The Daodejing emerged at a time in Chinese history that was every bit as turbulent as the one we live in now.
During the five centuries that comprised the Spring and Autumn Period (771 to 476 BCE) and the Warring States Period (403 – 221 BCE), rulers of a veritable patchwork of feudal states and fiefdoms vied with each other for supremacy while the traditional culture and civilization of the ancient Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 771 BCE) collapsed around them. Wars were waged, armies were slaughtered, and alliances were broken almost as soon as they were forged, while the common people were left to lead miserable lives of endless poverty, back-breaking labor, and relentless suffering.
The main reason for my interest in the Analects and the Daodejing is that they focus on providing practical solutions to real-world problems.
Unlike many of the works in the Western philosophical cannon, they don’t feature any agonized searches for a universal “truth” or any promises of eternal salvation for ascribing to the “right” set of values or behaving in the “correct” manner. Instead, they are concerned with dealing with the challenges of the here and now, exploring how you can improve your character to make a greater contribution to the stability and prosperity of your family, community, and society overall.
How are the teachings of Confucius and Laozi relevant to the modern world? This is the question I have been asking myself as I have been reviewing my translations of The Analects and the Daodejing.
On one level, this is an easy question to answer. Given China’s growing global political and economic influence, it makes practical sense to learn more about the two seminal philosophical texts that provide the underpinnings of a nation that President Xi Jinping pointedly reminded President Trump yesterday has the longest uninterrupted culture in the world. What could be a more effective way of understanding China’s traditions and customs than reading two of the most influential and enduring works in world history? Continue reading Two reasons for reading the Analects and the Daodejing→
The Temple of Yan Hui may not be as large and grandiose as the Temple of Confucius, but it has a tranquil beauty that makes it well worth a visit. The temple is a fifteen-minute walk from the exit of the Kong Mansion. You can stop off there before heading on to the Kong Forest. Continue reading Temple of Yan Hui→
Book 4 provides some interesting insights into Confucius’s thinking about goodness – an ambiguous concept that even he was unable (or perhaps unwilling) to clearly define. In addition to plenty of advice on learning and the practice of filial piety, the book also features for the first time in the Analects examples of the sage’s condemnation of the profit motive – which, according to some commentators at least, not held back China’s economic development for two thousand years but also made the nation ill-prepared to fight off the invasions of the Western imperialist powers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Continue reading Analects Book 4: Resources→
Profit was a dirty word for Confucius. He strongly opposed the pursuit of personal gain or advantage, arguing that it tempted people into wrongdoing and led to social instability. Continue reading Analects Book 4: on profit→
Filial piety didn’t require blind obedience to your parents – at least not the version of it that Confucius taught. In Chapter XVIII of Book 4, he says that you may “gently remonstrate” with your mother and father if you think that they are not conducting themselves in the right manner. He does go on to caution, however, that if they choose to ignore your advice, you should “remain respectful” and not let “your efforts turn to resentment.” In the final analysis, maintaining harmony within the family is more important than being right. Continue reading Analects Book 4: on filial piety→