My Interview with NPR’s This American Life, the Origin of White Worship, the Nature of God, and Lessons in Leadership from Confucius and Buddhism
(13 min read)
THE NAME OF THE MASTER
“At 15, I set my heart on learning;
At 30, I took my moral stand;
At 40, I have no more doubts;
At 50, I knew the Will of God;
At 60, I could hear His Voice clearly;
And at 70, I followed my heart’s desire without crossing the line.”
— Confucius, The Analects
The Art and Science of Philosophy — the Ever-Protean Answer to the Eternal Constant Question of “How Should I Live My Life?” — may have originated in the Middle East in the City of Miletus with the Seven Sages, but it was perfected in the Far East, and everything since then has merely been a rediscovery or reformulation of ancient Human Axioms and Logic (or the expansion of empirical bodies of evidence — known as Science — underwriting them). The crystallization and epitome of all Possible and Moral Human Thought and Behaviors — aka, Virtue Ethics — struck the Earth like a thunderbolt in the form of the one we call the Master: Confucius, or “Master Kong”, the world-historically famous Chinese teacher, editor, and philosopher-politician who lived from 551 – 479 B.C., during the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history.
Kneel before the Master
The ultimate moral message from the Master can be summed up as follows: live according to the Pattern (Wen) of True Human Justice (Ren) — the Dao (Way) — by adopting and cultivating Good Customs, Rituals, Virtuous Ways of Thought, and Behaviors (Li). This is how you immanentize the eschaton (The Kingdom of Heaven), otherwise known as bringing about the triumph of Good (or at the very least, a harmonious psychic life). The behavior of the manifest outer World, of course, is not ultimately up to you, but in the hands of Shangdi, or God the Highest. All we can do is try, whether that be through mute protest or raising hell. This unflappable optimism, unshakable faith, and uncompromising derring-do in the service of what’s Right in any given set of circumstances (situational justice), is what makes one a True Prince (Junzi). The Prince, in the Chinese as opposed to the Italian conception, is a Master of Ethical Objectivity and Moral Duty — Piety — the ultimate expression of Wise Patience. He or she can swallow or eat any bitterness, in order to live up their own principles and conform to the right Dao of conduct, and do so joyfully and freely, which is the essence of Ren.
“Ren” can best be conceptualized as an evolution in the philosophical history of “Moral Justice” from “Male Domination and Might”, into a paradigm of “Humane Reason and Ethics”. It is not a series of “thou-shalt-not” commandments, but rather an overall life ethos consisting of applying one’s moral reason to everyday, real-world situations in a manner that reflects the Power which moves the entire cosmos: Universal Lovingkindness and the accompanying Wrath necessary to protect Loved Ones and Loyal Subjects from Harm — the Essence of Leaders, Princes, Junzis, Emperors, or Kings of Kings. In other words, it is an ideology of both Faith and Good Deeds, as evidenced by Confucius attributing his Dao to Heaven.
It is also what the Ancient Greeks called “Phronesis”, or the Practical Wisdom (i.e., Athena) necessary for taking virtuous or heroic actions in real life — which is often messy and complicated — on a case-by-case basis. In other words, Phronesis, otherwise known as Pragmatism, is something that is enacted, first through conformity of thought, speech, and belief to moral principles, and then finally demonstrated empirically in difficult situations requiring keen discernment and good judgment, faith, and excellence of character. This practical virtue is known as Filial Piety, or Faith in One(s) Above, as embodied in Confucius relaying how at age 60, he could finally hear the Voice of God clearly directing his actions, and ten years later, knew how to live his life freely without ever “crossing the line” or trespassing against the Will of God. Confucius was, above all else, a Prophet of the Lord.
The idea of “Ren” is best exemplified in the following passage from the Analects, which is largely a collection of anecdotes about Confucius — gospels — by his disciples:
“The stable being burned down, when he was at court, on his return he said, “Has any man been hurt?” He did not ask about the horses.”
In other words, in a just conception of the World, personal and private property comes second to the lives of human beings. This moral duty must be expressed through initiative, instinct, and action in real life, such as in the situation illustrated above, where The Master asks about whether any men have been hurt in a fire, rather than the prized horses (like most Prophets, he spends a considerable amount of time in the Analects railing against rich people, as well as the lustful passions of young boys inclined towards sex rather than virtue). It was Confucius who actually first stumbled upon the Kantian Kingdom of Ends, or Human Paradise, which he embodied in the formulation that became known as the Golden Rule, his only Universal Commandment: “Don’t do unto others, what you don’t want done unto you.”
In order to capture the nature of Ren — Wise Human Patience, which knows when to Strike and when to Retreat according to the Pattern — for useful application in our everyday lives, we should use the Key of Human Logic devised by Thales, the Oriental Father of Western Philosophy who commanded us to “Know thyself!”: The Intercept Theorem, which is a logical and mathematical expansion of the concept of Dao, or Way(s). The Intercept Theorem states that if two lines are crossed, and a set of parallel lines later intersects both, the proportions and ratios that are generated as a result will be equivalent. Like all Mathematics, this is actually a detailed instruction manual regarding Life. What does this Theorem signify?
Thales’ Intercept Theorem: How Many Roads Must a Man Walk Down?
According to the Logic in this Theorem, when a Man (or Woman, or Being) is at a Crossroads in Life, one way to think things through strategically is to look at the results of the lives of other people who were confronted with similar situations — aka Role Models. Their decisions and consequent fates form an Allegory, or narrative picture of what might happen in the future, if one makes similar decisions and takes likewise actions. This duplicate of the Other in your mind, whose granularity is determined by Study and Empathy, allows one to generate roughly equivalent possible outcomes that should somewhat parallel those that unfold in real life (God willing) if you follow in the Other’s footsteps. This is the essence of the phrase: “shoot for the stars, so at least you land on the clouds.” It is also the essence of all Knowledge — the Diadem of the Buddha — which is comprised almost entirely of Contact with the Other, Mimicry, and Reconciliation. You first gather enough examples of admirable and respectable people and their stories in order to guide your conduct in life, and then parallel their thoughts, speech, and behaviors, until you form a virtuous Character-Ego for yourself — “Face” — that is able to operate autonomously, independently, and without effort, like Master Kong at the end of his life (you can do the reverse for examples of people whose fates you would like to avoid).
This Logic also acts as an excellent investigative tool of Self-Discovery and eventually Self-Autonomy, the Final Form of Master Kong. By observing your own life as the first intersecting parallel, you can search the World for examples of other figures, either living or dead, whose thoughts and decisions mirror your own, in order to generate hypotheses as to your own nature — the Eternal Stranger — which Psychology informs us we learn about the same way we learn about others: through careful observation of habits. Over time, this “catching” of yourself in the act, allows one to bend one’s instincts to a desired principle or pattern, until one is able to instinctually self-censor or self-correct one’s train of thought, feelings, and then ultimately behavior. While Li may seem like a straitjacket at first, it is actually a cocoon, which gives birth to the butterfly of true Human Freedom, free of Anxiety and Guilt. How?
Within conformity to the Dao, or the Path of God — in which wayward urges are tamed and passions are refined through practice and self-meditation — there is an incomprehensibly vast continuum of interstitial freedom. As Sun Tzu says in the Art of War, there are only a certain number of discrete colors, but an infinite number of possible arrangements and permutations, and therefore, an infinite spectrum, or regress, of actual unique colors — an ever-expanding rainbow which is only restricted by the limits of Human Imagination, which is also infinite now thanks to the Original Technology — History, aka Mnemosyne or Collective and Persistent Human Memory, the Holy Spirit of All Recorded Ghosts. We have True Choice: first, in the choice of the worldly examples we worship; second, in the methods and manners in which we imitate their behaviors and duplicate their thoughts, speech, and actions; and third, in the choice of what we choose to enjoy once we have perfected our own Dao.
