Aristotle claimed that of all the things one could obtain or achieve in life, happiness is what people ultimately desire most. Aristotle adds that happiness comes when a person is able to experience the things he or she desire most in life. In this short essay I will compare Aristotle’s idea of how to achieve happiness with the Confucian understanding of Nobility of Character.
One of the most important benefits of Eastern philosophy is that it sparks a certain quality that is manifested as a more satisfying life experience. This quality enables a person to realize his or her heart’s desires. The ability to realize one’s inner most desires is what Aristotle would call realizing your most desired outcome (or your highest good). What is defined as highest good is different for each person and sometimes it is not easy to foresee what meaning things we believe to be important now will have in the future (individuals are not always sure of the relationship between their immediate desires and their ultimate values).
It is certain-from the perspective of Western and Eastern wisdom traditions-that to the extent to which individuals develop certain qualities there is an increase in the capacity for individuals to align their immediate desires with their ultimate values. This quality becomes the person’s basic nature, thus shapes the person’s whole being and is evident in every aspect of the person’s lifestyle. Simply what happens is that the practice of certain disciplines arouses certain inner qualities that shape all of the person’s life endeavors into a manifestation of these qualities. Eventually there is no difference between the person’s heart desire, the character of the person, and the quality resulting from the person’s actions.
In both Aristotle’s philosophy and Eastern philosophy the emphasis is on connecting with this inner most source, maintaining a focus on one’s inner, intuitive guidance faculty, and acting in harmony with this inner source. The important thing is that this inner quality (what could be called inner power) is shaping the quality of the person you become. What this means in terms of Eastern philosophy is that the individual (empowered by life’s vitalizing force – or Chi) will manifest this power (chi) in every aspect of his or her being. In Japan this quality is referred to as Kami.
Kami is the primal force manifest in all of nature. In Japan this quality is also connected with Goddess reverence or Mother Earth. The Japanese express this natural or earth quality in terms of a deep respect for Amatarasu (or the Sun Goddess-the symbol displayed on the Japanese flag).
As a Japanese individual focuses on this force (in terms of channeling it through the practice of a traditional Japanese discipline) the person’s physical and mental abilities are enhanced, enabling the person to achieve a natural, holistic & harmonic balance in life. It is manifest as integrity (honor, simplicity, authenticity and honesty). But most of all it is thought of as sincerity.
The person is simply true to his or her inner most nature (and the inner-most nature is Kami). Kami can be demonstrated by way of the tea ceremony or ikebana (flower arrangement). Such aesthetic beauty and power are manifest when the ego is fully integrated with the essence of Being (as within – same without, as above – same below). In this respect the ego is not so much eliminated as it is opened to the wholeness of being. Then there is no separation between your inner most desires and your outer reality (oneness, unity and harmony become your total experience).
Confucius explains this in terms of the principle “Xing.” I often refer to Xing as Authentic Being (being genuine and spontaneous). Xing means being true to one’s inner nature (what could be called sincerity). Sincerity can also be thought of as allowing the purity of your inner most nature to shine through while performing your everyday practical, activities. Sincerity is the evidence that you have become a person of integrity. By this I mean that your inner most qualities have become fully integrated with and expressed through every aspect of your being.
Confucius implies in the Doctrine of the Mean that “A sincere person can actualize all things.” He then goes on to say that a sincere person realizes the meaning of Trinity. The trinity is Heaven, Earth and self in perfect harmony or in perfect accord. This could also be compared to the Christian notion of the holy trinity (father, son and holy spirit).
This is why Aristotle claims that a sincere character (what he calls a virtuous character) will direct the person toward his or her highest good. Thus Aristotle’s virtuous character is another way of describing what Confucius called Nobility of Character. Such a character Confucius described as Chun Tzu - the ideal of a perfect human being. This person is always balanced and is in full accord with the self, society and the environment. The Chun Tzu’s experiences personal power (being in full accord with Heaven and Earth but uses that power to express Te - translated as virtue).
Virtue (for both Aristotle and Confucius) is that which brings you your most desired outcome. Confucius describes the benefits of having obtained such an authentic, sincere or natural character as acting at the highest level of effectiveness.“If you display Te as the basis of your character you will have gained nobility of character and will be treated as such.” Everything you do will be done just right; because your actions reflect your inner qualities and your inner qualities reflect Te(everything you do is done properly, timely and appropriately).
Confucius then says that such aperson’s inner qualities begin to be manifest as what the Chinese refer to as FengShui (where one’s inner beauty and harmonious character enhances the aesthetic qualities of the things in his or her surroundings). Confucius defines this as Wen. The term Wen is translated as “The Arts of Peace.” However, one way to understand what he meant is by thinking of this quality as reflected in the person as elegance.
In some respects this principle is connected with the entire Eastern idea of what it means to perform arts (not just martial arts but all arts – tea, calligraphy, dance, flower arranging, etc.). Taken this way what the traditional Chinese is practicing is called Taoism (or The Way). The way to realize your most desired outcomes or the way to realize your highest good. The way to experience oneness, unity and harmony (an inner balance and harmony, a harmony between the self and others, and in relationship to the environment). The Way that enables you to experience no difference between your aspirations and all your accomplishments.