Can Ancient Scriptures Teach Us Anything?


We’ve been asking that question for some time over at Natural Bible.

What about Very Old Chinese Books? Whenever I teach an introductory course on “World Wisdom” I encourage students to read selections from the Tao and Confucius.

Master Kung (Confucius) was one of the earliest Secular Chaplain-types:

“Asked about spiritual beings, Confucius replied, ‘If we are not yet able to serve humanity, how can we serve spiritual beings?’” (Analects, 11:11)

What if every “Holy Scripture” said something like that?

The Chung-Yung (Doctrine of the Mean) is an early Confucian classic (Master Kung died in 479 B.C.E. and this book dates from around 200 B.C.E.). It is one of the “Four Books”–primary source texts–of the philosophical religion of Chinese Confucianism.

chung means “central”

yung means “harmony”

As scriptures or philosophical texts go, the “Central Harmony” is quite short. Its 33 chapters cover about 17 pages in my book.

Why should you or I care about this little ancient booklet?

No matter if you’re secular or spiritual, it may be a good idea for us to have a better understanding of China as it takes a starring (and jarring) role on the world stage.

A second reason to pay attention: this book was a bridge between Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.  Unusual for a religious-type volume to actually encourage unity.

A third reason to listen up: the teachings contained in the book are profound in their simplicity and may just be some of the wisdom we most need in our confused world of competitive faith.

The Chung-Yung teaches that Nature and human nature are in harmony or unity–at least, they ought to be. This unity can be put into practice by a Chun-tzu: an exemplary or superior wise person.

The main message of Master Kung could be stated: To be a True Human Being one must practice Humanity/humaneness with thoughtful wisdom and a reasonable respect for others.

With this ridiculously brief introduction, here’s a wisdom appetizer from the Chung-Yung:

“What Nature imparts to humanity is called human nature. To follow our nature is called the Way (Tao).” (chapter 1)

“Conscientiousness and altruism are not far from the Way (Tao). What you do not wish others to do to you, do not do to them. . . . To be the first to treat others as I would expect them to treat me: that I have not been able to do. . . . The superior person’s words correspond to their actions and their actions correspond to their words.” (chapter 13)

After these wise words, we might ask:

What need of Ethics, Religion, Faith, God and the Supernatural?

What need of the High Stack of Holy Paper (scriptures) people live for and kill for?

What would you say?


4 thoughts on “Can Ancient Scriptures Teach Us Anything?

  1. I think every religion (at least the ones I’ve read) have some wisdom within. Each was a way for the people of that time to make sense of the world. It makes sense to think that not everything they wrote was unethical BS. Some of it usually has philosophical lessons to impart.

    1. Yes, Mike. This is why I still sometimes teach a class on “world wisdom” and call it something like “rivers of wisdom.” Wisdom is the water we all need, faith or no faith. Thanks for the comment (and frequent visits).

  2. The Tao is one of my favorite “scriptures”. I can only take it in small does, or a few stanzas at a time. Poetry. Something to meditate and ponder…like nature. It flows, makes clouds, blows…and we can interpret peace and wisdom from these.

  3. I enjoy the Tao as well, Scott. The wise poetry of this ancient work is delightful, thoughtful and useful, and it never demands faith or exclusivity as “scripture.” Thanks for the comment.

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