The Pole Star

子曰:「為政以德,譬如北辰,居其所而眾星共之。」
Confucius said: “A ruler who governs by the power of virtue is like the Pole Star, which remains fixed in place while all the other stars orbit respectfully around it.”

Book 2 of the Analects opens with one of Confucius’s most famous sayings on leadership. The role of the leader is set a shining example to everyone through their virtue (德/dé), a term which can be extended to mean moral power. Continue reading The Pole Star

Analects of Confucius: on rightness

Rightness (義/) refers to having the moral disposition to do the right thing or act in the right way in any given situation. Alternative translations include “righteousness”, “propriety”, “morality”, “appropriateness”, and “what is right”. A large number of references to rightness can be found in the Analects. Continue reading Analects of Confucius: on rightness

Analects of Confucius: on ritual

Ritual (禮/) consists of a combination of elaborate ceremonies and unwritten rules of behavior that govern smooth social interactions. The term has also been translated as “rites”, “rules”, “rules of proprietary”, “rules of behavior”, “courtesy”, “manners”, “etiquette” or “ethics”. Numerous references to the rites can be found in The Analects. Continue reading Analects of Confucius: on ritual

Analects Book 1: Overview

Lingxing Gate, Temple of Confucius, Qufu
Lingxing Gate, Temple of Confucius, Qufu

Before you read a single word of The Analects, it is important to understand that the work comprises a collection of conversations and aphorisms rather than a manifesto. Each of its twenty books features multiple exchanges between multiple characters discussing multiple topics – much like a modern-day social media feed. There are no linear arguments based on carefully-marshaled facts that build up to a resounding conclusion. It is left to you, the reader, to pick through the various threads of the text and connect them to the others to build up their overall understanding of the teachings contained in it.
Continue reading Analects Book 1: Overview

Confucius in his own words

The Analects is a wide-ranging conversation with lots of different voices adding in their own thoughts and questions about the teachings of Confucius – though of course it is the sage himself who always seems to get in the last word.

Confucius’s comments in the Analects cover a huge variety of different topics, and reveal not just his passion for learning and upholding traditional values but also his zest for life. Read through this collection of his sayings from the book to better understand his larger-than-life personality as reflected in his own words.

Appearances in the Analects of Confucius
Book 1, Chapter I
Book 1, Chapter III
Book 1, Chapter V
Book 1, Chapter VI
Book 1, Chapter VIII
Book 1, Chapter XI
Book 1, Chapter XIV
Book 1, Chapter XV
Book 1, Chapter XVI
Book 2, Chapter I
Book 2, Chapter II
Book 2, Chapter III
Book 2, Chapter IV
Book 2, Chapter V
Book 2, Chapter VI
Book 2, Chapter VII
Book 2, Chapter VIII
Book 2, Chapter IX
Book 2, Chapter X
Book 2, Chapter XI
Book 2, Chapter XII
Book 2, Chapter XIII
Book 2, Chapter XIV
Book 2, Chapter XV
Book 2, Chapter XVI
Book 2, Chapter XVII
Book 2, Chapter XVIII
Book 2, Chapter XIX
Book 2, Chapter XX
Book 2, Chapter XXI
Book 2, Chapter XXII
Book 2, Chapter XXIII
Book 2, Chapter XXIV
Book 3, Chapter I
Book 3, Chapter II
Book 3, Chapter III
Book 3, Chapter IV
Book 3, Chapter V
Book 3, Chapter VI
Book 3, Chapter VII
Book 3, Chapter VIII
Book 3, Chapter IX
Book 3, Chapter X
Book 3, Chapter XI
Book 3, Chapter XII
Book 3, Chapter XIII
Book 3, Chapter XIV
Book 3, Chapter XV
Book 3, Chapter XVI
Book 3, Chapter XVII
Book 3, Chapter XVIII
Book 3, Chapter XIX
Book 3, Chapter XX
Book 3, Chapter XXI
Book 3, Chapter XXII
Book 3, Chapter XXIII
Book 3, Chapter XXV
Book 3, Chapter XXVI

Book 1
Chapter I
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?”

Chapter III
子曰:「巧言令色鮮矣仁。」
Confucius said: “Smooth talk and an affected manner are seldom signs of goodness.”

Chapter V
子曰:「道千乘之國,敬事而信,節用而愛人,使民以時。」
Confucius said: “To govern a medium-size country, you must pay strict attention to its affairs and fulfill your promises; be economical and love your people; and only mobilize them at the right times of the year.”

