The More Things Change, The More They Really Don’t

The opinions below could have been written yesterday, but they weren’t. Them come from the Japanese neo-Confucianist philosopher Kaibara Ekken (December 17, 1630 – October 5, 1714). The selections below were translated/published in English in 1913 in The Way of Contentment, Ken Hoshino translator.

The aim of learning is not merely to widen knowledge but to form character. Its object is to make us true men, rather than learned men. … The moral teaching which was regarded as the trunk of all learning in the schools of the olden days is hardly studied in our schools today, because of the numerous branches of study required. No longer do men deem it worth while to listen to the teachings of the hoary sages of the past. Consequently the amiable relations between master and servant, superior and inferior, older and younger are sacrificed on the altar of the god called “Individual Right.” …The chief reason why the teachings of the sages are not more appreciated by the people is because scholars endeavor to show off their learning, rather than to make it their endeavor to live up to the teachings of the sages.

Way of Contentment. 24, 17.

Children, you may think an old man’s words wearisome; yet, when your father or grandfather teaches, do not turn your head away, but listen. Though you may think the tradition of your family stupid, do not break it into pieces, for it is the embodiment of the wisdom of your fathers.

Way of Contentment. 24

Do not let a day slip by without enjoyment. . . . Do not allow yourself to be tormented by the stupidity of others. . . . Remember that from its earliest beginnings the world has never been free from fools. . . . Let us not then distress ourselves, nor lose our pleasure, even though our own children brothers and relations, happen to be selfish, ignoring our best efforts to make them otherwise.

Way of Contentment. 33, 39, 43

Those who can enjoy the beauty in the Heaven above and the Earth beneath need not envy the luxury of the rich, for they are richer than the richest.

Way of Contentment. 35.

The Sin of Idolatry

The following passage comes from “A Year With Thomas Merton’, a series of daily readings taken from Thomas Merton’s personal journals, selected and edited by Jonathan Montaldo (Harper Collins ebooks)

The Christian faith enables, or should enable, a man to stand back from society and its institutions and realize that they all stand under the inscrutable judgment of God and that, therefore, we can never give an unreserved assent to the policies, the programs and the organizations of men, or to “official” interpretations of the historic process. To do so is idolatry, the same kind of idolatry that was refused by the early martyrs who would not burn incense to the emperor.

The policies of men contain within themselves the judgment and doom of God upon their society, and when the Church identifies her policies with theirs, she too is judged with them–for she has in this been unfaithful and is not truly “the Church.” The power of “the Church” (who is not “the Church” if she is rich and powerful) contains the judgment that “begins at the house of God.”

November 30, 1964, V171