Filial piety

July 6, 2009

It had long been customary that part of the Emperor’s birthday treat should be a disputation between Confucians, Buddhists and Taoists. In the tenth month Po Chü-I was chosen to represent Confucianism, and also took the chair. These were mock debates and Po was no doubt asked to “play” on the Confucian side rather because he could be relied upon to conduct the proceedings with good humour than because he was regarded as a serious authority on Confucianism. Indeed in his opening speech, after a few words of conventional homage to the young Emperor, he confesses that he can lay claim to only a very slender knowledge of Confucianism. On the other hand, the monk I-hsiu is versed in all the doctrines of the Greater and the Lesser Vehicles and in every branch of learning, esoteric and exoteric. He is accustomed to addressing great assemblies and has a reputation for posing very difficult questions. Armed, however, with some knowledge of the writings that have come down from “the Former Kings” and fortified by His Majesty’s august presence, Po promises to answer questions to the best of his ability.

The first question put by the monk was an extremely easy one. It concerned the six classes into which the pieces in the Book of Songs were traditionally divided and the four categories into which Confucius’s disciples were placed. Po gave the required information and asked for a supplementary question, if his answer was not felt to be satisfactory. The monk then asked how it was that Tsêng Tzu, admittedly one of the most important disciples of Confucius, was not mentioned in any of the four categories. Po replied that Confucius classified his disciples in this way on a particular occasion and only mentioned those who were actually present. Confucius had only just returned from a journey, and while he was away Tsêng Tzu, famous for his filial piety, had gone home to look after his parents. That was why he was absent on this occasion.

—from The Life and Times of
Po Chü-I
, by Arthur Waley
(p. 169)


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