Category: The Ancients

“Greek democracies could never pardon the introduction of new gods. Their objection to this was not, however, that the gods in question were false gods. If they had been so, it would not have mattered so much. What they could not tolerate was that any one should establish a private means of communication between himself and the unseen powers. This introduced, as it were, an unknown and incalculable element into the arrangements of the State, which might very likely be hostile to the democracy, and was in any case a standing menace to the mass of the citizens, who had no means of propitiating the intruding divinity. And it was nearly as bad to worship the ordinary gods of the State in a private way; for it was manifestly unfair that any section of the community should have access to the supreme dispensers of good and ill at times and seasons when the ordinary man was excluded. The religious creed of the Greek citizen may, in short, be summed up in the single tenet promulgated by the Delphic oracle that all must worship ‘according to the use of the city,’ and none must be suffered to gain the private ear of the gods for the furtherance of his own end.” – John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy

“Ancient religions cared nothing for a man’s belief, if only it did not set him in open opposition to the public worship of the State, and, so long as the proper ceremonial was correctly performed, any explanation of it that occurred to the spectator might be given. He might believe or disbelieve that the Mysteries taught the doctrine of immortality; the essential thing was that he should duly sacrifice his pig.” – John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy

“Imagine insects with a life span of two weeks, and then imagine further that they are trying to build up a science about the nature of time and history. Clearly, they cannot build a model on the basis of a few days in summer. So let us endow them with a language and a culture through which they can pass on their knowledge to future generations. Summer passes, then autumn; finally it is winter. The winter insects are a whole new breed, and they perfect a new and revolutionary science on the basis of the ‘hard facts’ of their perceptions of snow. As for the myths and legends of summer: certainly the intelligent insects are not going to believe the superstitions of their primitive ancestors.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

“Myth is not an early level of human development, but an imaginative description of reality in which the known is related to the unknown through a system of correspondences in which mind and matter, self, society, and cosmos are integrally expressed in an esoteric language of poetry and number which is itself a performance of the reality it seeks to describe. Myth expresses the deep correspondence between ‘the universal grammar’ of the mind and the universal grammar of events in spacetime. A hunk of words does not create a language, and a hunk of matter does not create a cosmos. The structures by which and through which man realizes the intellectual between himself and the universe of which he is a part are his mathematical, musical, and verbal creations. Mediating between Nous and Cosmos is the Logos.” – William Irwin Thompson, At the Edge of History

Line ’em upLine ’em up

“The sage in governing the people considers their springs of action, never tolerates their wicked desires, but seeks only for the people’s benefit. Therefore, the penalty he inflicts is not due to any hatred for the people but to his motive of loving the people. If penalty triumphs, the people are quiet; if reward over-flows, culprits appear. Therefore the triumph of penalty is the beginning of order; the overflow of reward, the origin of chaos. Indeed, it is the people’s nature to delight in disorder and detach themselves from legal restraints. Therefore, when the intelligent sovereign governs the state, if he makes rewards clear, the people will be encouraged to render meritorious services; if he makes penalties severe, the people will attach themselves to the law. If they are encouraged to render meritorious services, public affairs will not be obstructed; if they attach themselves to the law, culprits will not appear. Therefore, he who governs the people should nip the evil in the bud; he who commands troops, should inculcate warfare in the people’s mind. If prohibitions can uproot causes of villainy, there will always be order; if soldiers can imagine warfare in mind, there will always be victory. When the sage is governing the people, he attains order first, wherefore he is strong; he prepares for war first, wherefore he wins. Indeed, the administration of the state affairs requires the attention to the causes of human action so as to unify the people’s mental trends; the exclusive elevation of public welfare so as to stop self-seeking elements; the reward for denunciation of crime so as to suppress culprits; and finally the clarification of laws so as to facilitate governmental procedures. Whoever is able to apply these four measures, will become strong; whoever is unable to apply these four measures, will become weak.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

