Confucius accuses

子曰:「臧文仲,其竊位者與?知柳下惠之賢而不與立也。」
Confucius said: “Zang Wenzhong stole his position! He knew that Liuxia Hui had great ability but wouldn’t share the position with him.”

Zang Wenzhong (also known as Zang Sunchen) and Liuxia Hui were both members of great patrician families in Confucius’s home state of Lu – though clearly Zang had greater political influence than Liuxia and became a high-level minister. Continue reading Confucius accuses

Best of breed

顏淵問為邦。子曰:「行夏之時,乘殷之輅,服周之冕。樂則韶舞,放鄭聲,遠佞人。鄭聲淫,佞人殆。」
When Yan Hui asked how to govern a state, Confucius said: “Observe the calendar of the Xia Dynasty; ride in the chariot of Yin Dynasty; wear the ceremonial cap of the Zhou Dynasty. As for music, follow the Coronation Hymn of Shun and the Victory Hymn of Wu. Ban the music of Zheng. Stay away from smooth talkers. The music of Zheng corrupts. Smooth talkers are dangerous.”

Far from advising his favorite disciple Yan Hui to copy slavishly from the past, Confucius is telling him to adopt only the finest traditions and practices from previous dynasties. Continue reading Best of breed

Sharpening the saw

子貢問為仁。子曰:「工欲善其事,必先利其器。居是邦也,事其大夫之賢者,友其士之仁者。」
Zigong asked how to practice goodness. Confucius said: “A craftsman who wishes to do outstanding work must first sharpen his tools. No matter which state you settle in, offer your services to the wisest ministers and make friends with others who cultivate goodness.”

There are a number of passages covering the subject of goodness in Book 15 of the Analects. This one doesn’t need that much explanation: just as a craftsman requires the sharpest tools to do his best work, you need to associate with people you can learn from in your professional and personal life in order to cultivate your character and skills.

Tangled fibers

子曰:「志士仁人,無求生以害仁,有殺身以成仁。」
Confucius said: “Men of purpose and men of goodness do not seek to live on at the expense of goodness; there are times when they will sacrifice their lives in order to make their goodness complete.”

Far from being the coherent “single thread” of learning and wisdom that Confucius claimed to have woven into his own thoughts in Chapter III of Book 15, the Analects is a messy tangle of raw cotton fibers thrown together by different people with different agendas at different times. How else to explain the glaring inconsistency between what Confucius says here and the advice he gives only two chapters back? Continue reading Tangled fibers

A question of timing

子曰:「可與言而不與之言,失人;不可與言而與之言,失言。知者不失人,亦不失言。」
Confucius said: “To fail to speak with someone who is open to what you have to say is to let the person go to waste; to speak with someone who is not open to what you have to say is to let your words go to waste. A wise person never lets people or words go to waste.”

It’s all a question of timing….

Principles or pragmatism?

子曰:「直哉史魚!邦有道如矢,邦無道如矢。君子哉蘧伯玉!邦有道則仕,邦無道則可卷而懷之。」
Confucius said: “Shi Yu is truly a man of principle! When the Way prevails in the state, he is as straight as an arrow; when the Way doesn’t prevail in the state, he is as straight as an arrow. Qu Boyu is a true leader! When the Way prevails in the state, he serves as an official; when the Way doesn’t prevail in the state, he folds up his principles and hides them in his breast.”

Shi Yu and Qu Boyu were senior officials in the state of Wei; the latter was also featured in Book 14 Chapter XXV. By comparing the behavior and character of these two men, Confucius is addressing the question of how a virtuous official should react when the state he serves is falling into decline as a result of the corruption and depravity of its ruler. Continue reading Principles or pragmatism?