The Quantum Leap of the Soul’s Journey Across Chinese, Greek and Indian Cultures

By Dr. Quan Le

I would like to offer some desultory remarks on the timeless Journey of the Soul. This Journey gives the most powerful and deepest meaning to our human life. It is also called the path of human epistemological development. And this development is nurtured through education.

Educate comes from the latin word “educare” meaning “to bring forth what is within”. But what is being brought forth from within?

I will propose some inchoate indications but I will need the help from the spiritual legacies of three outstanding classical cultures : the Greek, the Chinese & the Indian classical cultures.

Education is the lifelong journey beginning from our birth first within our family and later formally in the bigger society by going to the kindergarten, first step of a long initiation process called public instruction. But does compulsory school attendance properly qualify as “education”? Let’s make some clarifications between instruction and education.

Instruction or training is to receive specific explanations in order to remember precise utilitarian or abstract information on the one hand. It’s also the training to acquire some know-how or skill, technical or social skills on the other hand. So to be trained is to absorb (consciously, subconsciously, unconsciously) something from the outside into our mind. The psychologists give the general label ‘socio-familial conditioning’ to this process.

To be trained is vital to navigate with a certain confidence within a given society (having its codes and requirements dictated by the dominant group called the ruling class) or to learn a trade guaranteeing our livelihood. The people responsible to train us most of the time accomplish their task dutifully and with good intentions and we are endowed after a certain time with practical tools to live our lives. But are good intentions and practical tools good enough for a truly meaningful human adventure ?

We can say, at least from now on that instruction, being the process to “absorb mentally something from the outside” is the utter opposite of education which is ” to bring forth what is within “. Once again, to bring forth what? That is the question!

I would like to introduce here a shining concept of the generally unworthy child or maybe stepson of the glorious Greek civilization, Rome. The Roman patricians, at least the most evolved and refined among them, lived their lives inspired by the noble ideal of “otium” . Otium is the free time a free man devoted to study and practice philosophy, the Way to wisdom, authentic self-respect and naturally happiness which is the simple outcome of wisdom and true self-respect. And when you respect yourself, you will respect the others and your environment.

The negation or the absence (total or relative) of otium is negotium (neg-otium), meaning commercial activities.

Commercial activities, if successful, bring wealth, influence and power, those things being useful to fulfill our desires. Desires are mental objects having been introjected subrepticely into our minds consciously, subconsciously, unconsciously. Desires are the opposite of aspirations. We aspire to be what we originally truly are. We desire things or relations because we have been mesmerized, hypnotized by some magicians (in human forms or not) we met (consciously, subconsciously, unconsciously) in our life. What we aspire to return to on the contrary is radically different, was not put into our minds by outsiders and absolutely vital in order to live an authentically fulfilled life.

So, for a third time, to bring forth what ?

The existential answer has been given by the Universe to those having walked the talk but to verbally give some hints to the right direction, I will borrow the maps of illustrious men having drunk the nectar of immortality and left us some clues not be be worshipped like dead ashes but to be used to kindle our Inner Fire. Tradition is not the worship of ashes but the preservation and the transmission of the Inner Fire.

I will put myself under the formidable aegis of two awesome men and a group of outstanding men.
The divine Plato (427 BCE-347 BCE), the heavenly Confucius (551 BCE-479 BCE) and the sublime Masters having graciously given us the empyrean teachings of the Upanishads (VII BCE to I CE for the most venerable of them).

Let’s begin with Confucius (551 BCE-479 BCE)

Noble Master Kong 孔 夫 子 (Kong3 Fu4 Zi3, latinized as ‘Confucius’ by the Jesuits) was born in 551 BCE in the principality of Lu, located on the western side of the present day Chinese province called Shandong. I would like to give a historical context to the life & endeavor of Master Kong. The fiefdom of Lu was an independent state under the nominal rule of the Zhou kings. The Zhou Royal House truly ruled from 1046 BCE to 770 BBC from their western Capital Cities of Zong Zhou & Hao-Jing, hence the name of Western Zhou dynasty. In that fateful year of 770 BCE, due to internal dissensions and lack of cohesiveness to deal with the aggression from a coalition of northwestern tribes called Xianyun and disgruntled feudal lords, they suffered a crushing military defeat. To be away from the disheveled barbarians, they fled precipitously to their eastern provinces, escorted successfully to the safe abode of their eastern Capital Cities (Wangcheng & Jiaru) by the Lord of Qin ( future Duke Xiang). King Ping (770 BCE-720 BCE), the first sovereign of the Eastern Zhou dynasty was able to retain his composure and be gracious in the midst of his woes. He granted the western Royal Domain to the Lord of Qin if he manages somehow to expel the unruly Xianyun. Duke Xiang was utterly victorious, became a major feudal lord and one of his future offsprings is remembered as the First Emperor of China. For but Duke Xiang, this event will happen 549 years in the future.

The Spring and Autumn Period

King Ping’s ordeal ushered the Eastern Zhou Era. The first phase is called Spring & Autumn (770 BCE-453 BCE).

The Zhou kings no longer ruled over a unified kingdom. From their former domain rose 120 principalities and needless to say, not of equal strength.

At Master Kong’s death in 479 BCE, there were approximately 40 principalities. 120 principalities in 770 BCE to 40 in 479 BCE (practically 300 years), 3 centuries of fights and inextricable political maneuvers

During that time and even a bit longer, the Zhou Royal House retained enough prestige and authority to be still perceived as cultural models, arbiters of the political rivalries between the feudal lords, and last but not least, the incarnation of the spiritual legacy of their glorious forefathers. During the Spring & Autumn phase, they succeeded to impose a code of conduct of war and in society rooted in the ideas of virtue and humanity. The Mandate of Heaven was not culturally lost despite of the political division. The Chinese people of the time still believed in in the virtue of the Zhou Royal House albeit their political weakness.

The Warring States Era

The second phase of the Eastern Zhou Royal House is called the Warring States Era (453 BCE-221 BCE) during which the Zhou lost so much prestige & moral authority that in 325 BCE, all the feudal lords decided to proclaim themselves Kings except for the southern state of Chu 楚 (Chu3) having already crossed that line 4 centuries earlier.

德 (De2) is the Chinese logograph for virtue. The left component means to walk, to perform, to get things done. The lower right component is the heart but in China (and in most spiritual traditions ), it means the mind development stage that is just above the intellect; the intellect being the wording and conceptual machine spinning out different frames to enclose Reality, certain of those frames have a high value in in mydicating the right direction, of course. The heart-mind is just above the intellect but just under the soul since the heart- mind is the inchoate, the beginner soul so to speak. The heart-mind is groping because it starts to see into the invisible, but not with Direct Vision as the soul is capable of. The right upper component has two major readings. The eye in the right direction is the one I favor. So to be virtuous is to perform, to get things done while having the heart-mind in the right direction. And that right direction is precisely the aim of education, “to bring forth what is within”. Please bear with me, we are closer to discover what is brought forth. (“Educare”, to bring forth what is within”)

The second major reading for the right upper component of the Chinese logograph for virtue is to plant a tree.

I offer a second interpretation which is to perform or get things done with the heart-mind in constant growth as a tree. And this brings us to the source that will nourish from the inside the growth of the mind from the intellect (the intellect has its basic foundations in the natural capabilities of each species and is then fabricated with instructions, meaning things absorbed from the outside, given y outsiders) to the psyche (another word for the heart-mind), then to the soul and even there, the journey is not yet finished.

All those words to come back to Master Kong.

Master Kong always declared with unwavering humility that he did not invent anything but simply transmitted the spiritual legacy of the Zhou Royal House. His work was to preserve and transmit the Eternal Education to kindle the Inner Fire. By blood, he was a scion of a minor branch of the Ducal House of Song, being itself a minor branch of the Shang-Yin Royal House (1600 BCE-1046 BCE) but he was enthusiastically a spiritual offspring of the Zhou Royal House (1046 BCE-770 BCE & 770 BCE-256 BCE). The Kong family still exists and is at the 83rd or 84th generation after Confucius.

We are now closer to the heart of our discussion.