Shock-haired bad boyShock-haired bad boy

“Suppose there is a boy who has a bad character. His parents are angry at him, but he never makes any change. The villagers in the neighbourhood reprove him, but he is never thereby moved. His masters teach him, but he never reforms. Thus with all the three excellent disciplines, the love of his parents, the conduct of the villagers, and the wisdom of the masters, applied to him, he makes no change, not even a hair on his shins is altered. It is, however, only after the district-magistrate sends out soldiers in accordance with the law to search for wicked men that he becomes afraid and changes his ways and alters his deeds. So the love of parents is not sufficient to educate children. But if it is necessary to have the severe penalties of the district-magistrate come at all, it is because people are naturally spoiled by love and obedient to authority.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

Philosopher kingsPhilosopher kings

“In the age of remote antiquity, human beings were few while birds and beasts were many. Mankind being unable to overcome birds, beasts, insects, and serpents, there appeared a sage who made nests by putting pieces of wood together to shelter people from harm. Thereat the people were so delighted that they made him ruler of All-under-Heaven and called him the Nest-Dweller. In those days the people lived on the fruits of trees and seeds of grass as well as mussels and clams, which smelt rank and fetid and hurt the digestive organs. As many of them were affected with diseases, there appeared a sage who twisted a drill to make fire which changed the fetid and musty smell. Thereat the people were so delighted that they made him ruler of All-under-Heaven.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

Faking the newsFaking the news

“An unreal thing, if its existence is asserted by ten men, is still subject to doubt; if its existence is asserted by one hundred men, its reality becomes probable; and if its existence is asserted by one thousand men, it becomes undoubtable. Again, if spoken about by stammerers, it is susceptible to doubt; if spoken about by eloquent persons, it becomes believable.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

But who shall rule the rulerBut who shall rule the ruler

“What parents desire of children is safety and prosperity in livelihood and innocence in conduct. What the ruler requires of his subjects, however, is to demand their lives in case of emergency and exhaust their energy in time of peace. Now, parents, who love their children and wish them safety and prosperity, are not listened to; whereas the ruler, who neither loves nor benefits his subjects but demands their death and toil, can enforce his orders. As the enlightened sovereign knows this principle, he does not cultivate the feeling of favour and love, but extends his influence of authority and severity. Mothers love sons with deep love, but most of the sons are spoilt, for their love is over-extended; fathers show their sons less love and teach them with light bamboos, but most of the sons turn out well, for severity is applied.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

Get in under the hoodGet in under the hood

“In general, the principal way of government does not solely mean the justice of reward and punishment. Much less does it mean to reward men of no merit and punish innocent people. However, to reward men of merit, punish men of demerit, and make no mistake in so doing but affect such persons only, can neither increase men of merit nor eliminate men of demerit. For this reason, among the methods of suppressing villainy the best is to curb the mind, the next, the word, and the last, the work.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

Taking care of businessTaking care of business

“If in doing any kind of work people look after the harmony of the positive and negative factors; if in planting trees they follow the suitable periods of the four seasons; and if at dawn and at dusk there is no suffering from cold or heat; then revenue will be enormous. If important duties are not obstructed by small profits; if public welfare is not injured by private interest; if men exert their strength to tillage; and if women devote their energies to weaving; then revenue will be enormous. If the methods of animal husbandry are improved, the qualities of the soil are examined, the six animals flourish, and the five cereals abound, then revenue will be enormous. If weights and measures are made clear; if topographical features are carefully surveyed; and if through the utilization of boats, carts, and other mechanical devices, the minimum amount of energy is used to produce the maximum amount of efficiency; then revenue will be enormous. If traffic on markets, cities, passes, and bridges is facilitated, so that needy places are supplied with sufficient commodities; if merchants from abroad flock to the country and foreign goods and money come in; if any unnecessary expenditure is cut down, extravagant clothing and food are saved, houses and furniture are all limited to necessities, and amusements and recreations are never over-emphasized; then revenue will be enormous. In these cases, the increase in revenue is due to human effort. Granted that natural events, winds, rain, seasons, cold, and heat are normal and the territory remains the same, then if the people can reap the fruits of the abundant year, then revenue will be enormous too.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

