THE SAGE (SHENG REN) IN CHINESE PHILOSOPHY
AND PROPHETHOOD IN ISLAM : A REFLECTION FOR CIVILIZATIONAL DIALOGUE
The Sage in Chinese Classics
In Chinese Tradition, Confucius , Mencius and Lao Tze are honored as Sages / Sheng Ren. The Final Messenger of Islam- Muhammad sallaLlahu alaihi wa salam is conferred the title- Ching Sheng – the Glorious/Greatest/Most Prominent Sage by Chinese muslim scholars. There is a ancient mosque in Guang Zhou , China called Huai Sheng Si ( Mosque in Remembrance of the Sage /Rasul ).
Mencius says- the sage is a teacher of a hundred generations but for muslims- the Sage/Rasul is a teacher/examplar for a thousand generations (to the last age/humanity ).
The Chinese people are close to fitra and sunna of Ancient Sages, which mean they already know and followed some Heavenly inspired way of worship, respect the ruler, elders, rites, moral rights and character, virtues and refine culture. They lost it and fragmented into Tao/Buddhist/Confucian beliefs which only had some remnants of truth. The Last Messenger come to restore, revive and complete the Whole Teaching/ Wisdom Way.
Hui Jiao ( The Way of Return )
Why some Chinese scholars call Islam as HUI JIAO ? It means the Path returning to God, to our true nature, primordial being. Hui resemble the character of double mim – square circles like Kaaba, the ancient house of worship founded by Prophet Ibrahim alaihi salam. At that time , apart from Islam , the Divine teaching were called Din al-hanif , din al-fitrah or din al-haqq. All these meaning denotes restoring man to his original, noble, truthful being as the slave and representative of God in the earth. He undertook the trust –message from God which all other creation afraid to bear.
The word SAGE in Chinese consist of 3 basic characters :
First-ERH on top left ( ear/hear)
Second-KO on top right ( mouth/teach/speak)
Third- WANG at bottom ( king/divine)
I will first explain the bottom word- WANG/king. Why the sage must have a kingly character ?
Man as Khalifah / King /Ruler
A king can means a ruler , leader, scholar, warrior, statesman with authority ( derived by adhering to Heaven Will/Mandate-trust). The top line in wang denotes Tian/ Heaven / God. The second line- ren/man and the third line- Tu/earth.
So a king is one who rule with justice and adhere to the truth/right way in living on earth with his subjects. He received the blessings/connection from Heaven above. This indicated in the vertical line connecting the 3 horizontal line. Allah says in the Quran : Inni jailun fil-ardhi khalifa and fahkum bainan-nas bi-adli. I will create a man/leader/rasul who will represent Me ( My Decree/Teaching). Judge between men in justice/mercy. What a coincidence ? There are proofs that God also choose His Rasul/Nabi who are king/rulers like Sulaiman and Yusuf , but the station/name as Rasul / Nabi is higher than king/sultan/emperor because Allah give them REVELATION/ WAHYU. They are commanded to live in harmony/humility not arrogantly. While the earthly kings had only temporal power/wealth and followers.
In Chinese tradition , there are 3 kings who achieved the sagely quality by Divine Will- Yao, Shun and Zhao. Chuang Tzu says the perfect man are like sage when in stillness /contemplation /ibadah and like a king when in movement/ exercise of power/action.
Revelation and Inspiration From Heaven
The second nature of Sage/Rasul is ERH/Ting. He hears /listen and receive NEWS /Knowledge /Inspiration or REVELATION from the Unseen, Divine Presence / God. Like the verse of Quran : Sami’na wa atha’na , ghufranaka wa ilaikal Masir. The Rasul/Believers say-We hear and obey/follow God command. Forgive us and unto You are our returning. Amana Rasulu bima unzila ilaika ( We believe in the Rasul for what sent down by Allah. ).
So we understand that the Quranic word – NAZALA or WAHYU means message from the Divine correspond exactly to the top-bottom / vertical line in wang character ! The muslims in China differentiate between the God revered by other religions as TIAN or SHANTI, but reserved the Majestic Name of Allah as ZHEN ZHU ( the True / Real God ) . The famous greeting/saying to Muslim guests or travelers from outside China by the Hui elders are : Zhen Zu Bao Yu Ni ( May Allah bless and protect you ).
The Metaphor of Divine Reality as Light
If we add another slanted line at top of WANG , its become a new word : ZHU / MASTER /GOD / LORD. According to an old commentary, this slanted line represents – LIGHT / ILLUMINATION /GUIDANCE above the Sage / King, that is Tian/ Divine Reality itself. Chinese scholars had aptly translated the word-God as ZHEN ZHU in mandarin. Only Allah Tabaraka wa Taala can give light / guidance to whom He wants among His Creation. He created the Angels/Malaikat from light /NUR. Possible explanation is : the Rasul/ Sage receive the wahyu through Angel Jibrail which is also a Light from Allah Taala. There are many ayats of Quran to confirm these meanings:
Allahu Nurus Samawati wal-ardh..
Mathalu nurihi..Nurun alan-nur. Yahdi’Llahu li-Nurihi man yasyaa. Innaha Allah bi-kulli syain Alim.
( Allah is the Light of Heaven and Earth.The similitude of His Light..Light upon light.He guides to His Light Whom He wills.
Verily Allah has power over everything )
Allahu Waliyyul lazina amanu ,
yukhriju minaz-zulumati ilan –nur.
( Allah is the proctector of the Believers,
He brings them out from darkness into Light )
Also from the Hadith : the iman in the mu’min heart are a light connected to / from the overflowing light of the Rasul. You will not attain the fullness or sweetness of iman until you love Allah and His Rasul more than everything else, including your own self.
