned, Jesus taught, Jesus commanded. He spoke out of the fulness of the knowledge and love of God. Jesus communicated the feeling of the immediate knowledge of God and … equated that love of God with obeying His commandment, which is to love one another.” If all great truths simple, we stand here in the presence of a simple truth which contains the germ of the principle for all human development, and is sufficient.” (225).
“His teaching was of a different order from that of previous philosophers. No more positivism and common sense of Confucius, no more his staid occupation with human relations only, or his counsel of gradual self-cultivation; nor the phantasmagoria of a world of eternal transformations of Taoism, of Being returning to Not-Being; nor the mighty intellectualism of Buddha and his heroic effort at conquest of the perceiving mind, with the hope of escaping into the infinite and the unconditioned.” (226)
The West believes in two spiritual values, that of freedom and democracy; otherwise, it is a world without belief, a world of moral cynicism, of collapse of valid human ideals” But as the West assumes that Asia simply wants more rice, they are mistaken and themselves materialistic. Chuangtse reminds them that such materialistic approaches “only bring us into greater confusion;” Confucius likewise advises that of all means for the regeneration of mankind, those made with noise and show are the least important.” (227). The Christian Albert Schweitzer, philosopher and physician who founded a hospital in Africa as well as won a Noble Prize in 1952 for his philosophy of the “reverence of life,” stated on the 100th anniversary of Goethe’s death
“In a thousand different ways mankind has been persuaded to give up its natural relations with reality, and to seek its welfare in the magic formulas of some kind of economic and social witchcraft by which the possibility of freeing itself from economic and social misery is only still further removed!
And the tragic meaning of these magic formulas, to whatever kind of economic and social witchcraft they may belong, is always just this, that the individual must give up his own material and spiritual personality and must live only as one of the spiritually restless and materialistic multitude which claims control over him.” (228)
Yutang continues, “Insofar as the West believes in freedom and democracy, it directly follows the core of Jesus’s teachings, although it appears that the West does not completely believe”
“Christianity stands for the common man … Jesus taught a principle, or rather two principles in one: that the kingdom of God is within you, mand almost in the same breath, that the meek and the humble shall inherit the earth… The materialist believes the opposite. He believes that all will be well if the humblest man is given rice” (229).
Renan, who himself did not believe Jesus to be divine, yet stated that “Jesus remains an inexhaustible principle of moral regeneration for humanity” and that “Jesus is the one who has caused his fellow men t make the greatest step toward the divine … for thousands of years the world will extoll you” (229-230).
“Theology,” Yutang argues, of whatever kind, always detracts from the power and simplicity of Jesus’s teachings” (230).But, like Shakespearean actors John Gielgud of Laurence Olivier who come along to not just teach Shakespeare but demonstrate the beauty of the works, so did Jesus live the beauty that he taught. Love and Christian kindness contrast with, for instance, his own friend, a Confucian scholar named Meng:
“Meng’s own Confucian family life was as austere as anything I know. It was a world of duties and obligations and moral discipline.” Yet, in a saintly Christian lady, who “cared for the Tsinghua students deeply,” he was taught care for the individual, Christian virtue of love, the Bible and Christian kindness. “He could not help feeling the warmth of the new world opening up before him in which Christian law superseded the rigorous Confucian way of life” (233).
“This is true of my case,” Yutang explains, “the sight of a Christian who actually practices Christian kindness and concern for individuals always tended to bring me closer to the Christian Church … I remember once, while crossing the Atlantic, meeting a foreign lady who wanted to reconvert me to Christianity, and almost did so by her humility and gentleness. I daresay that if the voyage had been longer by ten days, I would have turned back to Christianity then and there” (234). Of another saintly lady, he says “Every time I came near this grand old lady, I stood in the presence of the true spirit of Christianity. It always reminded me of a lost world. In other words, Christians breed Christians, but Christian theology does not” (234).
Moral calling still matters: Christians often preach a blanket of forgiveness and forget to earn the bed underneath the blanket, as it were (if not actual salvation, Yutang seems to argue). This is a main point of Albert Schweitzer’s epilogue to Out of My Life and Thought, that churches often teach forgiveness without repentance, and that even Jesus taught that worship often had to wait, “leave your gift on the alter … first be reconciled to your brother:” Yutang thus successfully channels his inner Confucius! Schweitzer’s other main point, which Yutang thinks is important, concerns a “new rationalism” in thought whereby the limits of disciplines like the natural sciences, social sciences and even philosophy come to border ultimate questions of humanity’s relation to life, o God and the universe, and man begins to think on such matters
“as if he were not a being who is in the world and lives his life in it, but one who is stationed near it, and contemplates it from the outside” (235).
Yutang claims his own journey back to faith (recall he was born the son of a Christian minister) was not one driven by any sudden insight or decision, but was instead his finally finding a church that spoke to soul. He had admired his wife’s persistent Bible reading and church attendance, but most of all “the true spirit of piety in her, the essence of which I believe is humility” (237). Yutang did not respond out of fear from preaching about eternal damnation as the penalty for sin; instead, he, erroneously, states that “Jesus Himself never mentioned sin but to forgive it,” forgetting such key statements as John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him should not perish, but have eternal life:” for such reason did Jesus claim the purpose of his death, to pay the penalty for such sin which separates us from a holy and righteous God. Romans 3:23, 6:23 written by Paul say as much as well. But, instead Yutang found in Christians
“the true fellowship of Christ, and the love of God which, in the world of Jesus, falls like the gentle dew from heaven” (237)
Yutang would have he divine nature of man rather than eternal consequences of sins be preached; he would seem to prefer Buddha (who taught that “no teaching which is unkind can be the true teaching of Buddha”) over John Calvin, who had Severetus cruelly burned at the stake over doctrinal differences; Calvin’s teachings such as “the total depravity of man” (even though most philosophers recognize human sin) the sovereignty of God that eclipses human free will, forget the divine nature shared by all, that “kingdom of God that is within you” taught by both Leo Tolstoy and Jesus.
In the Gospels, Yutang finds “that sense of present revelation of God as love, clear and unmistakable and convincing, and that his whole life is itself a ‘revelation,’ that is, the spirit of God made visible and concrete for us to see” (239). Jesus was not just “respected, but adored by all wherever His word was heard. That light of God’s truth was a light of dazzling purity of spirit, without compare in the teachings of men” (239). Yutang continues
“And when He went further and taught forgiveness and exemplified it in His own life, I accepted Him truly as Lord and Savior of us all. Only Jesus, and no one else, could bring us to that direct knowledge of God. Morally and ethically, it is a world of incomparable beauty. And here, if the world still wants an ideal, is a perfect ideal for human life.” (239)
“So at last, the spirit of man has been uplifted to join the spirit of God through Christ. The essential worth of man is justified. For that reason, mankind will always adore him. And that simple doctrine of the essential worth of man, however humble he may be, will yet prove to be the greatest liberating force in history” (239).
Yutang concludes his story, and the book, by considering the relation between content and form in religion. “Religion always expresses itself through form,” but it is the content that defines it. “In the case of Christianity, the content was given by Jesus in all its plenitude, but the form was added by man” (240). “The force of compelling love of the disciples for the Master” was the content and origin of Christianity; Jesus further taught against form when declaring “man was free to worship in spirit and in truth” rather than in a particular location or temple (John 4:24). Yutang concludes with “The forms are valuable or valueless only as they lead us to that goal which is the fellowship of Christ” (240).