Monday, October 01, 2012


This evening I would like to say a few things about Mo.

That isn’t the middleman of Manny, Moe, and Jack, the Pep Boys of automotive fame. I’m talking about the Chinese philosopher, Mo Tsu, or Master Mo, or Mozi. His insights were brilliant, but for various reasons they didn’t last long after his death around 390 BC. However, Mohism eventually combined with the thoughts of Chuang Tsu and Lao Tsu and emerged as Taoist principles.

          That is to say, Chuang Tsu and Lao Tsu may be thought of as so-called founders of Taoism, but many of Taoism’s concepts grew out of Mohism.

          Nothing is truly new or original.

          About the name: My researches mention that the actual ancestral name and clan name of Mozi is unknown, perhaps because the man was born into the lower classes of Chinese society. In the days of Chinese antiquity the vast majority of people who weren’t related to aristocratic families didn’t possess ancestral and clan names.

          Another tidbit out of the past says that one source of Mozi’s name may have had to do the philosopher’s complexion, which was dark. It’s a good story, and I quote: “Mozi was going north and met a fortune teller on the way. The fortune teller told him: ‘God kills the black dragon in the north today. Your complexion is dark. So you must not go north.’”

          So Moe did not go north.

          Rather than stir this murky name pot, we will use the name Mozi, or Mo.

          There is some evidence that Mozi was a carpenter. Apparently he was accomplished in designing mechanical birds and other amusing contrivances. Who knows, he might have been the forerunner of the Swiss cuckoo clock. Mo also created what were called cloud ladders used to besiege city walls. Though he was a self-effacing individual, various rulers considered him an expert on defensive military construction.

          Like others of his time, Mozi was initially educated in Confucianism principles. But he considered Confucian beliefs as too fatalistic, and he disagreed on its ritual celebrations and funerals. He thought such ceremonies were beyond the means of common people.

          Craftspeople were attracted to Mozi probably because of his practical skills, and they tended to organize themselves as a school devoted to the man’s philosophical and technical writings. Everything needs a name, even way back then, so Mozi’s followers became known s Mohists.

          One disciple of Confucius, named Mencius, wrote that Mozi believed in love not just within the family but for all of humanity. To quote Mencius, “As long as something benefits mankind, Mozi will pursue it even if it means hurting his head or his feet.”

          Mozi’s notion of universal love may have been resurrected for the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970 that shucked marriage as a form of social bondage. Remember San Francisco’s Flower Children? However, I doubt that contemporary view of free love was what the old Chinese fellow had in mind.

          He did encourage early marriage in order to offset the individuals lost in wars.

          Nepotism was popular In ancient China, and the handing out of political appointments to one’s relatives rankled Mozi. He insisted such posts should be given to worthy individuals who were best equipped to handle them. As long as a person was qualified for a task, that position should be his regardless of blood relations. If someone of high rank was not up to the job, even if he was a close relative of the ruler, he should be canned.

Mozi respected talented people and urged they should be in government instead of mere political appointees. To use a metaphor, he said a good bow is difficult to pull, but it shoots high. A good horse is difficult to ride, but it can carry weight and can travel far. Talented people may difficult to manage, but they can bring respect to their rulers.

Accordingly, a ruler should treasure skilled people and seek their counsel.

That sounds like good advice for modern individuals that are in power.

          Mozi’s moral teachings emphasized self-reflection and authenticity rather than blind obedience to ritual. According to him, when one reflects on one’s own successes and failures, one achieves true self-nature. This involves living a simple life in which material and spiritual extravagance were renounced.

          Mozi believed people were capable of changing their circumstances and directing their own lives. They could do this by applying their senses to observing the world, and by seeing the worth of objects and events through their causes, their functions, and their historical bases.

          Picture the multi-million dollar homes individuals build today. The places with six or eight bedrooms and as many bathrooms.

          “What is the purpose of houses?” Mo wrote.” It is to protect us from the wind and cold of winter, the heat and rain of summer, and to keep out robbers and thieves. Once these ends have been secured, that is all. Whatever does not contribute to these ends should be eliminated.”

          Great shades of Buddhist thought. 

          Mozi compared the carpenter who uses standard tools with the head of state, who might not have any standards or qualifications to do his job. In the long run the skilled worker is better off when depending on his standard tools rather than on his emotions.

          In the book One Hundred Philosophers: A Guide to the world’s Greatest Thinkers, by Peter J. King, the author wrote “Mohism promotes a philosophy of impartial caring. A person should care equally for other individuals, regardless of their actual relationship to him or her. “
          Isn’t this close to what, in Buddhism, is called compassion?

          As I mentioned earlier, Mohism’s popularity faded, but his ideas were revived again two thousand years after his death. Both the Chinese Republican revolutionaries of 1911, now based in Taiwan, and the Chinese Communist Party considered Mozi a surprisingly modernist thinker.

          For those who want to pursue the story of Mozi, there is a book available through Amazon titled The Mozi: A Complete Translation, by Ian Johnston. It costs around $80.00.

In conclusion, here are the philosophical words of another Moe, the Moe of the three stooges: “What will the world do without me? What will I do without me?”


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