One Corner (out of Four)   Leave a comment

[Part Two]

In the Analects, Confucius (Kong Zi or Master Kong) is reported to have said:

I never try to make people open up [to the world of learning] unless they already have a pent-up excitement about it. Then if I give them one corner [of a problem or point of study], if they do not come back to me with the other three corners I will not involve myself with them again.

Full moon vision to you.

The first time I encountered this passage, I recall thinking that it sounded arrogant, exclusive, etc. Over time, though — especially after I became a teacher myself — I realized it’s just common sense. Not every student will care or bother about things that may in fact be central to their lives either now or down the line. Teachers themselves may or may not perceive this, but it doesn’t matter. Insist, or try to force the issue, and it’s like pouring water into a cup that’s already full. Until you take a drink, any more just spills over the sides and onto the ground. No one benefits from pushing it, and relationships can go sour through nobody’s fault.

This, I’m finding, makes for a very useful seed for contemplation. What corners have I received that may like seeds now be lying fallow, that I can set into soil and encourage to germinate?

After all, nature wastes nothing, though it can at times look incredibly profligate. Plants produce thousands of seeds for just a handful to find a niche, germinate and grow. Many fish likewise spawn thousands of offspring, and most will die or get eaten. Even with mammals, who take greater care of their young, many will never reach adulthood. Yet each living thing, either by its life or death or both, enriches the whole in countless ways we’ve only begun to explore.

The imagery of four is another useful key key: often a corner [of a problem] pokes up in the form of an elemental “flag”. At first glance the details and circumstances of my life seem isolated, fragmented, singular and disconnected from each other. Like a materialistic view of individuals, whatever concerns this one stops at the borders of the skin, and doesn’t touch that one.

Superficially at least, that may well prove true. But life itself often prods us to dig deeper. By that I mean that I may face a health concern, like the flare-up of a skin condition I’m experiencing right now. On the surface — in this case quite literally — it’s “just” a skin condition. Something skin-deep. But almost never do such things come singly, but rather in a skein or network or cluster. How a deeper situation presents itself elementally can be a significant spiritual diagnostic tool. Earth may be the dominant elemental signature of a deeper situation — the “one corner” that widens to show new connections to the other three.

We’ve slowly been learning as a species how a systems approach not only links seemingly disparate events and circumstances, but opens up new strategies and approaches. Formerly invisible but beautifully appropriate and creative responses become visible and possible, once we broaden our vision, once we experience and consider the whole. My skin, my house, my level of exercise, diet, stress level, outlook, toxins around me, etc., all interplay and correlate and function together as a system of interlocking relationships and influences. Pluck just one string of the cosmic guitar, and the whole instrument starts vibrating.

I’ll look at “The Other Three Corners” in the next post.

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