2.1 Buddha (Type I: Rationality - Transcendence)
The following profile of the Type I historical figure characterises the Buddha, as an example of rational-idealism ('mystical ethics'):
· The meditative mind · Impersonal, search for 'Being'
· Other-worldly knowledge
· Salvation through non-resistance
· Liberation from material existence
· 'Ethical union'
· 'Right belief'
· Obedience to karma, destiny
· Transformation to the highest level of being; to reach Nirvana
Buddha left home, family and country early on in his life to follow the path of 'transcendental discovery', the path of the lonely thinker pondering the sufferings and miseries of being human in this world. In an attempt to 'escape' its harsh realities he decided: "to seek salvation in asceticism" (p22).
Buddha's thought reflects the rationalist-transcendent (idealist) turn towards a search for answers in a 'world' or sphere beyond the sensory of our space-time world. His doctrine: "…starts from the belief… that all existence is suffering, and that the essential is redemption from suffering...(By) way of the decision to live righteously in word and deed, the Path leads to immersion in various degrees of meditation and through meditation to the knowledge of what was already present in the initial faith: the truth of suffering. It is only at the end that one attains clear knowledge of the Path one has traveled, Enlightenment" (p23)
According to Jaspers, Buddha made rather extensive use of ideas and concepts originating in the Hindu philosophy of previous times; and was very influential for his establishment of 'monastic communities', another indication of the inclination towards the privacy of transcendental thought, removed from the trammels and distractions of everyday life.
Buddha's preference for independent thought is also reflected in his parting words to his followers, namely: "Rely on yourselves. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Seek salvation alone in truth" (p25).
In contradistinction to Jesus, Buddha is not concerned with and does not inquire into the possible origins of human misery and suffering, such as a: " primordial fall from eternal perfection into ignorance. [For him]…knowledge has provided the certainty of redemption and that is enough"(p30).
In stark contrast to the emphasis on and deep awareness of individual souls characteristic of the Type III approach of Jesus, Buddha totally denies the self. "For Buddha there is no self. Existence is made up of factors that form links in the chain of causality; it includes the unconscious formative powers (sanskara)… These factors disintegrate in death. Their unity and center is not the self but karma, which in rebirth creates another transient combination" (p30). Here is an idealistic metaphysics that is not interested in people's personal lives; a type of rationalist religious cosmology maybe, but certainly not a social code for guidance in community affairs (Confucius), nor a message of personal salvation (Jesus).
It is therefore also not surprising to find that in Buddha's teachings: "… it is not prayer, [contra Jesus] not grace, and not sacrifice that brings redemption, but only knowledge. This knowledge lies within the power of the individual [a view which is in agreement with that of Socrates]" (p37).
In summary: Buddha's thought was essentially 'against the world' (of suffering); a 'getting away' from the temporal order of things. His is the love of a transcendent state of being, via deep meditation; unsullied by a 'messy' immanence. What had to be relinquished were all earthly desires and cravings.
2.2 Socrates (Type II: Rationality - Immanence)
The following profile of the Type II historical figure characterises Socrates, as an example of rational-realism (rational ethical):
· The rational, inquiring mind
· Impersonal, search for truth
· This-worldly knowledge
· Salvation through 'knowing thyself'
· Liberation from ignorance
· 'Ethical Definition'
· 'Right thinking'
· Obedience, or commitment to the journey of self-discovery
· Systematic questioning in search of the ethically pure good, justice and morality (arête)
Although Socrates is undoubtedly a great and exemplary historical figure, especially for philosophers, he differs from the other three in that his particular life endeavor was very clearly a rigorous and rational quest for truth in the Greek tradition, in which he stood central. As Jaspers puts it: "Like the Prophets, he was certain of his calling; unlike them he had nothing to proclaim…His mission was only to search in the company of men…To question unrelentingly…To demand no faith in anything or in himself, but to demand thought, questioning, testing, and so refer man to his own self"(p6).
Unlike Confucius, he had little taste for politics as vocation ("this voice…said no whenever he thought of going into political life", p10), preferring the company of those interested to join him in the discovery of rational truth. Contrary to the aims of a more purely transcendental approach to knowledge, Socrates in true immanence (realist) fashion engaged individual minds in an attempt to elucidate the truth for them in dialogue. "The significance of Socrates' approach is that one must know one's ignorance and embark on the journey of thought"(p7).
