By Dayan Jayatilleka –
May I suggest that somewhere in or around the so-called Axial Age, we had two philosophers, in two corners of the world, emphasizing two very different aspects of being, of governance and of existence; one expressing the ubiquity and universality of conflict, of flux, of change, epitomized in the symbol of fire –and I refer of course to Heraclitus — and on the other hand, Confucius, emphasizing order, stability, hierarchy, tradition, great harmony.
Now the incredible richness of the Chinese philosophy and the Chinese philosophical heritage is not only that it produced in Confucius, this antipode to the Heraclitian conception, but that you had another philosopher who is the closest we came in the modern age to Heraclitus’ notion of restlessness and flux –and was arguably a radical humanist– Mao Ze Dong. So China produced a Confucius emphasizing that ‘two combine into one’ and striving for great order under the heavens, and a Mao Ze Dong, also a philosopher, emphasizing that ‘one divides into two’; that there is ‘great disorder under heavens, the situation is excellent’.
Thus China contained these antinomian conceptions, outlooks, and ways of being. But I propose that China went further and produced perhaps a synthesis of these two conceptions. You may call it a synthesis, or if you do not wish to use Hegelian triadic terms, we may fall back on Aristotle’s Golden Mean or the Buddha’s earlier notion of the Middle Path. My point is that China also produced personalities who are either a synthesis of or are on the middle path between the Confucian and Heraclitian concepts, and here I refer to great personalities such as Zhou en Lai, Liu Shao Chi and Deng Hsiao Peng.
These are the ideas that I would like to present to you as a kind of a backdrop for the discussion.
Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka made above comment at UNESCO. On Monday 16th April, 2012, Ambassador Jayatilleka moderated one of three panels of a seminar on “Confucianism and New Humanism in a Globalized World” organized by UNESCO and the Confucius Institute Headquarters of the People’s Republic of China. Among the panelists at this session was Jacques Attali, designated as one of the three most influential intellectuals in France and one of the 100 most influential worldwide.
The Forum was opened by the Director-General of UNESCO, Mrs. Irina Bokova; the Executive Director of the Confucius Institute Headquarters, Xu Lin; and the founder of the Nishan Forum, Professor Xu Jialu. The debate focused on three main themes: harmony through diversity and the demands of a globalized world; harmony through diversity and dialogue between cultures; and harmony through diversity and the New Humanism.
Ambassador Jayatilleka moderated the second session on “Harmony through Difference and the Dialogue among Cultures”. The speakers of this session were Dr. Jacques ATTALI, former special advisor to the President of the French Republic, François Mitterrand, Founder and former President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); Sabiha AL-KHEMIR, Tunisian writer, art consultant, and artist, Founding Director of the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar and Project Director of “Beauty and Belief – Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture”; Prof. Graham WARD, Professor of Contextual Theology and Ethics at the University of Manchester, UK; Prof. TONG Shijun, Professor of Philosophy and Director of School Board of East China Normal University, former Vice-President of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS).