Do you have a best friend? If you do, what word will you use to describe this person? Is this person your bosom buddy? Does this person understand the music of your heart and mind? Can you share your deepest feelings with this friend? And do you know this friend's feelings, too?
In China, we use the Chinese characters “知音”(zhī yīn) to name this kind of friend. “知”means knowing or understanding and “音”means sound, voice, and music. ”The term “知音” comes from a touching story in Spring and Autumn Period, about 2600 years ago.
俞伯牙（ Yu Boya) was an intelligent boy interested in music very much. He learned playing Guqin (a traditional Chinese musical instrument) from a well-known musician. Three years later, Yu Boya became famous for his music. However, he still wanted to learn. His teacher said to him:” I have nothing to teach you any more, but I can get you to know my teacher, and you can learn from him.”
One day, they started off in a boat. When they got to a very beautiful place called Peng Laige, his teacher said: “You wait here; I am going to find my teacher.” But it turned out his teacher never came back. First he was sad. He looked up at the blue sky, and then he looked at the vast sea around him. He heard the sounds of the waves and the singing of the birds in the forest; he felt the gentle touch of the breeze on his face. Then he suddenly understood why he was left alone in nature. His teacher wanted him to learn from the great teacher: nature. After that, he practiced music every day in the open air. One day, while he was practicing, the strings of his instrument trembled. He knew at once someone nearby understood his music. He saw a man gathering woods for making a fire on the bank. He invited the man onto his boat and listen to his music. The man understood his music and appreciated his music very much. Yu Boya said you were my “知音”. From then on, “知音” came to mean best friend.
* I hope your life will be sweet with music. I hope all the more that your life will be full of sunshine with your “知音”. In this website we are encouraging people all over the world to walk in the ways of wisdom, compassion, and creativity. We find some of the ideas in Whitehead’s philosophy helpful for this walk. Several of them are in the story.
One is that nature is musical, too, and that we can listen to nature’s voices as one way of finding our way into the wisdom we seek for our lives. If poetics means “seeking wisdom for daily life,” then we are interested in ecopoetics: finding wisdom from nature. We have a section in the website called Friends, Families, and Mentors. We believe the natural world can be a mentor, too.
Another is that our experience consists not only of thinking about things with our minds, but feeling things with our senses. Yu Boya felt the breeze and heard the singing. In the language of Whitehead, he prehended them with subjective forms of gratitude and appreciation. There is no need to use these technical terms, but for those interested in Whitehead’s philosophy it is important to note that, for him, the other beings in the natural world have prehensions and subjective forms, too. As the birds sang, they prehended their environments with subjective forms as well. Perhaps they were establishing territory, or seeking mates. But perhaps they were singing because they, too, have a sense of beauty, too. This is what Whitehead thinks. He thinks that birds sing, in part, because they enjoy singing. They have their own senses of harmony and intensity, of rhythm.
Still another is that we can feel the feelings of other people, and that in this feeling of their feelings, we come to understand them. In Whitehead’s language, we prehend their prehensions. In this knowing we do not simply know about them, we know with them. We have a sense of their way of being in the world, emotionally as well as intellectually. This is the way it is with your best friend. He or she knows you from the inside. If you are walking through life, she is walking too.
And still another is that that every person has a musical quality to him or her. Like the birds in the sky, every person is singing, too: his or her life is her song. The song is not static, it is dynamic and unfolding over time, with a future as well as a past. It is song that is not yet finished. When we are with our bosom buddies, we feel close to them for who they are, and also for who they are becoming and can become. We respect the fact that they are in process, along with the rest of the natural world and all other humans. Yu Boya’s teacher saw that Yu Boya had a future, too. In the language of Whitehead, he felt what was actual in Yu Boya, and also what is possible.
There is one final lesson to be learned from the story. Or at least an idea to consider. It is that the Guqin was a teacher, too. When we play musical instruments, they become our friends and mentors. At first the relationship can be strained, because we do not know how to be with them. We must stretch our fingers in certain ways that seem awkward or clumsy if it is a stringed instrument; we must use our breath in special ways if it is a wind instrument. But gradually we become friends, and they help us make music. Through them we discover our own possibilities for becoming. We may not be gifted like Yu Boya, but we are gifted in our own ways. Guqin can be a friend in the process of wisdom-seeking. A friend in the way of poetics.