The Oceanic Matter-Energy (浩然之气) - A Confucian Meditation: An Un-perturbed Mind-Heart (不動心)

The Oceanic Matter-Energy (浩然之气) - A Confucian Meditation: An Un-perturbed Mind-Heart (不動心)
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Introduction: Part I

Before we practice the Confucian meditation of "Oceanic Matter-Energy," you might have a few questions: What is "Oceanic Matter-Energy?" Where did this method of meditation come from? In this introduction, I will explain the meaning of this phrase and describe how I reconstructed this method of meditation from multiple classical sources.

Oceanic Matter-Energy
We know about "Oceanic Matter-Energy" because it is discussed by Mencius (372-289 B.C.E), an important early Confucian philosopher. His ideas about this concept are mainly recorded in four sections of the book which bears his name, The Mencius. In this section, I will provide both the English translations (adapted mainly from Wing-Tsit Chan, James Legge and William Theodore De Bary ) and the original Chinese text of these four sections. I will also provide annotations to help you understand any new or unusual words or names. Finally, I will offer my own analysis of the text. I will do my best to avoid complicated arguments and keep things simple.

Text A: Mencius: Gong Sunchou A (孟子 ∙ 公孫丑上)
1. Gong Sunchou asked, "May I venture to ask, sir, how you maintain an unperturbed mind-heart (心) and how Gao Zi maintains an un-perturbed mind-heart. May I be told?"
1. 曰:「敢問夫子之不動心,與告子之不動心,可得聞與?」

In this passage, Gong Sunchou--one of Mencius' students--is asking him something like, "How do you find peace of mind?" He also wants to know how Mencius's approach is different from that of his rival, Gao Zi. In other words, Gong Sunchou is asking, "How do you keep your cool, and why is your way better than Gao's?"

But what does Gong Sunchou mean by the"mind-heart?" The "mind-heart" (xin, 心) is somewhat comparable to the Western idea of a "soul" or "mind." Within the Confucian worldview, the mind-heart is the core of the creative selfhood of each person. When this term is mentioned alongside the "body" (shen, 身), the mind-heart often refers to the somewhat non-embodied aspects of human nature, such as intellect, emotion, will, intention, etc. Unlike the Western idea of "mind" or "soul," however, the mind-heart is always presented as having a close relationship with the body. This is the reason why I say "somewhat" in the prior sentence. According to Confucianism, there is really no totally non-embodied aspect of human nature. You will more understand this when I explain the concept of Qi in the following.

So Gong Sunchou wants to know how he can keep his mind-heart calm. As we will see, Mencius answers that you must first unite your mind-heart with your body, and then unite your whole person with Heaven. You do this by cultivating the "Oceanic Matter-Energy." I will provide more explanation as we go along.

Bin Song is also the founder of Boston University Confucian Association ( and is active in the Facebook group "Friends from afar: a Confucianism Group":

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