Chapter VI
子曰:「弟子入則孝,出則弟,謹而信,汎愛眾,而親仁。行有餘力,則以學文。」
Confucius said: “At home, a young man should respect his parents. Outside, he should respect his elders; talk little but truthfully; and love everyone but only associate with those who are good. If he still has time and energy to spare after all this, he can study the cultural arts.”

Chapter VIII
子曰:「君子不重,則不威,學則不固。主忠信,無友不如己者,過則勿憚改。」
Confucius said: “If a leader isn’t serious he will inspire no awe and lack a solid foundation for learning. Hold loyalty and trustworthiness as your highest principles; don’t make friends with people who are not your equal; and when you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to correct yourself.”

Chapter XI
子曰:「父在觀其志,父沒觀其行,三年無改於父之道,可謂孝矣。」
Confucius said: “When the father is alive, observe his son’s intentions. When the father is dead, watch his son’s conduct. If he has not deviated from his father’s path after three years he may be called a dutiful son.”

Chapter XIV
子曰:「君子食無求飽,居無求安,敏於事而慎於言,就有道而正焉,可謂好學也已。」
Confucius said: “A leader eats without stuffing his belly; chooses a home without demanding comfort; is quick to act but careful in what he says; and keeps the company of others who possess the Way so that he can be corrected by them. This is what it means to truly love learning.”

Chapter XV
子貢曰:「貧而無諂,富而無驕,何如?」子曰:「可也,未若貧而樂,富而好禮者也。」子貢曰:「詩云:『如切如磋,如琢如磨』,其斯之謂與?」子曰:「賜也,始可與言詩已矣,告諸往而知來者。」
Zigong said: “’Poor but not subservient; wealthy but not arrogant.’ What do you think of that?” Confucius said: “Not bad, but this would be better still: ‘Poor but content; wealthy but loves the rites.’” Zigong said: “In the Book of Songs it is said: ‘Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.’ Is this not the same idea?” Confucius said: “Wonderful, Zigong! At last I can discuss the Book of Songs with you! I only have to tell you what came before, and you can work out what comes next!”

Chapter XVI
子曰:「不患人之不己之,患不知人也。」
Confucius said: “Don’t be concerned if people fail to recognize your merits; be concerned that you may fail to recognize theirs.”

Book 2
Chapter I
子曰:「為政以德,譬如北辰,居其所而眾星共之。」
Confucius said: “A ruler who governs by the power of virtue is like the Pole Star, which remains fixed in place while all the other stars orbit respectfully around it.”

Chapter II
子曰:「詩三百,一言以蔽之,曰:思無邪。」
Confucius said: “There are three hundred poems in the Book of Songs, but the meaning of them can be summed up in a single phrase: ‘Hey, do not stray from the right path.’”

Chapter III
子曰:「道之以政,齊之以刑,民免而無恥;道之以德,齊之以禮,有恥且格。」
Confucius said: “If you govern people by laws and regulations and keep them under control through punishments, they will evade them and have no sense of shame. If you govern them by the power of virtue and keep them in line with the rites, they will develop a sense of shame and unite behind you of their own accord.”

Chapter IV
子曰:「吾十有五而志于學,三十而立,四十而不惑,五十而知天命,六十而耳順,七十而從心所欲,不踰矩。」
Confucius said: “At fifteen, I applied my mind to learning. At thirty, I set my course. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the will of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was attuned. At seventy, I followed all my heart’s desires without overstepping the line.”

Chapter V
孟懿子問孝。子曰:「無違。」樊遲御,子告之曰:「孟孫問孝於我,我對曰,『無違。』」樊遲曰:「何謂也?」子曰:「生,事之以禮;死,葬之以禮,祭之以禮。」
Meng Yizi asked Confucius about filial piety. Confucius said: “Never disobey.” While Fan Chi was driving him in his chariot, Confucius told him: “Meng Yizi asked me about filial piety and I replied: ‘Never disobey.’” Fan Chi asked: “What does that mean?” Confucius replied: “When your parents are alive, serve them according to the rites. When they die, bury them according to the rites, and make sacrifices to them according to the rites.”

Chapter VI
孟武伯問孝。子曰:「父母唯其疾之憂。」
Meng Wubo asked about filial piety. Confucius said: “The only time a son should make his parents worried is when he is sick.”

Chapter VII
子游問孝。子曰:「今之孝者,是謂能養。至於犬馬,皆能有養;不敬,何以別乎。」
Ziyou asked about filial piety. Confucius said: “These days, men regard themselves as dutiful sons simply by feeding their parents. But they also feed their dogs and horses. Unless they show their parents due respect, what’s the difference?”

Chapter VIII
子夏問孝。子曰:「色難。有事,弟子服其勞;有酒食,先生饌,曾是以為孝乎?」
Zixia asked about filial piety. Confucius said: “It is the attitude that counts. If young people just offer their help when there is work to do, or serve their elders wine and food when they need to drink and eat, how could this ever be considered as filial piety?”

Chapter IX
子曰:「吾與回言終日,不違如愚。退而省其私,亦足以發,回也不愚。」
Confucius said: “I can talk to Yan Hui all day without him ever arguing with me, as if he is stupid. But when I take a close look at how he behaves in private after he has retired from my presence, I can see that he has learned everything I have taught him. Indeed, Hui is not stupid at all.”

Chapter X
子曰:「視其所以,觀其所由,察其所安。人焉廋哉?人焉廋哉?」
Confucius said: “Observe a man’s motives, examine how he pursues them, and find out what makes him feel at peace. How then can he conceal his true character? How then can he conceal his true character?”

Chapter XI
子曰:「溫故而知新,可以為師矣。」
Confucius said: “A man who brings new meaning to the old in order to understand the new is worthy of being a teacher.”

Chapter XII
子曰:「君子不器。」
Confucius said: “A leader is not a vessel.”

Chapter XIII
子貢問君子。子曰:「先行其言,而後從之。」
Zigong asked what constitutes a leader. Confucius said: “Someone who practices what he preaches.”

Chapter XIV
子曰:「君子周而不比,小人比而不周。」
Confucius said: “A leader looks at a question from every perspective. A small-minded man looks at a question from his own perspective.”

Chapter XV
子曰:「學而不思則罔,思而不學則殆。」
Confucius said: “To study without thinking is pointless. To think without studying is perilous.”

Chapter XVI
子曰:「攻乎異端,斯害也己。」
Confucius said: “To attack a question from the wrong starting point is harmful.”

Chapter XVII
子曰:「由!誨女知之乎!知之為知之,不知為不知,是知也。」
Confucius said: “Zilu, let me teach you what knowledge is. Recognize what you know as what you know and what you don’t know as what you don’t know. That is knowledge.”

Chapter XVIII
子張學干祿。子曰:「多聞闕疑,慎言其餘,則寡尤。多見闕殆,慎行其餘,則寡悔。言寡尤,行寡悔,祿在其中矣。」
Zizhang was studying with the aim of securing an official position. Confucius said: “Listen for as much information as possible, but ignore anything that is suspect, and be cautious when talking about the rest; that way you will only rarely say anything out of place. Observe as much as possible, ignore anything that is dangerous, and be cautious about applying the rest to your actions; that way you will rarely have reason for regret. By making few mistakes in what you say and minimizing the number regrets for missteps, your career is set.”

Chapter XIX
哀公問曰:「何為則民服?」孔子對曰:「舉直錯諸枉,則民服;舉枉錯諸直,則民不服。」
Duke Ai asked: “What should I do to win the support of the people?” Confucius replied: “Promote the ethical and place them above the unethical, and the people will support you. Promote the unethical and place them above the ethical, and the people will not support you.”

Chapter XX
季康子問:「使民敬忠以勸,如之何?」子曰:「臨之以莊則敬,孝慈則忠,舉善而教不能則勸。」
Ji Kangzi asked: “What should I do to make the people respectful, loyal, and eager to follow me? Confucius said: “Treat them with dignity, and they will be respectful. Show you are a good son and a loving father, and they will be loyal. Promote the good and teach those who lack ability, and they will be eager to follow you.”

Chapter XXI
或謂孔子曰:「子奚不為政?」子曰:「書云:『孝乎惟孝,友于兄弟,施於有政。』是亦為政,奚其為為政?」
Someone asked Confucius: “Sir, why don’t you take part in government?” Confucius replied: “In the Book of Documents it says: ‘Simply by acting as a good son and being kind to your brothers, you will be contributing to the smooth running of the government.’ In doing this, you are already engaging in government; why do you need to make a conscious effort to actively take part in government?”

Chapter XXII
子曰:「人而無信,不知其可也。大車無輗,小車無軏,其何以行之哉?」
Confucius said: “I wouldn’t know what to do with someone whose word cannot be trusted. How would you pull a wagon without a yoke-bar or a chariot without a collar-bar?”

Chapter XXIII
子張問:「十世可知也?」子曰:「殷因於夏禮,所損益可知也;周因於殷禮,所損益可知也。其或繼周者,雖百世,可知也。」
Zizhang asked: “Can we predict the future ten generations from now?” Confucius said: “The Yin dynasty adopted the rites of the Xia dynasty; we know what was discarded and what was added. The Zhou dynasty adopted the rites of the Yin dynasty: we know what was discarded and what was added. If the Zhou dynasty has successors, we know what they will be like, even a hundred generations from now.”

