The main preoccupations of Hyemsur are (as it says on the label) inner peace hyem and social relations sur. It didn’t have its own views on cosmology, the ancestors, or the nature of the soul (though Syalenar did have opinions on these).
Syalenar’s answer to the questions of hyem (inner peace) and sur (social harmony) was the same: syalen, ‘not-having’ or ‘rejecting’. Our normal instincts are destructive and selfish and must be resisted with self-discipline, meditation, simplicity, and— once one’s own spiritual health is in order— compassionate assistance (phre).
Austerity helped the individual because it eliminated striving after the unnecessary, and helped society because it mitigated greed and exploitation.
With a big enough disaster, everything is subject to question, but especially all authority: kings and emperors, priests, soldiers, engineers, the Swolan fundamentalists, even the powers of parents and husbands. Syalenar preached pauʔen, ‘not-ruling’ “Those who have power should not use it; those who have not should not heed it.”
Syelanar rarely nuanced such statements— but then he had little need to; he lived almost alone in a ruined city. His disciples quickly clarified, though: the resistance he preached should be passive and largely intellectual; they would not be organizing rebellions. This was didn’t exactly appease imperial officials nor stop persecution, but strict anarchism would have been quickly rooted out.
In later years Hyemsurists might find themselves with some level of power, and struggled how to manage this. They rarely followed Syalenar’s advice not to use it; instead they advocated ruling tolerantly and humanely. For a civilization built on absolute power and conspicuous consumption, this was revolutionary enough.
The Hyemsurist impulse was always to defend the underdog. They therefore praised women, children, peasants, foreigners. This was certainly a social advance, but it was not true egalitarianism. “If you wish to learn compassion (phre), observe a woman; for simple joy in life (tsin), watch a child,” said Syalenar; but he didn’t advocate (say) gaining wisdom from them. Nonetheless there were some notable Hyemsurist female writers, the first female voices in Uytainese history.
If people couldn’t get their way by imposition (pau ‘ruling’), they attempted to do so by fighting. Social harmony thus depended both not-ruling and not-fighting (thanen). This was as much an active as a passive virtue; it might be translated ‘toleration’. Syalenar recognized that people needed to be trained to live harmoniously— though as he was essentially a hermit, his advice was generally to withdraw from a conflict, or retreat from a claim, rather than work out a compromise.
However, thanen required accepting divergent points of view, and listening to them. As a corollary, the Hyemsurist had a right to speak— an alarming notion in the absolutist southern empires. Many Hyemsurist heroes are officials who protested imperial policies, and were often persecuted as a result. This had an effect over the centuries; even non-Hyemsurists no longer adopted the entirely supine attitude of the Krwŋese empire.
If authority couldn’t be trusted, how would moral issues be decided? Through careful observation (nron—the word also includes reading) and the discussion of educated men.
This was revolutionary, in a system where ‘right’ was essentially whatever the emperor decided. That didn’t mean rightness was a matter of individual judgment (as anti-Hyemsurists alleged); it was the consensus of the educated class.
This is not our own idea of law; there was little idea of fixed laws in the southern empires. Nor was the nature of morality in question; Hyemsur and its opponents largely agreed on morality. The debate was on social relations and how rulers and ruled should conduct themselves. The imperial answer was “by whim”, but without the negative connotation—before Hyemsur, in fact, there was no principled way of saying that an emperor was whimsical or corrupt.
A favorite teaching method of Syalenar was pyauhroy or provocation. This was often elevated to a principle: to get past someone’s prejudices, their slorfen (conventionality), it was necessary to make statements that challenged and shocked. He loved paradoxes, puzzles, garden path dialogs, playing the devil’s advocate.
He took particular pleasure in teasing his scribe Purthel, an exceedingly humorless man who, when he finally understood Syalenar’s point, wrote a commentary carefully deflating the joke. A typical passage:
- A disciple asked what Syalenar thought of the Bé.
- He said, “The Bé are admirable. They are ruled by their women— even their soldiers are females! Surely women should always rule. If only Myarfai would rule me! But she isn’t willing.”
- By this the master means that the lowly have more virtues than their masters. A man’s power over his wife is no better than the emperor’s power over his subjects; both are invitations to hubris (khyai). On another occasion the master stated that one must always listen to women, except among the Bé. As authority is feminine in that region, not-ruling (pauʔen) there involves revolt against women.
Syalenar’s moral teachings focussed on the vices that, in his view, led to and followed the Krwŋese catastrophe: greed and callousness, violence and war, pride and oppression.
One of his targets was the Swolan movement. Each of its three key virtues were explicitly countered:
- Rather than han (moral purity, largely ritual and sexual), saut ‘wisdom’. That is, rules and rituals are only guidelines for the foolish; the wise man guides himself and others based on a clear and rueful understanding of human nature.
- Rather than kran (decency or virtue), phre (care, compassion). An emphasis on kran led to judgmentalism, where instead one should think how to help others.
- Rather than twan (hardiness, especially military), thanen (not-fighting, pacifism or tolerance). Syalenar had witnessed too much violence in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Krwŋ to accept even self-defense. Even a thief wasn’t to be resisted— if you own so much that it tempts others to violence, that’s more your problem than his.
Naturally enough, Hyemsurists were often accused of immorality, especially sexual excess. This was not entirely wrong, especially given the idea of pyauhroy— there were some sex scandals among the early Hyemsurists. However, excess of any kind conflicted with syalen (austerity). and the idea wasn’t to challenge morality so much as the rigid, overpious Swolanist view of it.
