14 episodes

Join us as Dr. Bin Song explores the riches of the Ru tradition and its intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual heritage. Dr. Song is a scholar of Ruism (more commonly known as Confucianism) as well as comparative philosophy, religion, and theology. He currently serves Washington College as an assistant professor of philosophy and religion.

Ru: A Podcast of Global Confucianism Bin Song

    • Education

Join us as Dr. Bin Song explores the riches of the Ru tradition and its intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual heritage. Dr. Song is a scholar of Ruism (more commonly known as Confucianism) as well as comparative philosophy, religion, and theology. He currently serves Washington College as an assistant professor of philosophy and religion.

    Meditation for Sleep

    Meditation for Sleep

    Hallo, my name is Bin Song. I am a Ru scholar, and a college professor in the disciplines of philosophy, religion and theology. This audio is written and recorded by me to guide your Ru meditation using the posture of sleeping.
    Sleeping meditation takes a very important role in Ru meditation. Rightly at the beginning of the Ru tradition, Mencius lived around 3 century B.C.E and was a staunch follower and wise interpreter of Confucius’s thought. He wrote beautiful passages about “night vital-energies.” (夜气). He likens human body to a mountain, and says that a daily good sleep for a human being will be like a regular amount of sunshine, air, rain, and other necessary natural elements to nourish a mountain. As a result, the mountain will become lush, vital and fertile, and it is going to grow, feed and bring joy to the life of many living beings. However, if humans are deprived of sleep, that will be like hunters and peasants who dare to use axes and hatchets to exploit the mountain every day. In this case, the mountain will eventually become bald and barren, and is completely stripped of any ability to nurture other beings. What is distinctive about Mencius’s thought on sleeping meditation is that he says when people get a good sleep, and have a clear, calm, and sensitive mind in the morning as a consequence, this will help us to be more moral. This is because it will become easier for us to feel the interconnection of all beings in the world, and when a baby is about to fall into a well, or any other similar distress happens to our human fellows, we will be more likely to have a feeling of empathy and try to care and help them. In other words, if we have a good sleep to continually nurture the vital-energies within our body day and night, we will become more moral. I do not know how many classes of ethics in modern universities and colleges are teaching how to sleep, but as inspired by Mencius’ thought and practice, I definitely believe they should.

    • 12 min
    Cross-legged Quiet-sitting

    Cross-legged Quiet-sitting

    Hi, My name is Bin Song. I am a Ru scholar, therapist, and college professor in the disciplines of philosophy, religion, and theology. The audio is written and recorded by me to guide your practice of cross-legged quiet-sitting Ru meditation.
    And this will be the second among seven postures of Ru meditation that I intend to introduce through this series of audio broadcast.
    The posture of cross-legged quiet-sitting originates from ancient Hinduism, and migrates to China following Buddhism in around the 2 century C.E As I mentioned in last audio, the attitude of the majority of Ru scholars towards this posture in the beginning was to resist it, or simply not practice it. The major reason is that this posture was normally practiced by monks and nuns in monasteries in a very isolated way at that time, and Ruism in general opposes social disengagement and isolation.

    • 24 min
    Xunzi: A Short Introduction

    Xunzi: A Short Introduction

    Hallo, this is Dr. Bin Song in the course of “Ru and Confucianism” at Washington College.
    In this unit, we will discuss Xunzi, the last major Ru philosopher in the pre-Qin period of the tradition.
    As indicated by my teaching experience, beginning readers of the Ru tradition in the west normally find Xunzi (circa. 310-235 B.C.E)’s thought quite congenial. This is mainly because in a way blatantly contrary to Mencius, Xunzi thinks human nature is bad, and hence, the process of education and self-cultivation should not be envisioned as a course of re-discovering and nurturing something that is already within us. Rather, for Xunzi, to be a fully human is to find a teacher of authority to inculcate rituals and rules from without, so as to transform one’s uncultivated inborn dispositions to something different. While presenting his moral philosophy, Mencius likes to use metaphors from the industry of farming to describe that moral development is like the process to prepare soil, sow seeds, grow sprouts and therefore, after all human efforts are duly executed, it would be up to the nature to take care of everything else. However, in a very contrastive way, Xunzi thinks the process of being humanized is like one to straighten a piece of shapeless wood using knife and file or to temper a chunk of metal stone using fire and water. In these cases, the craftsmen have to input their blueprints into raw materials so as to transform them into something with form and order. Emphatically, the power of transformation by no means belongs to those raw materials themselves.
    Since Mencius thinks education is to rediscover and enlarge something that is innate to each human individual, the role of teachers, books, and all other pedagogical measures is best to be thought of as being facilitative and heuristic, rather than being deterministic. Therefore, regarding the Classic of Documents which was looked at highly by the Ru school, Mencius said that “I would rather have no such a book called ‘documents’ if I have to believe everything in it.” (Mencius 7B) Similarly, the most honored teachers in the Ru traditions are called “sages” or “sage-kings”; however, since the role of teachers for one’s education was thought of by Mencius as being facilitative and heuristic, he did not believe sages were flawless, perfect and semi-divine beings. Instead, he commented that sages actually share the same innately good part of human nature with every other human being, and the excellence of sages consists in their persistent will to perfect themselves once they make mistakes. (Mencius 2B). Most importantly, since he thinks the nature plays a significant role in the process of one’s humanization, Mencius is pious towards the all-encompassing “heaven” (天, cosmos), and describes the process of education as one of “preserving one’s heartmind, nourishing one’s human nature, and ultimately, serving heaven.” (Mencius 7 A)
    Because Xunzi holds a fundamentally different view from Mencius on the point of human nature, he disagrees with Mencius on all the points mentioned in last paragraph as well. Firstly, since the process of humanization does not involve the facilitating role of the nature, the Ruist term, Tian (天), lost its religious connotation in Xunzi’s thought. Instead, Tian was understood by Xunzi as a purely natural process of life-generating; it provides the raw materials for human civilization to thrive. However, whether humans can manage and utilize these materials for their own purposes entirely depend upon human efforts. Xunzi claims that “Rather than following heaven and praising it, why not manage the mandate of heaven, and then, utilize it!” (Xunzi, chapter 17) Secondly, in Xunzi’s pedagogical and political visions, it is up to the teacher with an absolute authority who relies upon their extraordinary intelligence to perceive principles which harmonize the relationships among human and comic being. Therefo

    • 19 min
    Mencius: A Short Introduction

    Mencius: A Short Introduction

    When Confucius passed away, his students built schools and academies which furthermore ramified to varying lineages of philosophical and religious thought. Within these lineages, there is one which is particularly favored by later Ruists, and in the second millennium of imperial China, it is also enshrined by scholar-officials as the orthodox version of Ru thought, the so-called lineage of Dao (道统). Allegedly, this lineage started from all those sage-kings discussed by the previous units of our course, such as Yao, Shun, Yu, King Wen, Wing Wu, and Duke of Zhou, continued with Confucius, and then, was finally passed down to Zeng Zi, the immediate student of Confucius as also the alleged author of the text “Great Learning,” to Zi Si, the grandson of Confucius as also the purported author of the text “Centrality and Commonality”, and eventually to Mencius.
    As indicated, Confucius, Mencius, Zeng Zi and Zi Si are the authors of four Ru classics: The Analects, Mencius, Great Learning, and Centrality and Commonality. Overall, these four books formed a new canon system, the significance of which in the second millennium even surpassed the Six Classics that Confucius originally taught in his own school.
    However, starting from the 221 B.C.E, the beginning point of Qin Dynasty, Mencius’s status was not that prominent for the Ru tradition in the first millennium of imperial China. Yes, he was as important as being seen as a principal Ru thinker; his book was also taken as having furnished an important interpretation of Confucius’s thought. However, during this earlier period, this interpretation did not grant Mencius the title, the so-called “Secondary Sage” (亚聖), through which later Ruists honored him as the sage only secondary to Confucius.
    Why so? Why were the emphases of the Ru tradition during the first and second millennia of imperial China different? The answer to this question can be explained as follows.
    There were two vast, long-standing, and unifying dynasties during the first millennium, viz., Han and Tang, and somewhat in-between them was another long period of social disintegration and political division. Seen from a historical hindsight, the most significant moment for the Ru tradition in this earlier period was that under the efforts of Ru scholars in Han Dynasty, Confucius’s teaching was adopted as a state ideology, and thus, established its mainstream status in the intellectual and political history of ancient China once for all. However, this also means that Ruism was seen as a major resource for the statecraft and institutional structures of the emerging and developing imperial system of ancient China. More importantly, those impactful non-Confucian thought in the pre-Qin dynasty still existed and developed in their own terms (for instance, Daoism got established as a religion during this time); also, Buddhism migrated from India, and gradually took a strong root in Chinese people’s spiritual life. In face of all these competing schools and traditions, it took time for Ru scholars to learn, interact, and incorporate their thought. In other words, the politically mainstream status of Ruism and the increasingly diversifying intellectual landscape of ancient China made the Ru tradition predominately focus upon elaborating the “ritual” side of Confucius’s thought, rather than its inner-dispositional aspect of ethics and metaphysics. In other words, because Ruism was dedicated to constructing the political and societal ritual-system of imperial China and to confronting the influence of varying schools of thought, it had not yet developed its own all-compassing, holistic discourse which grounds those political and social rituals upon a sophisticated conception of human nature and furthermore, grounds this conception of human nature upon a cosmology which addresses the most generic features of beings in the universe.
    However, the situation changes quite drastically in the second millennium

    • 19 min
    Ritual-Abiding or Goodwill?

    Ritual-Abiding or Goodwill?

    Ritual-abiding or goodwill? A Confucian Question.
    If we have to use one unit to focus on Confucius’s thought, we should do so about the concept of Ren, translatable as humaneness, humanity, benevolence, kindness, goodwill, etc.
    The reason I said so is due to the historical situation that Confucius was facing when he tried to revive the Zhou ritual system to regain the peace of society in his time. Rituals, understood in the broad Ruist sense of “civilizational conventions,” changed since they are after all “conventions”. Even if we assume that none ritual prior to Zhou had never been considered by Confucius (which may be not accurate since he frequently mentioned ancient stories and cultures in the Analects), there had already been 5 hundred years passed after the event of “Duke of Zhou made rituals and composed music.” Yes, in Confucius’s time, rulers of states frequently usurped power to perform rituals that were supposed to be solely performed by the emperor. In this case, it was clear to Confucius what rituals these local lords should not perform and thus, he also condemned these hegemons relentlessly. (Analects 3.1) However, for rituals that are of less outstanding status, people in different times and places are just doing them differently, or in certain cases, people may stop doing them even if scholars can find the historical evidences of these abandoned rituals. Therefore, in order to teach rituals to his students to serve a distinctive social and political purpose, Confucius must have been delved into a quite serious, systematic thought about the origin, function and purpose of ritual in general, so that he could have a standard to advocate certain rituals over others, and in certain circumstances, even to invent rituals fit for his time. A visible instance on the creative ritual practice of Confucius can be found in those analyzed educational principles (please look into unit 6 of the course) that Confucius implemented in the first private school he founded.
    So, what is the origin, function and purpose of ritual?
    Regarding the origin of ritual, Confucius said, once ritual is lost, we should seek it in the wild field, which means seeking it in the uncultivated, non-urban areas where people still keep their naturally kind and warm-hearted dispositions. (Analects 11.1) He also likened the creation of ritual to drawing pictures on a plainly white canvas (Analects 3.8), and this means that only when we possess a solid foundation of those inborn dispositions of human beings, we can start to design rituals based upon it. In a more concrete term, when he explained why, in his time, people needed to mourn for three years after their parents passed away, Confucius said that people normally “derive no pleasure from the food that they eat, no joy from the music that they hear, and no comforts from their dwelling” after their parents die (Analects 17.21), and therefore, they need a ritual to perform and abide by to help them to go through this difficult time of deep grieving.
    So, in the view of Confucius’s, rituals are needed to express and manifest the naturally given inner dispositions of human beings. This view is highly understandable even from today’s perspectives; for instance, we normally get excited, or feel somewhat different about ourselves when our birthday is approaching. It seems that we need something to mark this day, to celebrate what is meaningful to us, and also to project a conceivable future. All of these constitute the rationale of the perhaps most performed rituals of birthday party all over the world.
    However, although rituals manifest the inner dispositions of humanity, they can also discipline and refine the latter. The Analects 12:1 noticeably instructs that “Humanity is realized through enabling oneself to return to ritual-propriety,” and also that “Look not at what is contrary to ritual-propriety; listen not to what is contrary to ritual-propriety; speak not what is co