Chapter XXIV
子曰:「非其鬼而祭之,諂也。見義不為,無勇也。」
Confucius said: “To sacrifice to spirits that don’t belong to your ancestors is presumptuous. To do nothing when rightness demands action is cowardice.”

Book 3
Chapter I
孔子謂季氏,「八佾舞於庭,是可忍也,孰不可忍也?」
When he heard that the head of the Ji Family used eight rows of dancers to perform in the ceremonies at his ancestral temple, Confucius commented: “If he is capable of that, what isn’t he capable of?”

Chapter II
三家者以雍徹。子曰:「『相維辟公,天子穆穆』,奚取於三家之堂?」
When the Three Families performed the Yong ode while the vessels were being removed at the end of their ancestral sacrifices, Confucius said: “‘The lords are in attendance, the Son of Heaven sits solemnly on his throne.’ How can such words be used in the halls of the Three Families?”

Chapter III
子曰:「人而不仁,如禮何?人而不仁,如樂何?」
Confucius said: “If a man has no goodness, what can he have to do with the rites? If a man has no goodness, what can he have to do with music?”

Chapter IV
林放問禮之本。子曰:「大哉問!禮,與其奢也,寧儉;喪,與其易也,寧戚。」
Lin Fang asked: “What is the essence of the rites?” Confucius said: “That is a big question! For festive ceremonies, simplicity is better than extravagance; for funerals, genuine grief is better than excessive formality.”

Chapter V
子曰:「夷狄之有君,不如諸夏之亡也。」
Confucius said: “The Yi and Di tribes with chieftains are not equal to the various states in our land that don’t have them.”

Chapter VI
季氏旅於泰山,子謂冉有曰:「女弗能救與?」對曰:「不能。」子曰:「嗚呼!曾謂泰山不如林放乎?」
The head of the Ji Family was about to set off to carry out a sacrifice on Mount Tai. Confucius said to Ran Qiu: “Can you not stop this?” Ran Qiu replied: “I cannot.” Confucius said: “Oh no! Has it ever been said that the spirit of Mount Tai has even less knowledge of the rites than Lin Fang?”

Chapter VII
子曰:「君子無所爭,必也射乎!揖讓而升,下而飲。其爭也君子。」
Confucius said: “A leader avoids competing with others. But if he does have to compete, it should be at archery. As he bows and exchange courtesies before the contest and enjoy drinks after it, he still remains a leader even when competing.”

Chapter VIII
子夏問曰:「巧笑倩兮,美目盼兮,素以為絢兮。何謂也?」子曰:「繪事後素。」曰:「禮後乎?」子曰:「起予者商也!始可與言詩矣。」
Zixia asked: “What do these verses mean: ‘Ah, the lovely dimples of her artful smile Ah, the black and white of her beautiful eyes! It’s on plain white silk that colors sparkle.’” Confucius said: “Painting comes after plain white silk.” Zixia said: “Are the rites also something that comes afterwards?” Confucius said: “You have opened up my eyes to the true meaning of these verses! It is only with a man like you that I can discuss the Book of Songs!”

Chapter IX
子曰:「夏禮,吾能言之,杞不足徵也;殷禮,吾能言之,宋不足徵也。文獻不足故也。足,則吾能徵之矣。」
Confucius said: “How can I talk about the rites of the Xia Dynasty? The state of Qi has not preserved sufficient evidence. How can I talk about the rites of Yin Dynasty? The state of Song has not preserved sufficient evidence. There are not enough written records and learned men; if there were, I could obtain evidence from them.”

Chapter X
子曰:「禘自既灌而往者,吾不欲觀之矣。」
Confucius said: “After the opening libation has been performed at the sacrifice to the great imperial ancestor, I have no desire to watch the rest of the ceremony.”

Chapter XI
或問禘之說。子曰:「不知也。知其說者之於天下也,其如示諸斯乎!」指其掌。
When someone asked about the meaning of the sacrifice to the great imperial ancestor, Confucius replied: “I do not know. Anyone who knows that would rule the world as easily as I can put this here.” Then he pointed his finger towards the palm of his hand.

Chapter XII
祭如在,祭神如神在。子曰:「吾不與祭,如不祭。」
Sacrifice requires presence: you should sacrifice to the spirits as if they are there. Confucius said: “If I am not fully present at the sacrifice, it’s as if I didn’t attend the sacrifice at all.”