An ancient dilemmaAn ancient dilemma

“Once there was a man of Ch`u selling shields and halberds. In praising his shields he said, ‘My shields are so solid that nothing can penetrate them.’ Again, in praising his halberds, he said, ‘My halberds are so sharp that they can penetrate anything.’ In response to his words somebody asked, ‘How about using your halberds to pierce through your shields?’ To this the man could not give any reply.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

Hence the emoluments clauseHence the emoluments clause

“Kung-yi Hsiu, Premier of Lu, was fond of fish. Therefore, people in the whole country contentiously bought fish, which they presented to him. However, Kung-yi Tzŭ would not accept the presents. Against such a step his younger brother remonstrated with him and said: ‘You like fish, indeed. Why don’t you accept the present of fish?’ In reply he said: ‘It is solely because I like fish that I would not accept the fish they gave me. Indeed, if I accept the fish, I will be placed under an obligation to them. Once placed under an obligation to them, I will sometime have to bend the law. If I bend the law, I will be dismissed from the premiership. After being dismissed from the premiership, I might not be able to supply myself with fish. On the contrary, if I do not accept the fish from them and am not dismissed the premiership, however fond of fish, I can always supply myself with fish.’ “ – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

The ruler can have no friendsThe ruler can have no friends

“Order and strength are due to the law; weakness and disorder, to its crookedness. If the ruler understands this principle, he must rectify reward and punishment but never assume humanity towards his inferiors. Rank and emolument are due to meritorious services; censure and punishment, to criminal offences.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

Easily delineated, our fearsEasily delineated, our fears

“Once upon a time there was a traveller drawing for the King of Ch`i. ‘What is the hardest thing to draw?’ asked the King. ‘Dogs and horses are the hardest.’ ‘Then what is the easiest?’ ‘Devils and demons are the easiest. Indeed, dogs and horses are what people know and see at dawn and dusk in front of them. To draw them no distortion is permissible. Therefore they are the hardest. On the contrary, devils and demons have no shapes and are not seen in front of anybody, therefore it is easy to draw them.’ “ – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

Cart before the horseCart before the horse

“Once there were men of Chêng contending for seniority in age. One man said, ‘My age is the same as Yao’s.’ Another man said, ‘I am as old as the elder brother of the Yellow Emperor.’ They brought the dispute to the court, but the judge could not make any decision. Finally he ruled that the one who was the last to stop arguing won the case.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

And other misfortunesAnd other misfortunes

“If the sovereign does not allow the humble to criticize the noble and the inferior to denounce the superior, but always expects the powers of high and low to balance, then ministers on equal footing will dare to conspire with each other. In so doing he will increase the number of delusive and deceitful officials.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

Step by stepStep by step

“The compassionate mother, regarding her infant child, always strives to establish the child’s well-being. If she strives to establish the child’s well-being, she will endeavour to rid the child of calamities. If she endeavours to rid the child of calamities, her reflection and consideration become thorough. If her reflection and consideration are thorough, she will attain the principles of affairs. If she attains the principles of affairs, she will certainly accomplish her purposes. If she is certain of accomplishing her purposes, she will not hesitate in her action. To make no hesitation is called ‘bravery’.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

No muzzle-loaders leftNo muzzle-loaders left

“Those who do not know the right way to political order, always say, ‘Never change ancient traditions, never remove existing institutions.’ Change or no change, the sage does not mind. For he aims only at the rectification of government. Whether or not ancient traditions should be changed, whether or not existing institutions should be removed, all depends upon the question whether or not such traditions and such institutions are still useful for present-day political purposes.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)

It’s nothing personalIt’s nothing personal

“When the cartwright finishes making carriages, he wants people to be rich and noble; when the carpenter finishes making coffins, he wants people to die early. Not that the cartwright is benevolent and the carpenter is cruel, but that unless people are noble, the carriages will not sell, and unless people die, the coffins will not be bought.” – The Complete Works of Han Fei Tzu (trans. and ed. W. K. Liao)