never bowed down and never broke off a stare. He knew that the least intimidation was as bad as being slapped in the marketplace. An affront was the same to him whether it came from a peasant or a sovereign who commanded a nation of ten thousand war chariots, he'd run his sword through the august lord as easily as the peasant. He knew every insult had to be returned in kind.Mencius then goes on to refer to Meng Shih-she, who also cultivated "valour" and described the process as follows:
I consider defeat victory. To gauge an enemy before attacking, to calculate your chances of success before fighting---that is to live in fear of great armies. How can I ever be certain of victory? All I can do is live without fear.Mencius maintains that there was a difference between the two, not in the amount of valour that each manifested, but rather in the way they did it. He argues that Meng did it through the use of qi. "It's impossible to say which of the two had the most profound valour, but Meng Shih-she nurtured his qi".
Next Mencius goes on to another example, Master Tseng:
If you look within and find yourself less than honourable, you'll fear even a peasant as an enemy. But if you look within and find yourself honourable, you'll face even an army of ten million men.Tseng's valour is based not on qi, but something else, Mencius says it is based on "nurturing essentials". (This is the place where knowing old Chinese would be nice, as I don't really know what it is that Hinton is translating as "nurturing essentials".)
As you can see, Mencius is contrasting three different people and their personal "kung fu" or strategies for developing a specific human quality, "valour". Po-kung Yo built his "valour" (what we would call "physical courage") around a macho, aggressive "don't give me any shit" attitude. He was like an ancient Chinese version of Peter Tosh constantly singing "Steppin' Razor" to himself.
This is different from Meng Shih-she, who put the emphasis on total indifference to outcome and instead cultivated a totally fatalistic attitude towards life. A good example of this attitude comes from a Zen story I once heard. When the Mongols were conquering China they occupied a Buddhist Temple. Everyone fled except the old Zen Master, who was found quietly meditating in one of the buildings. A Mongol officer came storming into the Hall and confronted the unruffled old man. Surprised and annoyed at the lack of fear, he yelled out "Don't you understand that I could kill you without batting an eye!" At that, the Master replied "And don't you understand that you could kill me without me batting an eye?"
There are problems with these two sources of valour, however. The first one, the "steppin razor" type, leads to stupid, thuggish behavour and generally ends badly for the people who follow it. The second also ends badly, because mere courage alone can be manipulated to bad ends by authority figures. Brian Victoria has built a career around explaining how the cult of fearlessness in Japanese Zen ended up being co-opted into supporting the Imperial Japanese war machine.
The last version that Mencius cites as an example comes from Master Tseng. It is based on morality. The courage that he manifests comes from believing that he is "doing the right thing". Another way of looking at these three "daos" of courage is to see it in terms of the ego. The first one consists of building the ego up to the point where it overwhelms other considerations. The second consists of cutting it down to the point where it's continued existence becomes an irrelevance. And the third is that of putting it in the service of some higher good.
What I find interesting in the exercise are two things. First, that it is possible to parse out these different ways of being a human being. Second, that each man developed their own specific tactics to manifest a human quality that they felt valuable. Most people I meet in my day-to-day life take it as a given that the personal psychology they have is something that they were born with and/or had imposed upon them at an early age. The idea that they can choose to nurture or starve a way of responding the world around them is totally alien.
Of course, this raises one of those "chicken or the egg" discussions. Do people choose to be the sorts of people who want to become valorous? Or are people simply born that way? I'm not going to answer that question to my satisfaction in a blog post. But it is a good place to end this part of the discussion. In my next one I think I'll try to figure out what Mencius was going on about with his talk about qi.