Analects Book 1: on reverence

Reverence

Reverence (恭/gōng) is one of the smaller stars in Confucius’s moral firmament, and can also be translated as “respectfulness”, “solemnity” and “gravity”. It entails working hard at your studies and career and acting in a humble and serious manner when interacting with other people and attending ritual ceremonies.

In Chapter XIII of Book 1 of the Analects, the disciple Youzi ranks respectfulness “close to ritual because it means that you avoid shame and disgrace.” In other words, while there’s no denying its importance, reverence is but a first step along the road towards cultivating the characteristics of a leader (君子/jūnzǐ).

Confucius was concerned that people could easily put on a display of reverence without really meaning it. In Chapter II of Book 8 he cautions, “Reverence without ritual descends into indifference.”

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