16) The Superior man always observes the issues in order to know the origin; scrutinizes the past in order to know the future. Such is the Principle whereby he attains foreknowledge.
YAY! We’ve come to a non-Confucian KFEB entry! This one is from Taoism, specifically from Lieh Tzŭ from the 5th century BCE. Again, you can see the Confucian undertones, specifically with regards to the ideals of the “superior man”; what is interesting is that the three major religious thoughts (Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism) were continually in discussion, competing for dominance in the developing Chinese culture by debating the particulars of the qualities that society had apparently accepted. The interpretation of what these particular ideals meant would be revised, reviewed, reinterpreted and debated between the three schools of thought, and after an interpretation was accepted by society, the other two would continue the review process and say that their interpretation was the same but with a subtle shift in hopes and effort to convert or otherwise convince believers to join (or return to) their particular practice.
Returning to Lieh Tzŭ’s statement, I remember thinking about this when I was a kid in high school taking history class and my teacher actually answered the stereotypical question that high school students/teenagers inevitably ask – “Why are we learning this?” Of course, the preceding statement was “This is stupid” as we were learning about the Great Depression. To my history teacher’s credit and testament to his experience as a teacher, he brought the lesson home quite quickly by asking my fellow student about his parent’s employment. Considering that we were experiencing one of the recessions of the 90’s and things were getting difficult everywhere, when my peer said that both of his parents worked in the automotive industry, I knew that his parents were likely going to be laid off or otherwise on a forced shut-down in the next few months as my family was in the same industry.
The teacher took this information and explained what would likely happen in the next little while – shutdown, layoffs, the necessity of EI, etc. – and explained that he was able to state these things due to an established pattern based on years of review. And it was then that I had first heard “If you don’t study history – if you don’t know about the successes and failures of the past – you will be doomed to repeat it.” I have heard this many times, but never as eloquently as when my high school history teacher explained it. He then brought the point home – how extreme failure of a system can have major impacts on the world and supplementary complications.
That is what I brought to my earliest interpretation of this particular passage and, as with everything in life, I have expanded my understanding of this particular statement; of interesting note, it still holds close to this original interpretation. You cannot understand whole without knowing the root, and if you want to understand what will likely happen, look at where it started. We can see this with most everything from economic issues to human psychology; we are continually in search of the ‘flashpoint’, that moment that led off as the catalyzing event. What caused the most recent recession? Apparently, some would say that it was something in Thailand. What caused so-and-so to attempt a terrorist event in Victoria, BC? Apparently there is some history of agreeing with Al Qaeda ideology… with this, there could be more to the story – a deeper root that caused them to believe that was a good way to think. If you want to know what is likely to happen, look at another example and it’s source for a good idea. Take that information and compare it to what you are reviewing, and you will be able to know what are likely complications and how it will go… in this, you will gain foreknowledge.
This statement is well in the philosophical school of “causality” – that of cause and effect – and offers for a sage to take advantage of this particular phenomenon. I am tempted to quote one of the Matrix Trilogy regarding causality – specifically the Merovingian and the program he created in a cake to induce a lustful desire in a particularly pretty blonde so that he could later take advantage of her in the ladies restroom… The foreknowledge that the review of the origins can be used for bad ends as easily as it can be for good ones – and it is infinitely more admirable to use this particular “superpower” for good than otherwise.
On a more personal level, if you do not review your own life – with unbiased eyes, if at all possible – then you will continually fall into the same patterns… If you want to know what is to come in your life, keep doing what you have always done.
If you want to change your life – look at the life of an idol or someone who has been successful in a way that you would like to and emulate their path… Walk your own, but study another to know how best to travel and you will be able to predict how things may unfold.