Daodejing: enough is enough

Know when enough is enough. Stay humble no matter how successful you are. Pride comes before the fall.

「持而盈之,不如其已;揣而銳之,不可長保;金玉滿堂,莫之能守;富貴而驕,自遺其咎。功成身退,天之道」
Holding a cup while filling it to the brim,
Is not as good as stopping in time;
Hammering a blade until it is sharp,
Will not preserve its edge for long.
When your hall is stuffed with gold and jade,
Nobody will be able to protect it.
When riches and honors lead to arrogance;
Disaster will inevitably follow;
Retire when you have accomplished your goal;
This is the way of heaven.

Daodejing: flow like water

「上善若水,水善利萬物而不爭,處眾人之所惡,故幾於道。居善地,心善淵、與善仁、言善信、正善治、事善能、動善時。夫唯不爭,故無尤」
The highest good is like water;
Water brings good to all things without contending with them;
It settles in places that people disdain;
Thus, it is akin to the way.
In choosing your home, it is the location that counts;
In cultivating your mind, it is depth that counts;
In dealing with others, it is goodness that counts;
In speaking, it is good faith that counts;
In governing, it is order that counts;
In handling affairs, it is ability that counts;
In action, it is timing that counts.
By not contending with others,
You won’t be singled out for reproach.

The Dao is like water. It sustains life without intending to.  Continue reading Daodejing: flow like water

Youzi speaks

Chapter Two of Book One of the Analects features the first quotation from one of Confucius’s disciples. Youzi (有子), or Zi Ruo (子若) or You Ruo (有若) to use his courtesy and given names, apparently bore such a remarkable physical resemblance to the sage that for a short period after Confucius’s death he was regarded as his successor. Unfortunately for Youzi, however, his talents didn’t match those as of the sage and he went off to set up his own school after losing the confidence of Confucius’s other remaining disciples. Continue reading Youzi speaks

Daodejing: the more you give

The more you give, the more you get back. I’m not sure I even need to add that.

「天長地久,天地所以長且久者,以其不自生,故能長生。是以聖人後其身而身先,外其身而身存。非以其無私耶!故能成其私。」
Heaven is infinite and earth is eternal;
The reason why they last so long is because they do not exist for themselves;
Thus, they can continue to endure.
That is why the sage:
Places himself at the back, but finds himself at the front;
Places himself on the outside, but remains present.
Isn’t it because he doesn’t think of himself,
That he is able to achieve his private ends?

Narrative arcs and social media fodder

有子曰:「其為人也孝弟,而好犯上者,鮮矣;不好犯上,而好作亂者,未之有也。君子務本,本立而道生。孝弟也者,其為仁之本與!」
Youzi said: “A man who respects his parents and elders is not likely to question the authority of his superiors. Such a man will never provoke disorder. A leader focuses on the fundamentals; once these are established the Way appears. Respect for parents and elders constitutes the essence of goodness.”

One of the pleasures – and frustrations – of reading the Analects is that it has no coherent narrative arc and instead comprises a random collection of pithy sayings from the sage and his disciples as well as some curt mini-dialogs between them. Continue reading Narrative arcs and social media fodder

The joy of learning

子曰:「學而時習之,不亦說乎?有朋自遠方來,不亦樂乎?人不知而不慍,不亦君子乎?」
Confucius said: “To learn something and apply it at the appropriate time: isn’t this wonderful? To have friends visit from afar: isn’t this delightful? To remain unconcerned when others don’t recognize your talents: isn’t this the mark of a leader?”

Even though it’s only three sentences long, the first chapter of the Analects does an admirable job of introducing two of the most important themes of Confucian thought: namely, the importance of learning and guidance on how a leader (君子/ jūnzǐ) should behave. Continue reading The joy of learning