Original thought

子曰:「吾嘗終日不食,終夜不寢,以思。無益,不如學也。」
Confucius said: “I once spent a whole day without eating and a whole night without sleeping in order to think. I gained nothing from this; it was nowhere near as useful as studying.”

Probably unwittingly, this passage reveals Confucius’s greatest weakness: his lack of a capacity for original thought. Indeed, in Book 7 Chapter I, he unashamedly admits: “I transmit but I don’t create. I am faithful to and love the past.”

While drawing lessons from the past is important, the key is figuring out how to apply them in fresh new ways to meet the challenges of the present and future. No wonder that, for all the respect they showed for his great learning, all the rulers he approached in his quest for high office never saw fit to employ him.

Perhaps Confucius should have taken the advice he gave in Book 2 Chapter XV if he’d truly wanted to achieve his dream:

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.”

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