The wise and the large-minded

Confucius uses a word junzi to designate the great, or noble, or superior person as opposed to the small, ignoble and inferior person. I prefer to translate this as the “large-minded person” as opposed to the small-minded.

Here are some of his sayings:

The large-minded person knows what is right; the small-minded knows what is profitable.

This is sharp enough even today to distinguish amongst delegations at the COP26 conference. Yes, there are some who know what is right, but there are many who look to what is profitable, and hope to make a profit out of either the failure of climate control or its success, but have no interest in what is right. Confucius is unsparing in his criticism of such people.

Jesus told unforgettable stories about lovers of profit, like the rich farmer whose expansion plans are summarily cut short by his death; or the rich man who imagines that even in hell the poor man can be used as a slave to bring him water. Such people are called foolish in traditional Jewish language, whereas the large-minded are called wise. “There was a wise man who built his house upon rock..” This is a person who puts Jesus’ teaching into practice rather than just thinking about it.

Confucius has a similar distinction: “in the case of the large-minded person, her words follow her actions.” Had that principle been followed at COP26 there wouldn’t have been much said. He added that the large-minded person is “slow to speak but quick to act.” His ideal is not a person who never speaks but one whose thoughts, words and actions are integrated.

Jesus also touched on the same distinction: “Not those who say,’Lord, Lord, but those who do the will of my father in heaven.” Modern biblical scholars have noted that Jesus stands in the Jewish Wisdom Tradition, which includes Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Song of Songs, and is a major element in Judaism. Wisdom has a divine origin but reflects the nitty- gritty of human living. The large-mindedness praised by Confucius is similarly practical and profound. Appreciation of disturbing facts is part of wisdom and large-mindedness, such as those provided by the earth scientists for the benefit of politicians.

A deeper understanding of the large-minded person is contained in the saying: “The large-minded person is not a vessel.” Confucius means not a man or woman to be filled with facts, opinions, ideologies, or even by wise teachings, but a true and creative identity who says and does new things. Confucius is himself like this. Although he is comprehensively aware of the traditions of his people, he is his own man, his own mind, soul and spirit, offering his characteristic insights for the benefit of his people.

Jesus too was expert in the Law , the Prophets and the Writings of his people, but he is described as “having authority and not as the scribes,” and most beautifully compares himself to a “spring of living water bubbling up into everlasting life.” He is the spring, not the vessel.

We should make sure that the authority and freshness of our large-minded spiritual teachers can be brought to bear upon the issues of global warming.

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