Izzo (H.O.V.A.) from Jay-Z’s The Blueprint (2001):
Logically, the first People to discover God were Black Men and Women
To be a true free-thinker and Master of yourself, first you must learn to accept the chains of Learning, while putting your personal Pride aside in the face of any real Master. As with anything you wish to change in the World — in this case Yourself — you must know the rules, in order to bend them. That is true Creativity, or Originality, the ultimate reward for virtuous Patience and an unwavering faith in God, the Highest. The mistake of fools is that they mistake their fundamental unoriginality, their Ignorance of What’s Out There, for originality, a psychological phenomenon that has been labelled as “the Dunning-Kruger Effect”. A real wise man knows that he knows nothing, except what he’s learned through careful study and practice, which is still infinitesimal in the face of the mighty Creation of God — All Life. This unwavering loyalty and respect for the Will of Heaven — Providence in English — married with a patient carrying out of one’s Sacred Duties, is known as Dharma. Dharma is the Ultimate Weapon, the Mystery of Life held in the Emperor’s Right Hand, aka God’s Mercy.
Now that we know the essence of God’s Mercy, which is to live according to Dharma — the Will of God or Patient Lovingkindness — let us turn now to the other Sacred Gem of Emperors: The Living Fire, the Burning Bush, the Lightning in the Sky, the Parting of the Waters, the Resurrection of Christ, and the source of all World Domination: Passion.
Patience and Providence: The Ultimate Weapons in Life
“I want to explore the various facets of what I will call the “modern identity”.
To give a good first approximation of what this means would be to say that it involves tracing various strands of our modern notion of what it is to be a human agent, a person, or a self.
But pursuing this investigation soon shows you can’t get very clear about this without some further understanding of how our pictures of the Good have evolved. Selfhood and the Good, or in another way selfhood and Morality, turn out to be inextricably intertwined themes.”
— Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity
My first encounter with Son Goku — or Sun Wukong, the Monkey King — was a fiction novel my father, Dong Won Hur, handled me in middle school called Tripmaster Monkey, written by the infamous Maxine Hong Kingston, a rather contentious author within the Asian American community. Maxine’s avatar for the Monkey King was her protagonist, a young Chinese-American hippie named Wittman Ah Sing living in San Francisco during the height of the Yellow Power movement in the late 60s. Wittman goes through a series of harrowing adventures, in a constant, unbroken stream of consciousness melding together English as the dominant, and pidgin Chinese as the ancillary, language. He even ends up marrying a White woman at one point, a road which ends up nowhere, at least in Maxine’s literary imagination. Which is rather funny, considering Maxine herself was married to a White man.
The Monkey King is a beloved character and icon in Chinese Buddhist, and cultural, tradition. He was first featured in the Chinese classical novel “Journey to the West”, written in the 1500s, as the Age of European Domination was just beginning. He was originally imagined in the novel as a monkey born from the Philosopher’s Stone (Enlightenment), who acquires supernatural powers through following the practices of Dao. Mythic elevation in later texts had him rebelling against Heaven and being imprisoned under a Mountain by the Buddha (sound familiar?). In repentance (the second half of the story), he must travel with the monk Tang Sanzang on a journey to retrieve Buddhist sutras from “The West” (India back then).
The Monkey King, a trickster-saint and/or god/devil is a shamanic and occult entity like Loki and Anansi that arises in every form and breed of human civilization. In the Chinese imaginary, he is immensely powerful, both physically (his weapon is an enormous bo staff that can also shrink instantly) and spiritually due to his knowledge and practice of Dao, the Way of following God’s Path. The latter allows him to summon different Moods, Emotions, and Passions, chief of which Descartes accurately described as “Wonder” — the 72 Earthly Transformations into Animals and Objects (although his tail remains to remind him that his original form is still an ape).