In contrast to subjectivist knowledge orientations this professed ignorance of Socrates is what distinguishes him from the Sophists, who always had an answer ready (for a fee, of course): " Though his merciless questioning may make him seem one of them, he never departs from his historical foundations but piously recognizes the laws of the polis and thoughtfully examines their meaning"(p10).
In summary: Socrates is 'for the world' and committed to understanding the world of human community (the polis) by the use of rational thought. His is the love of wisdom, of giving oneself to the never-ending search for the truth of Reason, in order to attain a just society (he was not much interested in natural science). What, above all, had to be relinquished was dogmatic beliefs based on mere custom and opinion (doxa).
2.3 Jesus (Type III : Subjective - Immanence)
The following profile of the Type III 'historical individual' shows Jesus as example of subjectivist-immanence ('devotional ethics'):
· The experiential (the 'heart')
· Concerned with individuals (personal)
· Salvation through faith in Almighty God
· Liberation from sin and guilt
· 'Ethical being'
· 'Right attitude/predisposition'
· Obedience to the will of God
· Confronting people with their sins, and promising redemption and salvation into the Kingdom of God.
Jesus' mission on earth can be described as one of 'devotional ethics'; a complete surrender of all things human to the will of God, the personal Creator and Redeemer of all Christian believers; not the God of abstract philosophical reason or ancient custom, but of: "…salvation through faith" (p64).
The poetical prose of the type III understanding is typical of Jesus' way of communicating the true teachings of God. It is a way of expressing truths that goes directly to the 'hearts' and souls of individual men and women. "Hence the happy tidings: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven', and 'fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom…The mood is one of mingled dread and jubilation."(p.65).
The similarity of this rather strange mix of 'mood, fear, anxiety and good news', with that to be found much later in the subjectivist approaches of the great Protestant Reformers (specifically, Luther, Calvin and Schleiermacher) is quite remarkable. The more so because of the fact that they all fall, together with Jesus, within the same, subjectivist paradigm of understanding in which Reason and metaphysical thought have no real place.
In contrast to the type IV approach of a Confucius: " His [Jesus'] purpose is not to improve the world, not to reform men and their institutions, but to show all those who hear and see him that the kingdom of God is at hand"(p65). On the other hand, the approach of Jesus is also clearly to be distinguished from the typical, 'scientific' (rationalist) profile of the type I thinker (of which Socrates, although no system builder as such, laid the foundation with his systematic method of inquiry). As Jaspers' indicate: " In telling men what to do, Jesus is not promulgating a self-sufficient system of ethics for the fulfillment of mankind in the structure and order of worldly existence. On the contrary, ethical precepts are justified only by the will of God…"(p66).
Jesus goes to the core by insisting on 'a mode of being', not 'outward action'. He constantly focuses his listeners' attention on the great choice that they have to make: " What is this one important thing? Each man is faced with the terrible alternative: to be accepted in the kingdom of heaven or rejected….'No man can serve two masters…Ye cannot serve God and mammon'. There is no in-between, no compromise…the essential is the obedience of man's whole heart and being"(p67).
In contrast to the concern with rational thought in types I and II: " Jesus speaks in concrete terms, expresses intelligible ideas, utters definite commandments…But all his direct statements are vehicles of a meaning which ultimately evades rational interpretation. Jesus shows little concern for logical consistency. He says, for example: 'He that is not with me is against me'. But: 'For he that is not against us is on our part' (p71).
His 'immanence' is also attested to by the following words: " This independence amid immersion in the world is the source of Jesus' wonderful serenity. On the one hand worldly things could no longer tempt him into finite absolutes…On the other hand, his own being was open to the world, his eye was alive to all realities, and particularly to the souls of men, the depth of their hearts…"(p78).
In summary, Jesus' mission was to prepare humanity for the Kingdom of God; for mankind to repent their sins, and to live according to the great commandments of the Word; not according to the best in human reasoning and 'planning' which was flawed in its root in any case. Trust only in God; 'have Faith'. What is important is 'giving' oneself to God; the love of God, and the relinquishment of sin and disobedience to God's Word.