Syalenar came closer than anyone before him to understanding the ecological problem. He looked around Krwŋ, now mostly grassland, and concluded that man’s hubris had tried to make the country into what it was not. His analysis was wrong— he had never seen the primeval forest that once covered the region— but it was at least based on observation and a respect for the earth.
Hyemsurist aesthetics emphasized harmony with nature. There was a Hyemsur style of gardening, consisting of subtly enhancing the existing landscape and foliage, and accepting natural topography rather than imposing the geometric designs preferred by earlier Uytainese architecture.
Largely thanks to Mwenkrau, the former trader who became the movement’s organizer, Syalenar wasn’t a soon forgotten hermit, but the center of a school of philosophy, later something of a religious cult. Mwenkrau kept the disciples organized and in touch and distributed Purthel’s transcriptions and commentaries.
After the master’s death, Mwenkrau moved his base of operations to Khurhan, the closest Uytainese city, and founded a nrulso ‘study house’ there— a place for study, discussion, counseling, receiving visitors. Some of the disciples remained in Syalenar’s house, and he supported them. The only title he allowed himself was keʔram ‘assistant’, and this became the name of the head of a Hyemsurist nrulso.
Nrulso were founded in other cities; they remained independent but in frequent communication. However, there was some deference to the keʔram of Khurhan, the successors fo Mwenkrau.
Early Hyemsurists might be scholars, teachers, hermits, counselors, or officials. Counsel (thalħul) was something of a new role in Uytai: the school promised inner peace, and there were many who needed a guide to achieve it. Some of the methods were directly taken from Syalenar’s teachings; others developed out of the praxis of the first counselors (thalħulram).
The key texts of Hyemsur are five:
- Pursut nye sautram nye pham, the Book of the Sage of Pursut, a collection of Syalenar’s teachings, as recorded and commented by Purthel. (The above citation comes from this book.) Generally considered the most authoritative as it contains Syalenar’s direct words.
- Pursut nye thalkwai, the Memoirs of Pursut, really those of Purthel, including a short biography of Syalenar, and extending past his death. It contains many sentences and a few teachings of Syalenar— the grade B material, one might say, though it reveals more of the sage’s satirical wit.
- Sautram nye serthune pham, the Secret Book of the Sage, supposedly the advanced teachings of Syalenar, for centuries available only to insiders. It purports to be written by Purthel, but its style is so different that this is considered to be a polite fiction. Naturally some of the strongest anti-royalist or anti-Swolanist statements are found here, but also plenty of airy metaphysical speculation and more than the usual amount of pyauhroy.
- Hwai keʔ saut nye pham, the Book of Wisdom for Women, supposedly (but almost certainly not) written by the master’s companion Myarfai. As the title suggests, it’s aimed at women and therefore leaves out things (particularly metaphysics, dissidence, and provocation) considered less suitable for them. However, not a few men have snuck in a read, due to its simplicity of style and appealing teaching stories.
- Swaurram nye ħrinhroy, the Poems of the Wanderer, a collection of poems and aphorisms, attributed to various early masters. They are not highly didactic, and thus this is the only book with wide appeal for non-Hyemsurists.
There is a great number of commentaries, polemics, and biographies, to say nothing of general writers who happened to be Hyemsurists. Writing and debating was in fact a characteristic activity of Hyemsurists, much more than (say) meditating. The best route to enlightenment was felt to be study.
Once Syalenar had died, he of course became an uy, an ancestor, thus an object of veneration on Uytainese religion. (You don’t have to have children to be an uy, though without them you won’t be venerated for long, unless like Syalenar you have a community who consider you their particular uy.)
Myarfai continued to live in Syalenar’s house and supervised the ongoing rituals. These again followed Uytainese tradition, except that prolonged veneration was usually reserved for emperors. (Ironically, Syalenar had mocked just such extended ancestral rites; he felt that Krwŋese ancestral rites were gaudy and corrupt, with little actual veneration.)
A particularly compelling uy— Paukhel and Nyekhen were examples— would be treated something like a minor god or a Catholic saint. This happened with Syalenar, whose cult came to include rites and invocations, shrines, and trained priests and priestesses.
There wasn’t any official overlap with the network of nrulso of the philosophical school— indeed, there was sometimes hostility, as scholars felt that the cult misinterpreted the master’s teachings (and in general, philosophers believed in only minimal ancestor rites and disdained the zeal and superstition of popular veneration). Counselors however often incorporated elements of the popular cult into their practice.
The change to the Hanthal dynasty in 2031 brought the Swolanists back in favor, and for some time they persecuted Hyemsurists, who were held to encourage dissidence if not treason and rebellion. Many left, finding receptive audiences in the mercantile nations of Nyandai and Čwam and the poor rural nation of Ťrim (which welcomed something to distinguish itself from Uytai).
They were even more successful in the Beic states, which were experiencing a chaotic period that paved the way for Syalenar’s message. Thus Hɛ́nsɔ̀r became an important Beic religious and philosophical movement.
Modern Uytai is a much more progressive state, whose watchword was purpau, reform or pragmatism. Factional parliamentary politics reduced the need for a disciplined dissidence. Hyemsur remains as a philosophical tradition, though often overlaid with other, later schools. The major Arcélian civilizations have avoided exclusive religions or single adherences; thinkers usually at least make a pretense of weighing all the known schools and choosing the best ideas from each. (They don’t always make the same choices, of course, but most thinkers praise Syalenar’s idea of syalen (austerity, not-having) and his biting criticism of Krwŋese (and early Uytainese) absolutism.