Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Gardeners and Builders

"Things have their root and their branches. Affairs have their end and their beginning. To know what comes first and what comes last will lead near to what is taught in the Great Learning." --Confucius, The Great Learning

The gardener tends to the soil and watering and plucks out the weeds and bugs so that good fruit is produced. This is the foundation of good gardening.

The builder tends to the laying of the footing so that what is built upon it will be long lasting. This is the foundation of good construction. (The footing is the root of the house.)

"It cannot be, when the root is neglected, that what should spring from it will be well ordered. It never has been the case that what was of great importance has been slightly cared for, and, at the sme time, that what was of slight importance has been greatly cared for." --Confucius, The Great Learning

In all cases here, we are dealing with people and society. People are the root and society is the branch.

"From the Son of Heaven (the president) to the masses of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything." (ibid)

And what is each person supposed to cultivate?

"Wisdom, benevolence, and courage--these are the virtues universally binding." --Confucius, Analects

Nance said: political change at the roots level is the strongest change. That implies that when the roots are nurtured the plant will remain vigorous and spread. (That would be our philosophy.)

and Ron said: I think that those in charge see the grassroots as an object, as a lawn. They are distinctly different from those grassroots types. They water us when they need us to make them look good.

In line with the builder is the image of a pyramid. It is the wide base at the bottom that supports everything above it. Those at the top have somehow gotten it into their heads that they owe nothing to the base that supports them. This is true of any organization, any political party, and of society in general.

As Ron points out, those at the top see themselves as gardeners, but they obviously have purple thumbs. Rather, they like to go around pulling up the plants and then say how they are helping them to grow.

Also, they allow forces in society (weeds) to proliferate which crowd out the good plants. Or worse, they cut the trees of virtue down and then wonder why the mountains are bald and have no beauty. To wit:

"And so also of what properly belongs to man; shall it be said that the mind of any man is without benevolence and righteousness? The way in which a man loses his proper goodness of mind is like the way which the mountains are denuded of trees by axes. Hewn down day after day, can it--the mind--retain its beauty? But there is a development of its life day and night, and in the calm air of the morning, just between night and day, the mind feels in a degree those desires and aversions which are proper to humanity, but the feeling is not strong, and it is fettered and destroyed by what takes place during the day. This fettering takes place again and again, the restorative influence of the night is not sufficient to preserve the proper goodness of the mind; and when this proves insufficient for that purpose, the nature becomes not much different from that of the irrational animals, and when people now see it, they think that it never had those powers which I assert. But does this condition represent the feelings proper to humanity?

"Therefore, if it receives its proper nourishment, there is nothing which will not grow. If it loses its proper nourishment, there is nothing which will not die." --Mencius

In conclusion, both of you are right in that the grassroots and the footing of a building are the very foundation of political organizations, and I'll add, society and civilization.

The people exist. They always will until we become extinct. People are the plants and they need tending to grow strong and healthy and produce good fruit. They are also the blocks of the footing of a house or the base of the pyramid. This makes them the foundation of society, and society is both a garden and a building. How well the people are tended as plants or laid as the footing of an ediface determines the kind of society we will have, whether fruitful and enduring, or weedy and temporary.

What we need are much better gardeners and builders who understand that when the root is neglected, what will spring from it will not be well ordered, nor will the mind of humanity retain its natural goodness and beauty. We the plants, the grassroots, the base of society, must do a much better job of picking our gardeners and builders.

But as the Great Learning also teaches, no one is exempt from cultivating in themselves the virtues of wisdom, benevolence, and courage which, according to the Ancients, have their roots in sincerity of the heart.