”The righteous person is the thief of integrity.” –  Confucius – Analects, chpt. 17:12

When I first found this quote about integrity and the righteous person I mistakenly thought it was from Zhuangzi. It was part of a volume which contains four Chinese classics, two Taoist texts, The Tao te Ching  and The Zhuangzi, as well as two Confucian texts, The Analects and The Mencius. It sounded to me like something Zhuangzi would say, irreverent, anti-establishment, somewhat subversive.

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this that I realized my mistake. Not only my mistake of attribution, but my mistake about Confucius. There are a number of places in The Zhuangzi where Confucius is set up as a fall guy, a straight man to Zhuangzi’s wit. In a number of other places Confucius appears as a born-again Taoist, but this is from The Analects, written by Confucius himself not a Taoist satire. I seem to have bumped into my own righteousness about Confucius and stolen some integrity from myself.

In that realization and in this exposition of that realization, I embody my integrity and even deepen it. In talking about integrity Zhuangzi says that it cannot be cultivated any more than a mountain can cultivate being a mountain, or the ocean can cultivate being the ocean. The honesty that is associated with integrity can be confused with perfection, in which case a mistake becomes a lapse of integrity, when in fact it is the path to integrity.

That does not mean that there is no remedy.  My meditation practice consists of: noticing when I am not paying attention. In that noticing my attention is deepened. This is not because I have cultivated attention, but because I have paid attention to what happens when I don’t pay attention. I can notice also what my experience is like when I do pay attention, but then it is just one of the 10,000 things I am paying attention to, not something special. There is no righteousness.


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