Of course, the story of the Monkey King is most famously told in Western media in the form of Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball series of cartoons. Japan is where we get the bastardized Romanization of Sun Wukong into “Son Goku”, an ape-like alien that arrived here from Outer Space and must compete with other species on the Planet as well as from elsewhere in order to protect and preserve Humanity. His power, which is all-encompassing, lies in the discipline he acquires through the Buddhist practice of Dharma and following the Dao: Transformation into varying and increasing levels of Intensity through Passion or Qi.
As we discussed in the previous section, Transformation is also how God is reconceived and reimagined in every historical culture through a process of expansion, that correlates with the progress of its technology and symbolic language. For example, the God of White People in America, is not the God of the Bible, but actually mythically born from one of their Saints, Saint Patrick, a Christian missionary from Ireland in the 5th century A.D. He was known as the “Apostle of Ireland”, and was originally a deified Man-God invoked to ward off snakes and Sins (sound familiar?). The eschatology of the Jewish Christianity was actually transmuted with the mythological hero-worship of a White Bearded Man in the Sky, a good Christian man in life, who warded off evil and granted blessings to the faithful. This was later corrupted into the abominable and execrable and blasphemous Imago of White Racist Jesus.
St. Patrick: The Historical Face of White God
The birth of White Jesus, a terrifying artifice of the Catholic Church in order to expand its earthly and material power and riches, was used as an organizing tool to weld together the nations of Europe in a mutual web of conquest and exploitation. White Lucifer, the Horned One that has no fear of God (unlike in the Bible and Koran!), was also born in Italy in the 1400s as the Age of Discovery and White Imperialism was being conceived, and quickly became the patron saint of imperialist English writers who sympathized with his overweening Pride in the face of God. The very idea that God Above can only be portrayed as a White Man, which is a racist fiction leveraged to conquer the Earth, flies directly against the testimony of God Himself in the Bible, who said: “No man can see me and live”. How the hell can God be a White Man (unless, of course, He temporarily occupies one, like the good Thomas Merton)?
Passion, of course, must be tempered by Reality. We are still just apes wearing clothes. Our only power is Imagination, and Faith in Something Larger and Better than Ourselves. Therefore, in order to be seen as Leaders, we must first BECOME Leaders. As always, the Original Sin is not the biting of an apple, or the trampling of a snake, or the fall of a proud spirit, but always and forever, APATHY, the complete and stunning indifference of otherwise “good” people in the face of monstrous and hideous injustice in real life. Evil is often necessary for Progress, or as Marx said, History often progresses by its “bad side”. But without a redemption and reconciliation, particularly of our image and worship of God, we cannot ever hope to get ourselves out of a mess that’s been wreaked by organized White Supremacist religion since the Spanish Inquisition in Europe to the Salem Witch Trials in the United States and all the way to the White House with the election of President Donald J. Trump in 2016, in the Year of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For it is true, and clear as day, that when one looks back over the whole purview of the human species (just one of a few lucky mammals competing for dominance), the only saving grace we have is each other (wisdom, also an appellation for a mob, colony, or group of wombats, our Ancestor Mammals), and the faith that we can eventually become something better than what we are today.
So, as the son of a good Christian mother, who often burned with the Passion and spat out Pentecostal tongues and drew crosses on our faces, allow me to close with the Apocalypse:
“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen — the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
— Revelations 3:14-17
Or, to put it more succinctly:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, then you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
— Socialist Archbishop, Nobel Prize Winner, and anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu
Amen to that.
Process Theology: What if God Was All of Us?
Left: partying in Vegas with some of my Middle Eastern friends (2017); Right: a picture of the Islamic Center in Koreatown LA, the first and one of the largest mosques in Los Angeles:
“There is no true god but the one God, and Muhammad is a Messenger.”
Written by Albert Joon-Ho Hur
[Edited by J]
“Think on These Things” by Jiddu Krishnamurti (1964)