9) To preserve one’s mental and physical constitution, and nourish one’s nature is the way to serve heaven.
This is another one that I remember thinking was rather simple to interpret – keep yourself mentally and physically healthy and you serve the will of God… Admittedly I subscribed to a Christian ideal at the time that I received these pages, admittedly with a little deviation from the orthodox interpretations. Interestingly, these subtle disparities would eventually become the foundation to my later practices of faith – but I digress.
This particular sentiment seems rather straightforward though, and seems to be almost universally applicable to both Eastern and Western worldviews – but, as I have learned, this is not so.
This particular proverb is attributed to Mencius, one of the most famous Confucians in history (besides Confucius himself), and his major philosophy was that human nature was inherently good. Why does this matter? Well, there are some serious inherent differences between the two worlds – rooted, of course, in this fundamental belief.
Most Christians still intrinsically subscribe to the belief that human nature is inherently evil – as proven by philosophers like Augustine and Immanuel Kant. So, how can someone from a Christian background interpret this the same way as someone from a Confucian background when the nourishment of one’s nature is so pivotal to the argument?
In Confucian practice, the “will of heaven” is, as previously discussed (KFEB #4), a way to discuss the natural order of things – and it’s one of the driving forces for social understanding. Mencius’ interpretation of the inherent goodness of humanity falls in line with this in that by nourishing this goodness a person serves the will of heaven, while Christians are supposed to revere God above all and everything else is treated as an absolute negative. I think the interesting point here is that the difference between the two worldviews is that Christianity holds failure to subscribe to their view as a negative, while Confucians hold that it just doesn’t fit with the way things are… and there really isn’t a fiery or brimstone destination for those who don’t follow the will of heaven, because it will just happen anyway.
So, returning to the proverb – The strong desire for education is implied in the first part of the statement, and Mencius includes the reminder of the physical aspects of life, but ultimately returns to the notion of the best way to honour “heaven”.
To modernize this a little and take out the esoteric overtones, even if the ‘will of heaven’ was only the betterment of oneself, this is just saying – be active mentally and physically, and nourish goodness… this is the best way to be the good person.