Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mencius on the Common Nature of the "Heart"

I originally wrote this entry on October 4, 2004, and published it on

Many commentators have recognized Mencius (Meng Ke), a philosopher-prophet of ancient China, to be second only to Confucius in importance, with an influential pedigree running over some 2000 years and an undisputable authority for over 1000 years.

The following passage, one of my favorites, is a fragment from D.C. Lau's translation of Mencius:


Mencius said, 'In good years the young men are mostly lazy, while in bad years they are mostly violent. Heaven has not sent down men whose endowment differs so greatly. The difference is due to what ensnares their hearts. Take the barley for example. Sow the seeds and cover them with soil. The place is the same and the time of sowing is also the same. The plants shoot up and by the summer solstice they all ripen. If there is any unevenness, it is because the soil varies in richness and there is no uniformity in the fall of rain and dew and the amount of human effort devoted to tending it. Now, things of the same kind are all alike. Why should we have doubts when it comes to man? The sage and I are of the same kind. Thus Lung Tzu said, "When someone makes a shoe for a foot he has not seen, I am sure he will not produce a basket." All shoes are alike because all feet are alike. All palates show the same preferences in taste . . . It is the same also with the ear . . . It is the same also with the eye . . . Should hearts prove to be an exception by possessing nothing in common? What is common to all hearts? Reason and rightness . . . '

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