The Bean Field and Szu-ma Chien

Tracy is an Aussie pumpkin growing from a seed I got from Elizabeth three years ago after she went home to Australia to visit her family. She brought seeds back, planted them, grew them, we ate them for Thanksgiving and I took a few seeds! Last year’s squash left me something for this year.


Szu-ma Chien has been in the bean field for a month, covered on nights when he would have frozen. All that is left to plant are Elizabeth, my tomatoes. They are all named Elizabeth. Three of these beans — Pearl Buck, Lao She and Szu-ma Chien are not poets, but I guess my garden is open-minded enough for good prose. ❤

Szu-ma Chien, the first bean and the oldest of these writers, wrote about Confucius in his history, so I’ll share a little here.

“In his teaching, Confucius laid emphasis on four things: culture, conduct, loyalty and honesty. Four things he avoided: foregone conclusions, arbitrary views, obstinacy and egoism. He rarely spoke of profit, fate or goodness. He would only help those who were in earnest. If he gave one corner of a square and the pupil could not infer the other three corners, he would not repeat his explanation.” Szu-ma Chien, Records of the Historian

I’ve thought about that last point many times in my life. Essentially, that is critical thinking. Inference is not the same as assuming; it is simply the ability to see what is in front of you and make a solid theory about its nature. I love that.

According to Szu-ma Chien, Confucius was fascinated by the Book of Changes. In that book is a hexagram that applies particularly to teachers and parents — and the ability to infer the nature of something from close observation of part of it. It also seems to describe Confucius’ method — or rather the other way around. Confucius may have learned from it. It is “Mang” — Youthful Folly or (more gently titled) “Inexperience.”

Hexagram 04

Méng, not knowing

Gŭ
trigram Mountain
trigram Water

Gua Poem (the invocation):
Ignorance, expansion
Not me seeking the young and ignorant
The young and ignorant seeking me. 

The great image says: At the foot of the mountain a spring wells up: Ignorance.
A noble one nurtures virtue by reliable conduct. I-Ching

“In his old age, Confucius loved to study The Book of Changes the order of the hexagrams, the definitions, appendices, interpretations, explanations and commentaries. He studied this book so much that the leather thongs binding the wooden strips wore out three times. ‘Give me a few years more,’ he said, “and I shall become quite proficient’.” Szu-ma Chien Records of the Historian

Ancient Style Chinese book

I like the I-Ching not so much as a book of divination (I don’t think the future is my business; I’ll live there, that’s enough) but as a way to look at things. It’s pretty amazing to think it was written nearly 3000 years ago and still makes sense. That right there says something to me about the unchanging nature of human beings. I’ve used it several times over the years as a tool to help me think. It’s almost like talking to another person, which, I guess, explains its enduring usefulness to people.

One day, on a whim, after a long ramble in the Big Empty, I “asked” the I-Ching why I loved the San Luis Valley. The answer is obvious, but this is what it said. I thought it was amazing. It also spoke to me about painting, the best way I know to share what I see and feel out there.

Speaking of which, it’s clouded over, the breeze is clear and there’s a big white dog outside…

14 thoughts on “The Bean Field and Szu-ma Chien

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