Chinese spiritual outlook made Confucius remind his people of their own inherited ethical convictions. Ethical traditions develop in society in response to the human need for guidance for life together.
A spirituality of responsibility reminds us that our fates are interlinked and that we all must be concerned for each other and develop sensitivity for each other,’To know the anguish of others is to feel that anguish as our own’.
Confucian propriety (li) and righteousness (yi) teaches us to contribute to harmony and relationship. Confucian humanness (ren) proposes the golden rule of love. Thus the Confucian message of social harmony and Taoist teaching of harmony with nature, complete each other. It is an invitation to become fully human: calm, confident, trustworthy, open; with no fear, no guilt feeling. The Buddhist writing Dhammapada teaches one ‘To avoid all evil, cultivate good, and purify one’s mind’.
Economy should serve not rule
Similarly, a Taoist teaching says, ‘When rulers live in splendour and speculators prosper, while farmers lose their land and the granaries are emptied; when governments spend money on ostentation and on weapons; when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible, indulging themselves and possessing more than they can use, while the poor have nowhere to turn.
All this is robbery and chaos. It is not in keeping with the Tao’ (Tao Te Ching, 53). Are we in such an age? At another place the Tao Te Ching says, ‘The sage does not accumulate. The more he does for the people, the more he saves.
The more he gives to people, the more he has’ (Tao Te Ching, 81).
In Confucian tradition, a gentleman is concerned with what is right; the inferior man with profit, with material welfare. Mencius too looked down on the profit motive. Science, technology, and efficient economy have given us good things, but they must be regulated by the norms of wisdom contained in our cultural traditions. Truly, ‘A gentleman takes as much trouble to discover what is right as lesser men take to discover what will pay’ (Tao Te Ching, 81).
Economy organised on a vast scale, whether controlled by the government or by corporations, tend not to respect persons, human concerns, families, communities, values, and the natural environment. After having invaded and damaged millions of human lives and ruined the environment, when things go wrong, the only solution that profit makers can propose are drugs, tranquilizers, sedatives, stimulants, and antidepressants; not silence, reflection, self-criticism or self-improvement, the way Asian sages have suggested. (T.M.)