The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life
Michael Puett, Christine Gross-Loh
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
For the first time an award-winning Harvard professor shares his wildly popular course on classical Chinese philosophy, showing you how these ancient ideas can guide you on the path to a good life today.
Why is a course on ancient Chinese philosophers one of the most popular at Harvard?
It’s because the course challenges all our modern assumptions about what it takes to flourish. This is why Professor Michael Puett says to his students, “The encounter with these ideas will change your life.” As one of them told his collaborator, author Christine Gross-Loh, “You can open yourself up to possibilities you never imagined were even possible.”
These astonishing teachings emerged two thousand years ago through the work of a succession of Chinese scholars exploring how humans can improve themselves and their society. And what are these counterintuitive ideas? Good relationships come not from being sincere and authentic, but from the rituals we perform within them. Influence comes not from wielding power but from holding back. Excellence comes from what we choose to do, not our natural abilities. A good life emerges not from planning it out, but through training ourselves to respond well to small moments. Transformation comes not from looking within for a true self, but from creating conditions that produce new possibilities.
In other words, The Path upends everything we are told about how to lead a good life. Above all, unlike most books on the subject, its most radical idea is that there is no path to follow in the first place—just a journey we create anew at every moment by seeing and doing things differently.
Sometimes voices from the past can offer possibilities for thinking afresh about the future.
A note from the publisher:
To read relevant passages from the original works of Chinese philosophy, see our free ebook Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Xunzi: Selected Passages, available on Kindle, Nook, and the iBook Store and at Books.SimonandSchuster.com.
knows himself. We believe we should be authentic, loyal to a truth we now tend to locate not in a higher deity but within ourselves. We aim to live up to the self we were meant to be. But what if these ideas that we believe enhance our lives are actually limiting us? We often associate philosophy with abstract, even unusable, ideas. But the strength of the thinkers in this book lies in the fact that they often illustrated their teachings through concrete, ordinary aspects of daily life. They
point of Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, he prefaced his response to Carter’s points not with direct rebuttal but by simply waving them off, chuckling, “There you go again.” Reagan became the first president to salute the military whenever getting off the presidential helicopter. In the eyes of the public, this move became an iconic image of what a commander in chief does, even though the Constitution requires that the president be a civilian, and military rules dictate that a civilian
around them. What these notions of energies give us is a way to think about moving from a world of endless conflicts among discrete things to a world in which things are ever more harmonious. The more resonant qi we have, the more we can do what the spirits can do, even in our messy, disparate world down here. Confucius and Mencius elaborated upon how humans can live as fully as possible. The authors of the Inward Training tell us that we can divinize ourselves and that is how we live well. But
the people. Without us, Heaven and Earth have no pattern. He thought that any loyalty to nature, whether it is our own human nature or the nature out there, any acceptance of the world “as it is,” was inherently limiting and destructive. He asks us to consider how we would live differently if we understood just how much the world is already our creation. If we have made the world that we experience, then we should not be asking ourselves how to find our proper place within it. We should be
apply to everyone equally originated in China, as did bureaucracies run by an educated elite. And there is a little caveat to the story of what Europe learned from China. Only one facet of these ideas made it: the ideas of Mozi and his intellectual descendants, the Legalists. The ideas that spread throughout Europe portrayed human beings as rational agents running rational legal systems based upon universal laws. Their exams measured pure ability, not moral goodness or moral training. These