Chapter XIII
王孫賈問曰:「與其媚於奧,寧媚於灶,何謂也?」子曰:「不然,獲罪於天,吾所禱也。」
Wangsun Jia asked: “What does this saying mean: ‘Better pray to the kitchen god rather than the house god.’?” Confucius said: “This is nonsense. If you sin against Heaven, you have no god you can pray to.”

Chapter XIV
子曰:「周監於二代,郁郁乎文哉!吾從周。」
Confucius said: “The Zhou dynasty modeled itself upon the two previous dynasties. What a great civilization! I follow the Zhou.”

Chapter XV
子入太廟,每事問。或曰:「孰謂鄹人之子知禮乎?入太廟,每事問。」子聞之,曰:「是禮也。」
When Confucius visited the Grand Ancestral Temple, he asked about everything that was happening there. Someone said: “Who said this guy was an expert on the rites? When he visited the Grand Ancestral Temple, he had to ask about everything that was happening.” Hearing this, Confucius said: “Exactly, this is the rites.”

Chapter XVI
子曰:「射不主皮,為力不同科,古之道也。」
Confucius said: “In archery, it does not matter whether you pierce the target, because archers may have different levels of strength. This was the way of the ancients.”

Chapter XVII
子貢欲去告朔之餼羊。子曰:「賜也!爾愛其羊,我愛其禮。」
Zigong wished to do away with the sacrifice of a sheep for the ceremony welcoming the new moon. Confucius said: “You love the sheep; I love the rites.”

Chapter XVIII
子曰:「事君盡禮,人以為諂也。」
Confucius said: “When someone serves his lord in full accordance with the rites, people regard him as a sycophant.”

Chapter XIX
定公問:「君使臣,臣事君,如之何?」孔子對曰:「君使臣以禮,臣事君以忠。」
Duke Ding asked: “How should a lord treat his ministers? How should ministers serve their lord?” Confucius replied: “A lord should treat his ministers in accordance with the rites; ministers should serve their lord with loyalty.”

Chapter XX
子曰:「關睢,樂而不淫,哀而不傷。」
Confucius said: “The first poem in the Book of Songs is joyful without being wanton and sad without being painful.”

Chapter XXI
哀公問社於宰我。宰我對曰:「夏后氏以松,殷人以柏,周人以栗,曰,使民戰栗。」子聞之,曰:「成事不說,遂事不諫,既往不咎。」
Duke Ai asked which wood should be used for the altar of the spirits of the earth. Zai Yu replied: “The men of Xia used pine; the men of Yin used cypress; the men of Zhou used chestnut, for they said the people should fear.” When Confucius heard of this, he said: “You do not explain away what has already been done; you do not argue about affairs that have already been concluded; you do not condemn what has already happened.”

Chapter XXII
子曰:「管仲之器小哉。」或曰:「管仲儉乎?」曰:「管氏有三歸,官事不攝,焉得儉?然則管仲知禮乎?」曰:「邦君樹塞門,管氏亦樹塞門。邦君為兩君之好,有反坫,管氏亦有反坫。管氏而知禮,孰不知禮?」
Confucius said: “Guan Zhong was a man of truly mediocre capabilities.” Someone objected: “Wasn’t Guan Zhong frugal?” Confucius replied: “Guan Zhong had three households, each one staffed by a huge retinue. How could he be called frugal?” “But didn’t he know the rites?” “Even though only the ruler of a state can place a screen to mask the view of his gate, he also had one installed. Even though only the ruler of a state can use a special stand to place his inverted cup on when meeting with another ruler, Guan Zhong had one too. If you say Guan Zhong knew the rites, then who doesn’t know them?”

Chapter XXIII
子語魯大師樂,曰:「樂其可知也:始作,翕如也;從之,純如也,皦如也,繹如也,以成。」
Confucius was talking about music with the music master of Lu. He said: “We can know this much about music: It begins with everyone trying to play together; when it gets in full swing it flows harmoniously, clearly, and continuously until it reaches the end.”

Chapter XXV
子謂韶,「盡美矣,又盡善也。」謂武,「盡美矣,未盡善也。」
Confucius described the music of the Emperor Shun as being perfectly beautiful and perfectly good and the music of King Wu as being perfectly beautiful but not perfectly good.

Chapter XXVI
子曰:「居上不寬,為禮不敬,臨喪不哀,吾何以觀之哉?」
Confucius said: “How can I bear to even contemplate a person who lacks tolerance when in high office, reverence when performing the rites, and grief when in mourning?”