KFEB #15 – The Superior man loves his soul; The Inferior man loves his property. The Superior man always remembers how he was punished for his mistakes; the Inferior man remembers what presents he got.

15)      The Superior man loves his soul; The Inferior man loves his property.  The Superior man always remembers how he was punished for his mistakes; the Inferior man remembers what presents he got.

The past few KFEB entries have been Confucian (either overtly, or similar to), with this one speaking directly to the differences between the superior and inferior interpretations of “ren” (Humanity); the superior and inferior are measured against this as a sort of litmus test, with the superior man understanding and acting in accordance with the attribute of Ren, and the inferior man acting in manner of discord.

Interestingly, when I first read this one I was a very heavily into Christianity and thus the word “Soul” wasn’t out of the normal.  As a matter of fact, it made sense considering the assumption that I made through that word – because I believed that every person inherently has a soul.  Admittedly, now my thoughts and beliefs are not the same as when I was a teenager.

Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism differ from Christian beliefs in many ways, not the least of which is the concept an everlasting, unique, intrinsic and individual “soul” – something that the former three do not have in their belief systems.  Although Buddhism comes from Hinduism and both have a concept of “atman” (or “self”), Buddhism denies the existence of the “self” and ultimately does not hold a concept of a soul as real in their practice of faith.
Hindu practices do hold this concept of “atman” as an intrinsic, permanent and divine draws immediate parallels to the idea of a “soul”, but there are subtle differences in these concepts that would be an interesting discussion for later – solely in a philosophical bent…

Returning to the topic at hand, Taoism doesn’t hold a concept of a “soul” similar to the Christian idea, as the Taoist “soul” is comprised of two separate parts – the Hun and the Po.  These two parts split upon death and return to their respective aspects of the Tao (the yin and yang, or feminine and masculine aspects) upon departure from the person after death.  Specific rituals are required or else, as the practice of faith holds, these two aspects could go about and create ghosts or other corrupt supernatural events.

Confucius did not believe in a soul, but instead believed that it was a person’s interaction with those around them that defined them.  Although there are references to a ‘soul’ in some Confucian writings, this may just be a translation issue meant to bridge the gap of understanding between the two languages, and may simply mean the concepts of Ren, etc. and a persons relationship to them.

The idea of “soul” here may mean that person’s conscience or internal responsibility instead of the posthumous grocery list of actions committed that is submitted for divine scrutiny…

So, as I got older, had my crisis of faith regarding Christianity and furthered my studies in the world’s religions, my concept of this one has changed only slightly; while the idea of “soul” shifted, the message remained largely the same.  That message was that it is better to be a good person than it is to be wealthy, and to remember what is right instead remembering gifts that are given.

When someone focuses on the material, there are a few things that come to mind – one, my dad used to have a beer cozy that had pictures of all sorts of things on it like boats, cars, etc.  The writing above all of these things was “He who dies with the most toys wins”; although I’ve always found this to be rather humorous, there was always an underlying seriousness to it, and I have found that a great many people truly believe that this is the way life should be lived.

Couple this with the second thing I remember from when I was younger, “Your material wealth owns you more than you own it” really made me think.  How many times have you worried about your car, where it’s parked, etc.?  Bought insurance based on the “what if” fears that the insurance agent put forward to you?  Got angry when something broke, or you lost/misplaced your cellphone, iPod or other expensive toy?  These responses are proof of their power over you, and reveal one part of the equation at play in the statement here – The material wealth that an inferior man receives is what he gauges his life by, so the moments of happiness that they recall when they remember the presents they got only shows their shallowness…

Now, arguably, I do not think that a superior man only remembers what punishments he got as sometimes the punishment is forgotten but the lesson remains!  I can’t tell you how many times I was grounded as a child, and do you think I remember why I was grounded all those times?  Only for a few of them, but ultimately I know that these groundings did cause me to rethink what I was doing and I can honestly say that I have not repeated many of those actions that caused me to be punished in the first place – and, honestly I believe that these things created the bedrock upon which I have built my ethical and moral foundations…

This isn’t exactly a Martial maxim, but can be extended to the Martial world rather well if we were to paraphrase the latter half slightly:  “The superior man remembers his failures while the inferior man remembers his wins”.  If a Martial Arts student trains hard and is fed nothing but praise, will they continue to train hard?  Will they become a good person?  Although this is open for debate, I can reasonably argue that someone who are fed only praise and are told they can do no wrong are less inclined to take criticism or admit when they have done wrong; when things do go south for them, they are the ones most likely point blame and not take responsibility for their actions.

Should we only tell students that they are doing things wrong?  No, because this would cause the opposite response in that the student would never feel as though they are succeeding and the instructor runs the risk of losing their student because they don’t feel as though they can do anything right, etc.
As a student, should I focus on what I’m being told is positive or dwell on the negative?  This is where the KFEB #15 falls short in that it only creates a dualistic ideal that there is no middle ground – you’re either superior or inferior.   Take the corrections, remember the mistakes and make yourself better – but don’t forget the praise, and remember that you are doing well.  Don’t get caught up in the praise though, or get caught in the cycle of needing and seeking out that praise for we all know that “pride goeth before the fall”…

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