My friend Beijing was in Tokyo for a conference. I wanted to take him over to see the famous Confucian temple, Yushima Seido (湯島聖堂）, so after an unforgettable lunch with Beijing's truly unforgettable friend, I-Sensei, the three of us headed over to Ochanomizu. The temple is located not far from the university hospital where we take Adonis for his eye treatment. After some bad news, about three months ago, we wandered over to the temple, but that day I was just worried and stressed and the truth is, I hardly looked around at all (I just wanted to go home). The stark black building, however, had stuck in my mind, and I knew I definitely wanted to show it to Beijing. I-Sensei seemed to like the idea, and taking full charge of everything, we headed off by taxi.
I am sure Beijing would agree that Yushima Seido is quite unique-- as far as Confucian temples go. The most impressive Confucian temple I have ever seen was in Tainan (considered the Kyoto of Taiwan). The Tainan Confucian Temple is very old and really very beautiful. Maybe because of its long history or because of the more southern climate, but my impressions of the place are more concerned with the gardens which were full of people drinking tea and children playing than the architecture. When I was there, there was just so much activity going on.
In contrast, Yushima Seido is actually rather imposing, silent and somehow cold or inaccessible. Painted a rich shade of black, the building itself, I-Sensei explained, was designed by one of Japan's most famous modern architects, Chuta Ito. (The original Edo period structure had been destroyed in the fires resulting from the Kanto earthquake).
Beijing wondered, why is it black? Indeed, the color is what leaves the strongest impression. I-Sensei immediately questioned the lady in charge of the ticket counter who informed us that originally the building had been painted vermilion but that the red reminded the local residents of the fire that had taken so many lives so it was decided to paint the new temple black instead. I-Sensei pointed to the figures decorating the roof and said, "Where in Japan would you ever see figurines like that on the roof?" Looking up, sure enough there were gargoyles like you would see on Nortre Dame looking down at us.
Walking up the stairs toward the gate, Beijing asked me (with what could possibly have been a mischieveous look in his eyes) how things were going on the blogs the past view days. I told him that I am still not crazy about his preference for Ivanhoe's translation of 徳 as "moral power," and I went on to tell him about Shirakawa's take on the origins of the character; basically re-iterating my comment here:
徳: first taking the kanji apart: we have → "straight" （直）＋ heart/mind"（心） ＋ "go"（行）
Hence: move with straight heart; move from the natural 直 disposition of one's heart (which you will notice is actually saying "moral force" only if you equate morality not with universal moral law but rather with an intuitive sense that humans have).
Shizuka Shirakawa, by the way, was Japan's leading expert on the etymology of the Chinese characters via his research on oracle bone script. The wikipedia article on the origins of the character 徳 was based on Shirakawa's work:
According to Shirakawa, in the oracle bones script, the character was written as a large "eye" with a decorative head-gear signifying the magical power (mystical force) of the early shaman kings who had the power to control earth. In later times, the kanji came to signify the force that a ruler had to cultivate resources and nurture and draw out 自然万物.
Beijing immediately complained: Well obviously the sage kings were using their mystical power to control earth in a "moral" way, right? I tried to ask him how he would define moral, but unfortunately we had arrived at out destination.
What is interesting is that at this exact moment when the three of us were stepping into the Hall of the Confucian Temple in Tokyo, on the other side of the galaxy-- far, far away-- a certain Manyul Im was writing a blog post on On de 德 and se 色. Taking issue with the standard translation of 色 as sex (see Talking to Beijing), he says:
I think se 色 really can’t mean something as narrow as sex or lust; its meaning is much broader, expressing a broader more central concern in the Analects. The “sex” translation seems flat out wrong for the following reasons. There really isn’t any independent evidence that sexual license was a temptation Confucius worried over. Nor does it seem that concubinage was an option for anyone other than the emperor or possibly a very powerful warlord (any ancient Chinese concubinage experts should correct or corroborate me on this). This line of translating seems to be a projection of much later genres of moralizing texts onto the Analects. But those issues about sexual desire and practice don’t really determine the issue as much as consideration of a more central concern for Confucius. In Analects 2.8 Confucius uses se in a context that I think is much more helpful in setting our understanding of se in the right direction:
“Zixia asked about filial piety. The Master said: ‘[Mere] appearances (se) are the difficulty. With matters to be tended, younger brothers or sons offer their service; with drink and food one partakes in order of birth. Can this really be filial piety?’”
I think this is representative of a concern that Confucius has throughout the Analects with contrasting mere, or rote, behavior that mimics real filial piety (or righteousness, benevolence, ritual, etc) and genuine possession of those characteristics. It’s his concern that the “form” of such activity be filled out with deeper content or correct context. I think that transfers also to distractions that form a category of “surface” pleasure. Appreciation of beauty, in particular, is not a mere surface pleasure for Confucius. So translation of se as ‘love of beauty’ also makes a mistake–the real trouble for Confucius is not appreciating beauty; instead it is enjoying “cheap” delights that merely mimic appreciation of beauty.
As I mentoned in the comments to his post, I am in no position to go against the orthodox interpretation of this reading when it is so overwhelmingly unified (that is to say, that the English, Japanese and Chinese that I've seen so far all agree that 色 should be translated here as romance or sex) So, what can I say? At the same time, I am very much of the same mind with Manyul that --indeed-- Confucius probably was NOT concerned with sex, romance or beauty as being "dangers" which the virtuous man must avoid. This is not Stoic philosophy-- nor is it Victorian sensibility, after all.
That is probably my main point over these several posts (and perhaps it is Manyul's as well?)
What is most probably at issue is rather: Mere outward forms (形→色） versus 徳 (inner commitment?) This, by the way, I think very much supports Sam's translation of 徳 as "integrity."
In the end, Manyul and I came up with this translation:
"It is rare to find a man who pursues virtue over mere outward appearances (of such virtue)” for 9.18/15.13.
For those who may be interested, I also summarized Shirakawa's presentation of the origins of the term （徳）from his book, 孔子伝 here (mainly for Scott since he asked and honestly, I am guessing that for you all-- the experts-- there really is not much of interest so far). Shirakawa's presentation, however, does back up both the understanding of Confucian Virtue as "integrity" as well as "moral power." In fact, after reading it, I would have a hard time choosing between those two translations
I myself am going to stick with "Confucian Virtue" as a translation for 徳.
In Japanese, he would be called a "man who dwells above the clouds." Beijing's friend, I-Sensei, is like nobility ("the elite of the elite"). He also is a really nice guy, and taking us to a favorite restaurant of his for lunch, he ordered all the best delicacies for Beijing and me to try.
Did I mention that Beijing is very adventurous?
I told him, I never do intestines. (I don't and I won't)
Well, sure enough this morning I woke up to an email from I-Sensei which ended with a mild scolding: 食は冒険です。("Food is about adventure") and he then extemporized a "humble aphorism:"
"A human being is the sum total of everything they have eaten up till that time"...
Now, I ask you: what would Confucius say to that?
Here is a video of the Yushima Seido taken in summer (you can hear all the cicadas in the background). When we were there it was cold and overcast, but the plum tree in the courtyard was just starting to bloom.
For those interested in participating in the 2nd reading group, Chris put up all the information at his place: Reading Group II: Fingarette's Confucius-- the more the merrier!