About virtue 德 (de)

By now, you should know that I frequent certain forums, namely the Asiawind and China Daily forums. However I am just a passive lurker. There are many thinkers in there that will put me to shame. Since I am learning more on Kungzi teaching, a discussion on ‘de’ or virtue,  caught my attention.
Author: Zhao Yun 
Date:   01-08-08 20:39

I read an interesting definition of the word “virtue”, by Confucius the other day, which I think is absolutely brilliant! Heeding what TomDragon said about western definitions, I had a quick look in the net and here is what I came up with:

“The quality of doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong.” (Princeton University)

“Virtue (Latin virtus; Greek ἀñåôÞ) is moral excellence of a person. A virtue is a character trait valued as being good. The conceptual opposite of virtue is vice.” (Wikipedia)

“An excellence of moral or intellectual character. Plato, Aristotle and many subsequent philosophers explored the nature of the virtues, their relations among themselves and to non-virtuous states, their place in our psychology and their role in achieving happiness. …” (Filosofia)

“A desirable or admirable personality trait, such as kindness, or courage. According to Aristotle every virtue is a mean between two vices: kindness a mean between cruelty and softness; courage a mean between cowardice and rashness; etc.” (Rodsmith)

I notice that none of them actually really tell us what virtue is other than to say it is something morally “good”. But what is good? What is good to one is bad to another, which is what Makky erroneously points out all the time. Even Aristotle made a weak attempt when he said it is “a mean between two vices”, like “between cruelty and softness”. Secondly, all the definitions do NOT link human relationships together into a holistic whole. In other words, it is a passive, sterile definition, devoid of all living relationships.

Herein lays the huge difference between eastern and western thinking or philosophy. Western thinkers are self-centred while eastern thinkers encompass and reconcile both the subject and the object into a holistic functional definition. Not only that, eastern definitions use a minimalist approach. The fewer the words, the better the definition!

Now, this is how Confucius defines “virtue”.

“Perfect virtue is compassionate detachment.”

How brilliant the definition when you read it in the context of someone like the Buddha. It is almost like Confucius wrote the definition with the Buddha in mind! In actual fact, they both live at almost the same period in history!

The Buddha gave up all the power as a prince and future king, gave up a loving wife and child, and also gave up all the possession/wealth, in order to search for the truth (it cannot be done otherwise). In doing so, he had detached himself from all forms of relationships- human or otherwise, including the desire for wealth, power, and even shelter. Heck, he did not know where he would be sheltering or sleeping come nightfall, or even where his next meal would be coming from! But yet, having attained enlightenment, he felt compassionate enough for all of humanity to teach the Dharma for the remaining 40 years of his austere life. (For those who don’t know what the Dharma is, make the effort to look it up yourself!) In short, the Buddha is absolutely detached but yet compassionate- not for one, two or even three years but for the last 50 years of his life. If this is not perfect virtue then I don’t know what is!

In contrast, Jesus had nothing to detach from- be it power, wealth, possession, or a loving family! So the guy had given up nothing! Contrary to what Makky thinks, Jesus didn’t give up his life- he was arrested and got nailed (literally, pun intended)! LOL 🙂

Look at ALL the world leaders today. Do any of them display perfect virtue? Not a single ONE! Would Lee Kuan Yew work for Singapore for free, not least he could feed his family and love ones? Would any world leader do what the Buddha did? Nay…they are all ATTACHED, one way or another, more so than that Bushit that is supposedly, according to our Conehead Goofman, running the greatest de-mob-crap-tic nation the world has ever known! Hell, Bush wouldn’t even step inside if it is not a chauffeur driven, bullet proof, bomb proof, bodyguard infested, limousine!

Author: platypus 
Date:   01-09-08 13:52

"Perfect virtue is compassionate detachment.”

I rather like the sound of this.

So where did Confucious say this, which section of the Analects?

I like this because I think that virtue is the combination of two things: compassion and wisdom (good judgement).

Compassion is the essence of virtue. But compassion alone is not enough, one also requires the wisdom, the humility, the self-restraint, to not to become attached. When we become attached, all the human vices, be it fear, greed, vanity, vangeance, stubornness, jealousy,…..will inevitably take over, sooner or later.



About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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