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Chinese Gardens IV (In the grounds of the Confucian Temple, Beijing)




Away from the dust and clamour of the street. The second gate once crossed, the stairs mounted, a vision of repose and contemplation is set before. A courtyard dedicated to quiet thoughts. A grove of trees joins the overhanging wooden eaves to provide welcome shelter from the sun; the offering of a shadow whose protective shade may permit the light of learning to be discerned and hence allowed to grow. In such a place the tree of thought branches out, its light leaving the world illuminated in a way different from that the shadows cast by the harsh light of the sun.


(…the shadow cast by the branches of the tree of thought brings respite from the glare which is the unwelcome gift of the harsh light of the sun…)


In a peaceful courtyard, old trees look down upon a forest of stele, gnarled bark argues history with the smooth surfaces of weather-worn ideograms. A stone spring presents the thirsty scholar with the promise of inspiration.


The well-spring of Confucianism (its ‘secret’…) might be found to lie in the balance it maintains between the role of the rational (in attitude, in organisation, in the life style of the scholar) and the retaining of ritual (in belief or its appearance in theatre and in the repetition of this theatre). The walking of this tightrope, or contradiction, like the oil and water symbol of Ying and Yang which symbolises Confucianism’s sister religion of Daoism, signals an intertwining of elements that will not mix - that will not become one. Once such a refusal of unity, the acceptance of the presence of such a parallelism, was taken for intellectual laziness or superstition. No longer. We now realise what Confucius had realised all along. Such a refusal of unity is a sign of the presence of discrete aspects of the human condition.  It is prompted by, and itself prompts, the recognition of the necessity of both. Of the necessity of the recognition of both. Their irreducibility. And so their tendency to return unbidden, to be found unsought, to haunt, to drive and propel, those who believe they have transcended them. Rocks are present in the water and we can not wish them away. Better to set down a brightly-coloured marker and allow the dance of the waves to carry us past. The return of the real; the inescapability of both the rational and the ritual in the fractured stratification that is the geology of human existence.





                                                                        Copyright 2005 Peter Nesteruk