    • 13 min
    The Life of Confucius

    The Life of Confucius

    We have spent the previous units to talk about the name, the entering text, and several pre-Confucian exemplary figures of the Ru tradition. Now, we finally get to Confucius, which the English name of the Ru tradition, Confucianism, refers to.
    It was the Jesuits who gave us this name “Confucius” in around the 16th century. When they did so, they tried to pronounce how Confucius was honored by Chinese people at that time. Kong is the surname, and Fuzi, means “honored master”; so Confucius sounds like Kong Fuzi, and it was not the original name of Confucius. The original name of Confucius is Kong Qiu, and he has a style name called Zhong Ni. Qiu means a hill, referring to what the forehead of Confucius looked like; Zhong means that Kong Qiu is the second son in the family, and Ni refers to the place where Confucius was born, a hill called Ni in the state of Lu, the state that we have discussed as the place where the offspring of the Duke of Zhou were enfeoffed, and thus, it preserved many ancient rituals and cultures of Zhou Dynasty.
    I get into these fair details of Confucius’s birthplace and his name because I want to express my general feeling towards Confucius’s life: Confucius is such a real figure that his down-to-earth humanity stands very prominently among the leaders or founders of major world philosophies and religions. Firstly, this very human profile of Confucius is different from founding figures in the Abrahamic religious traditions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam. From varying scriptures, we read a number of miraculous, nearly or fully divine deeds of these religious founding figures such as Jesus, Moses and Muhammad, which we barely find any resemblance in the case of Confucius. Secondly, the number of historical evidences we can gather about Confucius’s life and thought surpasses other legendary thinkers, the reality of whose life we can normally just guess and speculate. For instance, many scholars doubt whether we can know anything sure about the life of the Gautama Buddha, or the life of Laozi, the founder of philosophical Daoism.
    However, this down-to-earth human face of Confucius does not mean that his life is merely human, secular, and thus deficient of all transcendent or spiritual commitment. As I will analyze in more details, the concept of “mandate of heaven” (天命) plays a significant role in Confucius’s life, and he indeed tried to live a meaningful and powerful human life with a cosmic consciousness towards what humans can and should do within the entire universe. In this sense, the person of Confucius indicates a lifestyle which we can name as “this worldly spirituality,” and for me, because the lifestyle seems naturally fit into many aspects of human consciousness in modern society, I find it very appealing.
    The significance of Confucius to the Ru tradition is that he established the first private school in ancient China, and started to systematically study, teach and propagate ancient wisdom with an ultimate purpose of improving the society where he lived in. In other words, before Confucius, although legendary sages such as Yao, Shun and Duke of Zhou had furnished great wisdom for later generations to follow, all educational resources were monopolized by the government, and therefore, no commoner, which referred to people with no noble pedigree, could become an educated person. However, in the time of Confucius, the central authority of Zhou Dynasty was collapsing, and the official school system was crumbling. This situation furnished a historic opportunity for such a highly intelligent and dedicated human being, Confucius, to democratize the educational enterprise so that he could help his society through making education more accessible. This was unprecedented in ancient China, and in this regard, we can compare Confucius to Plato and Aristotle who opened the earliest schools of liberal arts in ancient Greece. This is also the reason why, comparatively speak

    • 25 min

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