He was not the first man to accuse me of engaging in curses, the evil eye or other forms of supernatural sabotage. It is true, I have been known to break dishes, send blinds crashing down and now it seems I have the power to zap a cell phone just by virtue of my angry feelings.
Riled to fury like Lady Rokujo. The world was once populated by Rulers, the Ruled and Vengeful Spirits. What is the other side of longing but a vengeful spirit?
Karyn Lai was recently discussing this passage on the philospher's Zone:
The Sage governs a large kingdom as he cooks a small fish
By approaching (莅) the world by way of the Dao--
The spirits of our dead ancestors will not haunt (其鬼不神).
Even if these spirits do not stop haunting
Still, their haunting shall not harm the people (人民）.
The Sage of a large realm too (亦） shall not seek to harm the people
If neither sages nor spirits causes harm
Then so shall virtuous governing be achieved
In thinking and talking about translating this passage with Epicurus, we tried out a number of words for 鬼 （gui）-- demons, ghosts, spirits, the dead, "the ancient manes," bogeymen, "your inner demons"-- but we became increasingly frustrated: just what is it we were talking about here? What are these spirits exactly?
It was clear enough that the classical Chinese word 鬼 generally meant the spirits of the dead (however, there were exceptions, I was told). But what do these spirits do exactly? You see we were looking for the perfect phrase for 其鬼不神 ("these spirits won't x").
The similarity to traditional Japanese concepts of ghosts immediately comes to mind-- but so too is the similarity to the ancient Roman concept of "the manes"
Epicurus summarizes information gleaned from several online sources (including the usual place) thus:
The Manes are the spirits of the dead ancestors. When the deceased receives the due honours and rites, he is allowed to ascend from the Underworld to protect his family. This is in contrast with the Lemures or Larvae, evil ghosts which are the souls of the dead who the Dii Inferi refused to receive in the Underworld.
Mānēs, in Roman thought, the spirits of the dead, named euphemistically the ‘kindly ones’ (from the old Latin adjective mānus, ‘good’). From a sense of their collective divinity they were worshipped as the di manes (‘the divine dead’) at the festivals of the Feralia, Parentalia, and Lemuria. By extension the name manes was applied by the poets first to the realm of the dead, the Underworld, and secondly to the gods of the Underworld (di inferi), Dis, Orcus, Hecatē, and Persephonē. Later the di manes were individualized and identified with the di parentes, the dead of the family. The individual tomb led to the conception of each dead person having an individual spirit, and manes, although a plural noun, came to be used of a single spirit. Graves were originally dedicated to the dead collectively and were inscribed dis manibus sacrum (‘sacred to the divine dead’); under the empire it became customary to add the name of the dead person, as if the meaning was ‘sacred to the divine spirt of so-and-so’.
The Manes were offered blood sacrifices. The gladiatorial games, originally held at funerals, may have been instituted in the honor of the Manes.
Incidentally, James Legge, chooses this word "manes" for his translation, translating the above passage:
“Let the kingdom be governed according to the Dao, and the manes of the departed will not manifest their spiritual energy. It is not that those manes have not that spiritual energy, but it will not be employed to hurt men. It is not that it could not hurt men, but neither does the ruling sage hurt them. When these two do not injuriously affect each other, their good influences converge in the virtue (of the Dao).”
Why "Manes" (singular "manis), though, when he could have gone with Furies? Especially since Manes were thought of as being benevolent spirits.
The Furies, on the other hand, known intrigingly as both the "angry ones" and the "gracious ones," are often on my mind these days. There are two aspects about them that I think help illuminate our problem (ie, 其鬼不神):
First, as Dreyfus points out in his lectures on the Oresteia, while the Furies were all about intense emotions, like rage, jealousy and revenge-- he insists that "these were no kinky emotions of the kind people talk about with their psychologist."
What does he mean by that, you wonder?
Well, the emotions that are being displayed by the Furies are the kind of emotions that anyone would feel in that circumstance. This is important. And, I think Dreyfus is right. Modern people may have their neuroses, but these are profoundly different from the emotions expressed by the Furies-- which, while attached to individual people, the emotions themselves are not particular to that person's personality. For example, Clytemnestra's furies are not particular to her individual personality but are just the kind of fury that any woman in her experience would manifest (even though they are manifesting specifically by her, they are not intrinsic to her personality in the way a "kinky" neurotic fear of flying is, says Dreyfus).
So, they are attached to an individual but yet they are universal in their manifestation.
Dreyfus secondly explains that the Furies stand for personal vengeance-- as opposed to the Rule of Law, and indeed, he sees this play as portraying the way societies transition from the rule of blood feuds to that of Law.
Even today, if a person is wronged, there are really two methods for justice open to him: punishment via law, or via personal vengence. (The Oresteia also displays the manner in which personal vengence turns into a cycle of violence as one blood murder begets the next blood murder. It takes two such extractions of justice to start a fued). Parag Khanna, in his book The Second World, talks about areas in Pakistan where tribal law (jirga) and blood feuds still reign. And, I think both forms are expressed to a larger or lesser degree no matter where we look today.
This is the world we are talking about in the Daodejing passage above. A world populated by 1) rulers, 2) the ruled and 3) vengeful spirits. And, if a ruler rules by way of the Dao, then this ruler--a sage ruler-- will not do harm to the people nor the spirits; that is, his action will not rile the spirits to vengence. This does not mean that he performs some kind of magic which takes away the powers of the spirits but rather that by the virtue expressed in his actions, he will not rile them.
Lady Aoi and Lady Rokujo--
Lady Aoi was Genji’s first wife in the Tale of Genji. The Noh play, which is based on one episode of the novel, is about Lady Aoi’s suffering at the hands of a spirit that possesses her body and causes her to fall ill. In order to try and identify who is tormenting her, Lady Aoi sends a Priestess to try and draw the spirit out by the sound of a bow made of Japanese cherry birch (azusa-yumi); thereby discovering it was the jealous spirit of the Lady Rokujo, who then appeared right there next to the pillow that Lady Aoi was resting on. After talking about the happy days she spent as Genji’s lover, the spirit of Lady Rokujo thereby becomes enraged and her fury results in Lady Aoi's death
Lady Rokujo. What is so stunningly unforgetable about her is that she actually did her "haunting" while still alive. You see, so consumed by jealously was she that her spirit actually left her body to do its haunting.
An elegant and clever but haughty older woman or a sweet and adorable younger woman?
Genji made his choice and the lady was not happy about it.