Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mencius and Success

I've been busy with other things for the past month, so I've been a bit negligent with my Blog. I hope that this doesn't turn people away, but then this site was never about regular posting in the first place.


I've gotten to Chapter VI in David Hinton's translation of the Mencius and in the second passage of "Duke Wen of T'Eng, Book Two" the following paragraph jumped up and bit me on the nose.
"As for the man who can be called great;  He dwells in the most boundless dwelling-place of all beneath Heaven, places himself at the center of all beneath Heaven, and practices the great Way of all beneath Heaven. If he succeeds in these ambitions, he and the people enjoy the rewards together. If he fails, he follows the Way alone. Wealth and renown never mean much to him, poverty and obscurity never sway him, and imposing force never awes him."
My wife was visiting when I read these words and I've been meditating on them ever since. As the same time that she was here, an old friend (we shared a house for seven years) came to visit. He's been married to a Thai woman for several years and has been spending his summers here to work and the rest of the year in Phuket.  But now he's 65 years old and entitled to a pension and retirement, which means that I will probably never see him again.

We both wanted to see him off because my wife really likes him. After he was gone, I asked her what it was about him that she likes so much. She said that it was his attitude of "totally not giving a damn". He certainly has always lived his own life. Oddly enough, he was a very good academic who was recognized as an expert in conventional arms verification. I can remember him being paid to come and take part in a conference by Foreign Affairs in Ottawa. He routinely got invites for NATO conferences. But he made his money at the time by working for a furniture moving company---amongst other things.

He also did two stretches of time in prison for marihuana cultivation. And became a very good self-taught lawyer who was able to convince a judge to let him out early because his sentence was "cruel and unusual". (It certainly helped that he had two guards from the prison act as character references.)

He pursued this legal hobby to the point where he tried to change various laws due to constitutional challenges. I believe he argued seven times before the Supreme Court---which is pretty impressive for someone who had no legal training at all.

He did many other things besides, but I hope that this gives something of the flavour of the man. In all of this he kept his charm and had a wicked sense of humour.


My sweet lovely Misha and I had a discussion about this fellow. What exactly is he?  We decided that he is an example of the "uncarved block". He didn't allow society to define him and his life, instead he stayed who he was all through the process. I think that he is like the fellow Mencius is describing. Someone who is trying to make the world a better place, but who is at the same time so free from attachment that he doesn't suffer when he ends his life never having been able to accomplish big things. He has his freedom to sustain him until he is sustained no more.

Good bye good friend.

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