A Word on the Confucian Classics

Master Kong collected and edited the Classics of his spiritual forefathers. The Classics are the timeless teachings or maybe better said the noble teachings to reach to the Timeless Dimension. He said that he will be remembered because of this task and he was absolutely right. His attempts to enlighten the sovereigns of his era all ended in utter failures and sometimes bordering on disaster . It is because of his educational work for people of all walks of life during his time that the Chinese people remembers him with respect and affection. Maybe his failed political attempts contribute too to the love the Chinese have for him because after all, he tried…This cannot be said for everyone… His favorite disciple Yan Hui (the Chinese Saint-John) said that his teachings were truly lofty but he was right not to lower them and the rest is destiny… 天 意 (Tian1 Yi4) meaning Heaven’s Intentions…

The Five Classics & the Four Books are the closest equivalent of the Bible for China and East Asia.

The first Confucian Classic is the 易 經 Yi1 Jing1 (pinyin system) or I Ching (Wade-Giles system) : The Book of Change. The others are : The Book of Documents (尚 书 Shang1 Shu1), The Book of Songs (or Poetry) called in Chinese 诗 书 (Shi1 Shu1), The Rituals of Zhou 周 礼 (Zhou1 Li3) and the Classic called Spring & Autumn 春 秋 (Chun1 Qiu1), edited with the greatest care by Confucius and treating metaphysics, psychology, epistemology, history and ethics.

The Four Books are:

1-Lun yu 论 语 (Lun2 Yu3) or Analects meaning Selected Sayings (of Confucius of course !)

Of the 20 chapters in this work, chapters III-VII are the most reliable about the historical Confucius

Chapters I & II form a general introduction edited many times by the Scholarchs.

Chapter VII is a moving portrait of the historical Master Kong.

Chapter X is an idealized portrait of any Sage.

Chapters XI to XX have been written down from ~ 440 BCE to 249 BCE, the year the principality of Lu 鲁 (Lu3) had a been destroyed.

2-Meng Zi 孟 子 (Meng4 Zi3) the eponymous book of Mencius (372 BCE-289 BCE)
History, epistemology, metaphysics, psychology and ethics are covered.

3- Da Xue 大 学 (Da4 Xue3) The Great Learning by Zeng Zi (505 BCE-436 BCE)

The major treatise of epistemological development by the Confucian School,
treating meticulously each step of the Journey of the Soul

4-Zhong Yong 中 庸 (Zhong1 Yong1) The Doctrine of the Mean by Zi Si (481 BCE-402 BCE)
Zi Si 子 思 (Zi3 Si1) was Confucius’s grand-son

In this book, the gentleman is invited to cultivate himself (the Chinese expression for the
Journey of the Soul or epistemological development), to put order in his family, to assist
in the good governance of the State and to bring peace to the World.

The Classics are the noble teachings to reach to the Timeless Dimension. What is that Timeless Dimension ?

Maybe the Chinese logograph for Classics (pronounced jing1, 1 indicates the first tone) might help us. Here it is : 經 (traditional script) 经 (simplified script). The traditional script is more enlightening is this specific case.

The left component means “silk”, the lower right component means “work” and the upper right component is the weft of the fabric symbolized by the three chevrons. The silk of our phenomenal life is the warp of the fabric to be intimately interwoven with the weft of the fabric of the Universe, made of Truth, Goodness & Beauty. Truth is the first chevron on the left, Goodness the middle one and Beauty the last on the right. Why not the reverse ? Because in traditional China, the left side is the honorable one. The Sovereign faces south, so to his left is the east, the direction of the rising sun. Simple, isn’t it ? In the West, the left side is lesser because in Latin left is “sinister” and right “dexter”. So once again, the Classical are the noble teachings to reach to the Timeless Dimensions and that Timeless Dimensions is the core fabric of the Universe made of Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

The personal discovery of the foundational fabric of the Universe, the weft, is for those having walked the talk. So educate/educare is “to bring forth what is within”. And what is within?

Precisely Truth, Goodness & Beauty.

