The Astor Court, located in the Metropolitan Musuem of Art, is a great living color experience for learning about Confucianism and Daoism. The great ideas of these two concepts are reflected and gathered here in the garden and the study.
Jiashans and the Pool of Water
As you walk in through the white moon gate guarded by stone lions with writing that say "In Search of Quietude" hanging on the door, you are met by the reflections of Daoism, the garden. It is not really a large garden. There are not a lot of large plants or grass. This garden is very simple. It does not have fancy decorations but only has a large open area with a brick ground. It could be considered plain or even dull. There are a few small trees sitting next the grassy areas of the garden. Limestone Jiashans or artificial mountains surrounds the small pool or stream. There is a "fantastic rock" representing the rugged mountains of China sitting in the small terrace. There is no place to relax with only a few hard rock stools. There is only nature and the Dao in this garden. It is very quiet and peaceful and is indeed a good place for the search of quietude.
This garden is influenced by Daoism and Lao Tzu's ideas. Lao Tzu's main idea is about nature and how it is the most important thing on Earth. The dao is the most important part of Daoism. The goal of life for Daoists is to follow the dao and to do so they must connect with nature. Nature and the Manifest Dao are present here in this garden. The fantastic rocks represents the rugged and steep mountains around China while the small pool represents the restorative qualities of water. The jiashans or artificial mountains surrounding the small pool of water also represents nature. The water is yin while the rocks and mountains are yang. Together, they are yin and yang and balance each other to create harmony and a perfect scene of nature and a great landscape. The Chinese word for landscape is shanshui, which translates to mountains and water. Both of the sources of landscape are present here and so together they form nature, an important part of Daoism. Most of this garden could be considered uncarved and has P'u. The Rocks and trees are all natural while the other parts of the garden are all crafter from natural materials such as rocks and wood. There is a special power of simplicity in this place. It is a place that could guide people with the special force of simplicity. The small pool symbolising water is also a perfect representation of the Manifest Dao. It is constanly changing and should not be disrupted by people who tries to go against the current or flow. Laotzu has influenced the 15th century Chinese owners of a garden like this one to have the Dao in there property. He influenced them to get nature right into their house through the form of a rock and a pool, one yin and one yang.
As you walk into this wooden study from the garden, you see a simple and clean room. A wooden sofa with a small table on it sits in the middle of this dark room lightened by lanterns hanging from the ceilings. Each of the two sides of the room sits two chairs and a giant wardrobe. Closets still did exist in China at this period of time. The Chinese used spacious wardrobes like this one for storage. The upper compartment is for hats while the lower one is for clothing and bedding. There are three windows on the back side of the room with trees on the outside. The room is very well organized. The two sides of the room are almost exactly symetrical. The room does not feel crowded but is still very spacious. Two paintings of mountains are also dangling on the wall of the two sides of this study.
The Study is a symbol of Confucianism. Studying, or self-cultivation, is one of the main concepts of Confucianism. Self-Cultivation is demonstrated in this room and is the key in following the Confucius Dao, which is almost entirely the opposite of the Laotzu Dao. Laotzu believes that doing as less as possible, or wuwei and connecting with nature is the key in the Dao. Confucius on the other hand, believes in doing as much as possible to improve youself while working hard to become a Junzi. The owners of a study like this one shall be an exemplary man who has the five great virtues as well as ren. He shall improve and change himself to become the best man he can be. Li should be enforced inside this study. How to sit or how to treat guests, even how this room is set up and organized should be according to Li. This study is a place for hard work after relaxing in the garden. It should be part of rectification of names. It should be a study, a place studying and self-cultivation. Confucius has influenced the Chinese people and culture thousands of years after his death. He made self-cultivation and studying an important part of China.
The concepts of Confucianism and Daoism are influencing the Chinese culture and through this process they are also getting closer and closer. The Astor Court proves this as the study has a great sense of nature. There are paintings of great mountains of China hanging on the side of the walls. There are also trees outside the back window of this room. The room is also quite organized and has simplicity, something Laotzu believed is important. The garden also used technology that were developed through hard work and self-cultivation to build the structures such as the walkway, something that Laotzu is not supportive of. Maybe because it is just too hard to choose a concept to follow, some people just started to follow both. The boundaries started to weaken. People nowadays follow both of these concepts even if they don't know it. These concepts influenced China so much that they are now a part of everyday life. They have now combined to form the Chinese culture.
Even though the boundary between Confucianism and Daoism is vague now, these two concepts still contrast to each other and are very different. The garden and the study are influenced very differently. They represents opposing main beliefs. The study represents doing as much as possible while the garden represents the opposite, doing as less as possible. The garden is a place to relax and connect with nature while the study is a place to work hard and self cultivate. Both of these places are places to follow the Dao but the garden is a place to follow the Laotzu Dao and to connect with nature while the study is a place to follow the Confucius Dao by Self-Cultivating. You must start to work hard and get work done in the study after some relaxing time at the garden enforcing Wuwei. You must change your attitude the moment you walk between the doors of the study and the garden. These two concepts represented by the garden and the study are very different but they are both needed in the Chinese culture. They are both important and can balance each other out to form a perfectly balanced life for the Chinese, who needs both studying and relaxing to be a part of their lives.
New Yorkers nowadays are fascinated by this Court as it is very interesting to see how Ancient Chinese were influenced by even more ancient Chinese in turning a study and a garden into something mysterious. They would just wonder what are inside those huge wardrobes. New Yorkers would be curious to find out more about this garden and study that are so much different than the ones we know. They are interested to find out more about the people who lives on the other side of the planet. The Astor Court gives New Yorkers the chance to walk in the shoes of a Chinese who is dirrectly influenced by the legacy of ancient beliefs. It gives an opportunity for everyone to connect with China and to see the differences between them. It is very interesting to see the one of the most important parts of the culture of China in a small garden and study inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a magnificant and unknown place that everyone would want to explore.
The Astor Court is a great living color experience to choose as it directly shows how the ancient Chinese teachings have influenced Chinese civilization. It is a great reflection on the concepts of Daoism and Confucianism we learned in class as almost all of them are applied here. You also could see the differences and similiarities of the two teachings as you make your way from the garden to the study and back. You could experience these teachings in a way that is impossible in reading. The Astor Court allows you to personally connect with Confucianism and Daoism. You could connect with nature like a Daoist for a second while the next second you find yourself self-cultivating like a Confucian. You could experienced what a Chinese would have felt about these two teachings from the quiet and peaceful garden and the well organized study. This court is like a gateway through time. It is like an entrance to the texts we studied in class. It brings you back to 15th century and makes you become a 15th century Chinese influenced by Daoism and Confucianism for a few minutes. This court is just the teachings of Confucius and Laotzu applied in reality. It is just a place where you could walk inside the teachings and concepts of Confucianism and Daoism.
The Astor Court is a magnificant place. It is a mysterious 15th century Chinese garden located in 21th century New York. It is a place where Confucianism and Daoism are represented. It is a place where the similarities and differences of Confucianism and Daoism are seen. It is a journey inside the legacy of the two concepts of Confucianism and Daoism.