The Chinese classical teachings had beautiful expositions on the subject of LIGHT/ ILLUMINATION which correspond to the word – MING or CHING. This is another subject to be tackled later, why the Chinese Emperor choose to name his dynasty the Ming-Glorious/Illuminated Dynasty. Any relation with the letter MIM or MUHAMMAD in Arabic or MA which used by many HUI Chinese Muslims ? . MING which means light or brilliant /illumination in Chinese characters consist of root word of SUN and MOON side by side. In one Prophetic hadith , the Messenger had said that: ‘If people put the sun on my right hand and the moon on my left hand, I will not desist from carrying out this Divine Teaching from Allah.’
The Great Learning / Ta Hsue
We had strayed a bit far but actually very near to the TA HSUE- THE GREAT LEARNING. The first principle of Ta Hsue is : TO ILLUMINATE VIRTUE TE , TO RECTIFY/ PURIFY / TRANSFORM THE HEART AND TO PURSUE EXCELLENCE IN PROPER CONDUCT. This are in line with the meanings of Quran : Oh Messenger, We sent you in order to purify them ( yuzakkihim), to teach the Holy Book and Wisdom-Hikmah ( yu-allimuhumul-Kitaba wal Hikmah ). Or wa man yattaqi’Llaha yaj-al-lahu furqana ( those who fear Allah , will be given the discrimination –between truth and falsehood ). Rabbana atina min ladunka rahmatan wa hayyi’lana min amrina rasyada ( Our Lord , bestow us mercy from Your Presence and guide us right in our affairs ).
Ko – To Teach and Expound The Truth
Now we go to the third composite character in wang /king that is KO / Mouth which indicated the Sage/Rasul are commanded to speak , teach and convey what REVEALED by Allah Taala to humanity at large. The Rasul / Nabi cannot conceal the Message , hence the word – TABLIGH – to make clear . to reach out , to make it enter the intellect or the heart. How to absorb and embody this Divine Words ? The Companions of the Prophet had done it by the mercy, gift and power of Allah when many of them had READ , MEMORIZED and PRESERVED the QURAN in their HEARTS. And make it manifest by their ACTION , EMULATION and GUIDANCE from the QURAN. The Quran was written down later in one whole collection when many of the HAFIZ among the Companion were killed in jihad. The Messenger s.a.w said : Illuminate your houses with the recitation of Quran !
Chun Tzi – The Superior Man
What other qualities the Sage had according to Chinese teachings as similar for the Rasul in Islam ? Now we had to dig further into CHUNG YUNG ( Doctrine of The Middle Path ).
Confucius clearly define chun tzu ( the superior man ) as the one who follow and honor the Sages as quoted here :
‘ The superior man honor / respect / acknowledge ( WEI ) three things ( in his life ). He acknowledge the Decree of Heaven ( wei Ming ). He honor the Saying of Sages ( Sheng Ren ) and he honor the Great Leaders ( Ta ren )’. The small/common ignorance of the Sages despise their teachings or gain no benefits from it.
The superior man / Chun tzu can compared to the Mumin , Salihun , Siddiqun or Muttaqin in the Quranic sense and Prophetic Hadith. The sufic definition of a salihun is the man with right knowledge, acted in the right situation , at the right time and right place. Any one wrong move will hamper his right action or make it ineffective because of the surrounding forces.
Mencius says : ‘When Heaven about to confer a great task to a man , he will be tested severely unto his very bones, his body, his sinews and constitution, to make him firm, sincere,pure and strong. Then when he speak, people will listen and obey ‘.
The Meaning of Te’– Virtue
We have explored the meanings of wang , zhu , sheng ren and chun tzu , now one last important word : TE’ ( VIRTUE ). This was not clear to us unless we are chinese educated. Te’ was used prevalently in Chinese classics and highly appreciated. What virtue ? Taqwa , iman , ikhlas , birr , amilus salihan or ihsan ? TE’ consist of 3 composite words:
First – JEN on the left ( human relation). Second- a sacrificial vessel of food /offerings to Heaven / God ( WORSHIP ).
Third- a fixed /pure heart (HSIN) at bottom right corner.
It means that man of Te’ must have cultivated right/harmonious relationship or adab /moral link with other men (hablun minas-nas ) such as ruler-subject, husband-wife, son-father/mother, old-young, scholar-studen ,rich-poor etc. He must also devoted to God by giving food/gifts to the needy ( spend fisabilillah /infaq / salat wa zakat). Lastly, he must do it /act in worship with pure heart/ikhlas, with iman ,gnosis, ilm and obeying God command ( hablun min Allah ).
The Perfect Exemplar
It is very interesting to compare the inward and outward aspects of the sage and superior man in Chinese classic with the Quranic description of the Divine Messengers ( Anbiya wa Rasul) which God called upon all human being to obey them.
Innaka la-ala khuluqil azim
(Verily, you-rasul possess a vast self form for other to emulate )
La qad kana lakum uswatul hasanah
(Verily you-rasul are a perfect exemplar for guidance to mankind )
atiu’Llah wa atiu Rasul wa ulil-amri minkum
( Obey Allah and obey the Rasul and the leader among you )
Siratal lazina an-amta alaihim …minan Nabiyyin wa Siddiqina
wa Syuhada wa Salihin , ulaika hasuna Rafiqan
( Follow the Path of whom We blessed from among the
Prophets , the Truthful , the Syuhada and the Righteous..
And they are the best model /emulation for men
Insya’Allah , we will explore more on this subject in the next essays. Wa ma taufiqi illa bi’Llah.