Confucianism-Great Learning part 2

The 2nd and 3rd chapters of Great Learning are very short, so I combine them into 1 section. And since most interpretations on chapter 2 is very literal — Confucianism advocates for daily improvement — So I will extrapolate this chapter base on my views.

Ancient Wisdom

Kang commended, ‘It is possible to achieve the bright virtue.’

Tai Jia, ‘Do not forget the heavily gift of virtue’

Di Dian, ‘It is possible to spread bright virtue’

Kang is a historical figure, Tai Jia and Di Dian are both writings of the past.

The main purpose here is to show that Confucianism have long traditions, and it’s not a recent invention. Like many great teachings in the world, Confucianism also stood on the shoulders of giants. It is bigger than Confucius him self, and Great Learning tries to highlight that in chapter 2.

Mental Hygiene

What made Confucianism a great teaching is that not only it offers people hope in the midst of chaos, it also offers detail ways to get there. One of the way is to take mental shower everyday like brushing teeth. What does that mean?

Tang Bathtub Carving states, ‘If 1 day can be new, everyday should be new, new on top of new’

Kang commended, ‘Help others to let go the old and embrace the new’

Classic Poems, ‘Zhou dynasty is old, but it is able to embrace the new’

Transformation requires changes in habit because who we are as a person is a reflection of our habits. Our habit is like a factory mold that casts millions of behaviors like the products. Altering every final product to your liking eventually wears out the most determined mind. But changing the mold, will streamline products to your liking effortlessly. If this sounds uncomfortable to you, keep in mind that this uncomfortable feeling isn’t you, it’s a group of neuron that fires together also known as habits. It does a very good job in hijacking one’s identity. Our goal here is to shift our focus from final products to the mold. Shift the focus from a fit body (a final product) to healthy food, because the latter is a mold for the former. Shift the focus from success (a final product) to balance living, because the latter is a mold for the prior.

Confucianism does a very clever job by associating the desire mold with the mold we already have. Just like a fit body, a tuned instrument, and a good hygiene, they requires relentless exercise, tuning, and cleaning. Most people have at least 1 positive habit, such as cleaning. Great Learning uses the bathtub carvings to show us how ancient people remind them self of mental hygiene. The good news is that once the process becomes a habit, it will come to us automatically, but it takes work, but why? Or how did we get dirty in the first place?

Of course, dirty is a metaphor to fit the mental hygiene frame. What we are really trying to counter balance was once consider advantageous: effort to conserve energy or laziness. It is industrial revolution that tips the scale to a dangerous level.

For most of our existence, we really don’t have much ability to shape our surroundings. Even the productions outputs of the great civilizations in history gets dwarfed by modern standards. Therefore, scarcity has always been a strong force to counterbalance our consumption. Take that out of the equation, consumption will tip the scale. This is exactly what happened after the industrial revolution, our social system therefore, due to its linear drive for profit, fail to adopt or acknowledge the new dynamic. It still operates in the context of scarcity. What’s even more troubling is that we, our self, fail to adopt or acknowledge to this change. This is why our brain, if left unchecked, will eventually consume into destruction. Luckily, we also evolved with other qualities.

Bright virtues

We are also evolved to have consciousness, and a desire to work in small groups. These are the higher order mental faculties that can overwrite the most primitive thought patterns. They are also the bright morals that Confucianism repeated through out the teachings. Since they are not the default survival instinct, it requires relentless polishing. We also often associate these qualities as human behaviors because they are rare among other animals. So one can say that saints are the most human. In the past we have gone overboard with them, so society swung hard towards the opposite direction. Needless to say, now we have gone too far with self expression. The survival of the union, therefore, now relies on its ability to transcend into a higher dimensional thinking.


Our default selfish traits (desires, rewards, and positive feelings) move in 1 direction, towards entropy(chaos). But this wasn’t much of an issue because for most of time life existed on the planet, we weren’t on the top of food chain, so order is forced upon us by other species, our self, or natural disasters. For the first time in recent history, we have conquered other species, minimized natural disasters, and significantly reduce the damage that we brought upon our self (ironically by our own savagery weapon). However, our uncheck appetite has outgrown the life’s ability to regenerate it self. Confucianism acknowledges the power of this appetite, so it devotes the teaching in dealing with this uncheck appetite.

Most people know the right thing, but the right idea might not win. Great Learning shows us how to let the right idea win by teaching us how to look at it. Just like losing weight, the methods are simple, the difficulty lies in the way we look at it.

For example we all know daily meditation, exercise, and mental tasks can help us clear some cloud and think clearly. But it is not easy to remember that everyday or acknowledge its importance. More often than not we find our self gave in to comfort, and stop polishing our bright virtues. And not for long, we start to fell pray to this negative cycle where the worse half of our cognitive faculty takes over. The genius of Great Learning is that it equates mental hygiene with physical hygiene, something that we already do. Since it is true that we brush our teeth or shower everyday, why can’t we treat our mental health the same as a daily routine? And the consequences of not doing so is quite obvious: illness and depression. I believe this is the underline message.



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袁晗 | Luo, Yuan Han

袁晗 | Luo, Yuan Han

1. I write about philosophy, computer, and mathematics 2. Personal Website: