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Chu Hsi ( 1130-1200 CE) combined the traditional values of Confucianism with a metaphysical theory of humanity’s relation to the universe. He saw human nature as perfectly moral, deriving from the law or principle of the universe. Chu Hsi identified the four main principles of human nature as love, righteousness, reverence, and wisdom. However, he held that morality could be clouded by the physical element, or material force, inherent in matter and in the mind. In the Fourteenth Century his work became the orthodox philosophy on which state exams for the civil service were based for over four hundred years.
Kamo no Chomei (1153-1216 CE) was born in Kyoto, Japan, and began his career as a poet at the imperial court. He was later appointed to the Poetry Bureau, made up of Japan’s leading poets. He became a Buddhist monk, spending much of his time as a hermit living in a small, isolated hut. There, Chomei (or Komei) wrote the essay An Account of My Hut (Hojoki), in which he describes the advantages of a rural life of isolation and tranquility compared to the turbulence, hazards and upheavals of city life. Chomei’s elegantly written and structured text offers a powerful argument in the humanistic tradition that sees virtue in simplicity.
Francis of Assisi
Francis of Assisi (Giovanni Francesco Bernadone, 1181-1226) was born in Assisi, Umbria. His habit of donating generously to the poor at the expense of his family caused his father to disinherit him. For about three years he helped in hospitals and gave aid to lepers and other outcasts. He attracted disciples and chose the name “Minors” for the group. All members sought to imitate Christ, particularly in respect of choosing poverty. They preached to the poor and lowly, the lepers and outcasts. Francis extended his sense of brotherhood to the world at large, to animals, the heavenly bodies, and the elements. In his splendid song, The Canticle of Brother Sun, we have an all-embracing view of the universe and the part that humanity has in it.
Shaikh Sa’di Shirazi (about 1194-1292 CE), originally named Muslih-uddin, was born in Shiraz and studied at the Nizamiyya seat of learning in Baghdad. He remained there for about 30 years, establishing his fame as a great Persian poet and popular writer. He took the name Sa’di in honor of his patron Sa’d b. Zengi. Between 1226 and 1256 he traveled widely, visiting Europe, Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Armenia, Turkey, Arabia, Iran, and beyond the Indus to Hindustan. In a prose work called The Gulistan (or The Rose Garden) he provided prose stories that touch on practical wisdom and moral questions in an easy and entertaining style.
Ahmad ibn Khallikan (1211-1282 CE) was born at Arbela, Iraq. His most famous work is The Obituaries of Eminent Men,
often referred to as The
It is of enormous scope and later Arab
historians filled their pages with extracts from his work, while Arabic
rhetoricians, grammarians, and compilers of anecdotes have taken choice
passages from it.
Magna Carta (The Great Charter) has became a significant document in the evolution of civil rights. It emerged from an agreement signed on June 15, 1215 CE, by King John of England. Originally the liberties provided were to be held only by barons. But a change made in subsequent days extended them to all free men. While there were few free men in feudal times, they became the majority centuries later. Then Magna Carta was interpreted as asserting that even kings must obey common law. As this was the era when English colonies were being formed in North America, many of the liberties defended in Magna Carta were incorporated in colonial legal codes, and later in the Constitution of the United States.
Yoshida Kenko (1283-1350 CE), initially a Japanese court official, later emerged as a celebrated poet. Then at age 41 he became a Zen Buddhist monk. His subsequent Essays in Idleness shows the application of Zen to a philosophy of social life. In Kenko’s writings we see the Buddhist ideals of naturalness, humility, simplicity, and meditation worked out in relation to daily affairs. Kenko ranged widely in his choice of subjects, touching on ardent love, social etiquette, house design, drunkenness, thought impressions, and the brief span of life. He urged his readers to make the most of their time on earth, but in this he stressed the virtues of contemplation and thought.
In the alpine region of what is now known as Switzerland, men from three small valleys agreed in 1291 to resist having outside judges imposed on them, to assume authority to punish major criminals, and to assist each other in case of attack. The men of these valleys were used to meeting together each year to discuss farming of their area according to agreed on rules and methods. This formed the basis for subsequent political meetings, or Landsgemeinde. At about the same time, cities like Geneva were also gaining rights and freedoms. These developments were the beginning of the democratic, republican form of government in Europe, with rejection of royal and aristocratic privileges and assignment of specific rights to the citizenry.