-- for Geneva & Seneca Crane (blogging while drinking plum wine)
A few days ago, Professor A. Ku asked a question that continues to fascinate me. Concerned with 4.3 of the analects
“The Master said: It is only the one who is ren who can love and hate others.”he asks, "why should anyone be required to hate (or to love)?" For the obvious reasons, I am not crazy about the translation and attempted to give my gloss:
For me, the word of interest is not 惡 but rather, 能– which is to say that what is being emphasized is that this “liking and disliking” is based on a certain capacity, which is itself made possible by self-cultivation. And for what it is worth, this is how I am reading 4:3
The Lady of Ren, does not 1) restrain all emotion; nor does she 2) not restrain all emotion; rather she seeks to form/transform (形）emotion through the cultivation of self (via among other things the practice of rites) in order to discern the true ren capability in others. The like and dislike is not about personal preferences (arbitrary blind love or unmerited dislike) but rather is born out of cultivation of self.
The Professor then repeats his original question:
So, still my question here is — even if we build into “hating and loving” (on the part of the Lady of Ren) this very portrait you describe — whether this “intuition” is merely a ground floor level “capacity” that is simply redirected towards certain targets (like a culvert), or whether that intuition is a kind of “emergent” property, a new capacity that only the Lady of Ren would have. If so, then it’s not necessarily just a ground-floor level emotion “redirected by li. It’s more than that.
OK, I have no idea what a culvert is, but I intuitively feel that the closest approximation to what this is like is our aesthetic sense. And I say:
This is perhaps not unlike aesthetic sensibility. If you don’t turn off the TV; if you don’t stop drinking your booze out of a brown paper bag– well, need I say more?
Like our aesthetic sensibility, some people are born with more than others, but most people have this capacity. And yet, if we do not cultivate our aesthetic sensibility, perhaps only in a genius would it cultivate itself.
My beloved tea teacher would always repeat that the practice of tea (this kind of embodied mindfulness) and the actual handling of beautiful objects had the affect of "polishing our hearts"-- "This makes us more virtuous," she would repeat. For her, an aesthetic sensibility 美感 was not necessarily equivalent to virtue 美徳 but one could lead to the other (and indeed that understanding can be seen right in the kanji itself →美).
What do these two perhaps connected sensibilities share? Well, first of all, both require a kind of self-cultivation that is embodied. You cannot learn beauty nor virtue from books. It is impossible. It is sense know-how (embodied know-how) that is carried over into how you live your life (hence, "ritual comportment"). In addition, both types of sensibility, rather than universalize or categorically deginerate our emotions (love and hate) in the way of religion (Buddhism), instead seek to transform these emotions in a refined or edifying way (maybe this is what Professor Ku meant by a culvert??).
In what sense is this also cognitive? Well perhaps something along the lines of Merleau-Ponty's "anti-cognitive cogntive science" approach. Because we are talking about is-- in Sam Crane's words: a cultivated moral aesthetic sensibility.
And embodied practice is probably the only real means of improving or refining this sense. As Sam says:
And that is where Ritual comes in. Ritual is the conscious and well-intentioned enactment of all facets of Duty (the big duties and the little duties) at all times. It’s not like going to church on Sunday and then stealing hubcaps during the week. It is an all the time thing. The Ren person is always on, always working to perceive context and orchestrate proper response to context. It may get easier with age and reiteration (like Fingarette’s handshake!), but it always requires care and attention.
Human sensibility is probably something most humans are hard-wired for. But it demands exemplery examples and routine, doesn't it? And it is these exemplery examples (in the form of a teacher or art work) which are beautiful plus virtuous.
As is their enactment-- beautiful plus virtuous.
And again (for this is my main point this week): based firmly in human emotion, their aim-- rather than negating emotion or extinguishing desire-- rather is to refine them. And, perhaps no where is this linking of beauty and virtue more pronounced than in Japan-- don't you think? Is this not the hallmark of Japanese traditional arts and literature?
Anyway, I have been working on an editing job about the murals of Kizil. Part of the great "pearl necklace" of Buddhist murals that form a great arc across Asia, from Ajanta to unforgettable Alchi; up to Kizil, Bezeklik, Dunhuang-- straight across to the phenomenal murals at Horyuji in Nara; Kizil is said to have been perhaps one of the finest. I already wrote a bit about the lavish use of ultramarine that so stunned the German expedition team here, but thinking about the murals again today, I was imagining what it must have been like before the murals were cut out of the caves and shipped overseas. Pilgrims would have entered the cave from the blinding sunlight of the desert outside-- and much like pilgrims at the Borobudur, they would have moved along an "iconographic program": like any ritual, it would have been structured in such a way to aim at an inner transformation-- achieved bodily as one performed the ritual.
Emotions (émouvoir) as that which most moves us cultivated through physical movement (practice/pilgrammage). This is the task of the Lady of Ren. And you will notice that its opposite (Enlightenment) is characterized by non-movement, stillness and extinguishing. Anyway, it's interesting to think of it this way at least.
Buddhist Cave Art Preserving Profound Persian and Indian InfluencesIn the years 1906 and 1913, Albert von Le Coq, as part of the German expedition team, visited the Kizil cave site, in Xinjiang Province China. There, the German archaeologist was astounded by the great beauty of the ultramarine used in the murals decorating the walls. Reminiscent of the rich blue color of the sky, Le Coq described in his expedition diary:
“…the extravagant use of a brilliant blue – the well-known ultramarine which, in the time of Benvenuto Cellini[a], was frequently employed by the Italian painters, and was bought at double its weight in gold.”[b]Derived from the mineral lapis lazuli, ultramarine comes from stones said only to have been mined in Afghanistan. The word “lapis lazuli” is a combination of the Latin word “lapis” (meaning “stone”), and the Arabic word “lazuli” (meaning “sky” or “blue”). Transported over long distances (from the area around present day Afghanistan), it was the abundant use of this pigment, deemed highly precious throughout history, which so stunned Le Coq.
The Sasanian Empire (226-651), whose artistic conventions so influenced the murals, ruled a vast area covering the Iranian Plateau and Mesopotamia; and at its peak, extended its rule as far as Afghanistan. The cave murals found at Kizil displayed a strong influence of the art of the Sasanian Persians as well as that of India. This was particularly seen in addition to the Persian artistic conventions, in the abundant use of Afghanistan lapis lazuli.
Artistic Style and Architecture of the Kizil Grottoes
[1. The Main Room] Murals on various themes are displayed on the side walls of the main room. These include paintings on the theme of the Jâtaka Tales (本生図)(7), which are stories about the life of the historical Buddha, Sakyamuni; paintings on the theme of the Illustrated Biographies of His Life (仏伝図)(8), which depict the episodes from his life; and paintings on the theme of the Preaching Scenes (説法図, or 因縁仏伝図)(9) which depict various stories about the Sakyamuni’s preaching after Enlightenment. In a style characteristic to the Kizil grottoes, the vault ceilings of the main room are divided into diamond blocks, decorated with paintings done on these same themes (such as the Jâtaka Tales(10) and the Preaching Scenes(11)).
[2. The Central Pillars] Typically, the central pillars of the front walls contain a large nich which originally accommodated a seated figure. Surrounding the figure was a background of mountain scenery composed of built-up stucco materials. Most of the three-dimensional figures have been lost, but there are a few remains of standing figures on the front wall. However, these are mere remains and their original appearance remains a mystery. On the left, right, and the back of the central pillars are corridors with low ceilings, and there along the walls are depicted images of donors(12), monks and stūpas.
[3. The Corridors] On the back walls of the corridors behind the central pillars, we find either painted images(13) or stucco figures on the theme of Nirvana. This Kāśyapa image(14), which is particularly striking for the expressiveness of the figure as well as for its leaf patterns, is painted on this wall. The painting was originally part of the nirvana scene depicted on the back wall of the back corridor. These images represent Mahākāśyapa, the disciple who arrived late at the scene of Buddha’s nirvana, and thus failed to be there at the moment of his death. Finally, we find the Maitreya preaching in the Tuṣita Heaven depicted in the half circle above the entrance of the main room. (Line Drawing by Grünwedel(15)).
The German Expedition Team
The German Team, in addition to their onsite research, were to also cut out many murals from the Kizil site to bring back to Germany. The technique which they employed was to “cut round” the designated area “with a very sharp knife -- care being taken that the incision goes right through the surface-layer -- to the proper size for the packing-cases[b];” carefully cutting “the boundary line in curves or sharp angles to avoid going through faces or other important parts of the picture[b].” After this step was completed, they would then make a hole with “the pickaxe in the wall at the side of the painting to make space to use the fox-tail saw[b]. In cases where the surface layer of the cave walls were unstable, they would press boards covered with felt firmly onto the painting as they were being cut out.