Confucius’s Greek equivalent, Socrates (469 BCE-399 BCE) also proposed the same pathway called maieutic, the Art of mind’s delivery (Socrates’s mother was a midwife according to tradition so her son kept on the family business in a special way) a fancy word for education/educare ” to bring forth what is within” : Truth, Goodness & Beauty (The Timeless Dimension intimately interwoven with the Temporal Dimension : Tempus & Chronos)

Confucius didn’t write anything original in the ordinary sense of “original” but Original in the sense of going back to the Source, to the Origins. The Confucian School (in Chinese 儒 家, Ru2 Jia1 meaning the School of the Scholars) used and developed the documents edited by Confucius as cultural legacy but first and foremost as textbooks to prepare culturally, psychologically and morally future leaders of all ranks from 479 BCE to the destruction of the principality of Lu in 249 BCE. Confucian teachings will resume with the fall of the short-lived Imperial Qin dynasty (221 BCE-206 BCE) but having the merit of creating the First Chinese Empire and imperial rule will endure for the next 21 centuries in China. The Qin dynasty will be replaced by the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), dynasty founded by a peasant (Liu Bang 256 BCE-195 BCE, formally known as Han Gaozu meaning The Lofty Ancestor of the Han Imperial House) assisted by Confucian advisors. In 136 BCE, Liu Bang’s scion, Emperor Wu (武) elevated the Confucian teachings to the status of State doctrine, with all the advantages and disadvantages of such a position…

Socrates also wrote nothing but his student Plato (427 BCE-347 BCE) of course compensated beyond expectations with all the dialogues he created, most of them illustrating perfectly the maieutic method.

Like Confucius and Mencius, Plato tried vainly to enlighten the rulers of his time more obsessed with wealth and power than virtue and benevolence. Things did not change much after 24 centuries… And like the two Chinese, he invented an educational cursus to create virtuous men and established an Academy to ensure the legacy of his work. Like Confucius and Mencius, Plato was of noble birth. According to tradition, Confucius & Socrates were ugly. Plato & Mencius were handsome, once again according to tradition. Probably destiny wants us to meditate on the complex interaction between appearance and substance, between phenomenal layers and absolute reality.

In Politeia’s (The Republic) chapter 7 (the famous Allegory of the Cave), Plato elaborated on the Journey of the Soul and stated the existence of something fundamental, A DIVIDING LINE between the realms of DOXA/Opinion and EPISTEME/Knowledge (hence epistemological development).

CONFUCIUS (551 BCE-479 BCE) offered too this affirmation of a Phenomenal World & a Noumenal World.

Master Kong gave his general map for epistemological development in one of the Four Books, the Analects, his Selected Sayings precisely. Being in chapter II, the expression of his teaching might have been edited by his successors but the quality is clearly present and corroborated with the details in The Great Learning created by his direct disciple, Zeng Zi (505 BCE-435 BCE).

In Confucian language coming from the first Classic ( the I Ching) , Phenomenal Reality is called the Lower Trigram and Noumenal Reality is called The Upper Trigram. The two form an hexagram . Below is an example of an hexagram. The space between the Lower Trigram and the Upper Trigram is the Chinese representation of the Dividing Line.

The lines are numbered 1 to 6, the bottom line being 1 and the top line being 6.

The 6 steps of epistemological development as expressed by Confucius come from the fourth paragraph of the second chapter of the Lun Yu/Analects.

Politically, in an IDEAL society, specific responsibilities will be given to people with specific SPIRITUAL AGE.

To respect the text from more than two millenia ago, I will keep the traditional feudal terminology but please understand that those words simply reflect increasing levels of responsibility .
At 15:the People 30:the petty Officers, 40:the Officers 50:the Lords & Ministers 60:the Sovereign 79:the Sage


FOR THE INDIAN ADHI ATMA VIDYA (The Science to make the Soul whole & healthy): A U M

The Indian tradition offers a map in 7 steps. To keep a perfect correspondance between the Chinese, Greek and Indian maps, I will take the liberty to call the first Indian step stage “0”. It’s the physical body that the Chinese and the Greeks ignore in their maps.

Using psychological terminology,

The Personality is composed by 0-1-2-3
The Individuality is composed by 4 & 5
The Universal Self is composed only by 6 but you already feel it at 5.

Of course, the map is not the land or the journey but it helps to have a certain representation of the inner universe.

I hope these lines will kindle some enthusiasm in exploring the Journey of the Soul.

Dr. Le is a practicing psychiatrist and geopolitical analyst with a focus on Asian history, culture and world religions but first and foremost the philosophy of mind is the subject that kindles his enthusiasm. He is also a member of the Advisory board to the Rising Tide Foundation.


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