Yen Hui’s progress

We read in The Inner Chapters of Yen Hui’s progress. He had given up ‘doing good and being right,’ but Confucius tells him this is ‘not quite enough.’ He goes away and returns. He had given up ‘ceremony and music,’ which is also good but ‘not quite enough.’ Sometime later, he comes back to Confucius, relating that ‘I just sit and forget.’ Confucius is surprised. Sitting and forgetting?

Yen Hui clarifies, ‘I am not attached to the body and I give up the idea of knowing. By freeing myself from body and mind, I become one with the infinite.’

If this be true, then Confucius would be his pupil.


Yen Hui is making progress. Like Meno in Plato’s Meno, he has stripped himself of conventional morality, but, farther along than Meno, he has withdrawn from the artificial rituals and the clumsy performances. By doing so, Yen Hui has removed himself from the common notions his fellows hold and live out and defend and from the daily social life of the people. To argue is to miss the point, and defending implies believing still in the common notions. Yet if one does not believe, then where could one go but light of foot to the mountains?

The final step–a step without a foot–is to remove oneself from all claims to–all graspings of–mineness. ‘This is my body, these are my limbs, these thoughts belong solely to me.’ But whose body is it? Is it among my possessions? When one makes an honest inventory of oneself, where then does one belong? Ah, but given up, the common notions give one up, for one belongs to oneness. Surprising! Two breaths beyond surprising and one beyond laughter.