2.4 Confucius : Type IV (Subjective - Transcendence)
The following profile of the Type IV historical figure is characteristic of subjectivist-transcendence ('Political ethics'):
· The conceptual (the 'Rules')
· Concerned with society (communal)
· Salvation through serving the community faithfully
· Liberation from selfish conduct
· 'Ethical living'
· 'Right relationship'
· Obedience to custom and authority
· Educating people for right conduct in relation to others in society and to Rulers
Of the four 'paradigmatic individuals' considered here, Confucius undoubtedly belongs to the class (type IV) of social reformers. We are, for instance, made aware of Confucius' lifelong ambition for political mentorship as well as the fact that he actually held high political office for a while. " At the age of fifty one he returned to political life, became minister of justice and finally prime minister of Lu…from his fifty sixth to his sixty eighth year [he wandered about] in the hope that somewhere he would be enabled to put his political doctrine into practice. In all the years he never lost confidence in his calling as political mentor …of the Empire"(p42).
Whereas Buddha found the 'way' in transcendent mystical knowledge (type I); Socrates in rational thought (type II), and Jesus in pure faith in the sublime Creator (type III), Confucius found the 'way' in: "…knowledge of antiquity… His fundamental questions were: What is the old? How can we make it our own? The Jewish Prophets proclaimed God's revelation, Confucius the voice of antiquity…" (p42).
Above all, Confucius wanted to bring sanity to the warring and factional Chinese society of his time, by educating people on how to live right. For Confucius, as a confessed lover of tradition, this meant making the best in ancient Chinese " texts, documents, songs, oracles, codes of manners and customs"(p44) available again; as a 'living tradition' contained in a body of maxims and rules that could serve as guide for men and women in all the varied spheres of life in society.
He was much concerned with order and harmony in Chinese society, hence his view (dictum) that: "…a nation can only be guided by custom, not knowledge"(p45). Where a Socrates focused on the development of the mind (reason) and Jesus on saving souls; for Confucius it was the conviction that: "…only through the virtues of the community does the individual become a man…"(p45). In contrast to a Buddha, Confucius was not interested in metaphysical transcendence at all, but in: "…self-mastery, not asceticism" (p46).
Typical of the type IV orientation toward action, for Confucius: " The mere idea is as nothing. The root of human salvation lies in 'knowledge that influences reality'…(p51). An essential principle for Confucius is obedience to authority and 'knowing one's place'. The principle is beautifully worded, as follows: "The essence of the prince is the wind, the essence of the crowd is the grass. If the wind blows over it, the grass must incline" (p52).
Jaspers very succinctly captures the essence of Confucius' type IV approach in the following words: " He had [like Socrates] no fundamental religious experience, no revelation [as in the case of Jesus]; he achieved no inner rebirth, he was not a mystic. But neither was he a rationalist; in his thinking, rather, he was guided by the idea of an encompassing community, through which man becomes man."(p57).
In summary: Confucius, unlike Buddha and Jesus, was 'for the world'; an idealist reformer (type IV) for whom the love of social harmony was the main driving force in his life. A giving of oneself to well-mannered servitude: to superiors, subordinates parents, peers and family; and educating people in all these relations, were important to him. What had to be relinquished by people was self-centered, immoral conduct that went against the wishes of rulers and of social 'best practice'. The collective is primary, and more important than the individual.
3. Concluding remarks
Based on Jaspers' comparative philosophical analysis of the lives of Buddha, Socrates, Jesus and Confucius, an attempt was made to show how these historical figures are also different in more fundamental ways, as meta-paradigmatic exemplars. Although Jaspers quite significantly, it is believed, refers to the four men as 'paradigmatic individuals' he never went so far as to develop a distinctive meta-framework for purposes of comparison (a fact that is surmised to be indicative of his own [subjectivist] approach to human understanding, being the originator of the 'philosophy of existence').
It is hoped that the present paper provides an added perspective on the four great men. Jaspers' unique exposition nevertheless shows the similarities and differences of the four historical individuals in a manner eminently suitable for meta-paradigmatic analysis.
His concluding remarks reflect his keen awareness of basic 'paradigmatic' differences in the four men: " The transformation exacted by Socrates is a transformation in thinking [type II]; Buddha calls for meditation [type I] and the way of life that goes with it, Confucius for a process of education [type IV] that is more than mere learning, Jesus for a devotion to God's will [type III]"(p90).