Tag Archives: rightness

Analects Book 2 by numbers

I’ve added a statistical analysis to my Analects Book 2 SlideShare presentation. In contrast to Book 1, Confucius appears in all the book’s chapters, with the disciples that are featured acting as foils for the sage to make his pronouncements on the subjects of governance,  leadership, filial piety, and learning. Continue reading Analects Book 2 by numbers

A false note

Zilu fell behind while traveling with Confucius. He met an old man who was carrying a basket hanging from his staff over his shoulder. Zilu asked him: “Have you seen my master?” The old man said: “You don’t toil with your four limbs, and you can’t even distinguish between the five types of grain. Who is your master?” He planted his staff in the ground and started weeding. Zilu stood respectfully, his hands clasped in front of him. The old man invited him to stay with him overnight, killed a chicken and cooked some millet for him to eat, and introduced his two sons to him. The next day, Zilu resumed his journey and reported to Confucius. Confucius said: “The man you met is a hermit.” He sent Zilu back to see the old man, but when he reached his place Zilu found that the old man had gone. Zilu said: “It is wrong to withdraw from public life. The codes that govern the rightful relationship between the old and young cannot be discarded. How can the rightful relationship between ruler and subject be discarded? You cannot disrupt the most basic human relationships just to preserve your purity. A leader takes office and performs his rightful duties even if he already knows that the Way will not prevail.”

This final allegorical tale warms up nicely with its lyrical opening scene – only to end on a false note in the final section. Zilu’s closing comments are way too harsh to ring true and have only the most tenuous of connections with the rest of the story. Indeed, it’s not even clear who Zilu is meant to be talking to at the end because in the previous section the old man had already disappeared. Continue reading A false note

Checks and balances

Zilu said: “Does a leader prize courage?” Confucius said: “A leader prizes rightness above all else. A leader who is courageous but lacking in rightness could create chaos; a petty person who is courageous but lacking in rightness could become a bandit.”

Your greatest strength often turns out to be your greatest weakness. Internal checks and balances are required. Continue reading Checks and balances

Ancient sayings

Confucius said: “‘Seeing good and pursuing it as if he was unable to reach it; seeing evil and recoiling from it as if he was scalded by boiling water’ – I have seen such people and I have heard such words said of them. ‘Living in seclusion to pursue his aspirations; doing what is right to attain the Way’ – I have heard such words, but I have never seen such people.”

It’s not clear what point Confucius is trying to make by quoting these two ancient sayings. With the second one, he may be taking a sarcastic crack at Daoist aesthetes who have retired to the hills in search of the path to enlightenment. To him, at least, escaping the everyday world no matter how depraved and corrupt it may be was exact the opposite of “doing what is right to attain the Way.”

Nine ways a leader focuses his thoughts

Confucius said: “A leader focuses his thoughts in nine ways: when looking he focuses on seeing clearly; when listening he focuses on hearing properly; in his facial expression, he focuses on looking friendly; in his demeanor, he focuses on being respectful; in his speech, he focuses on sincerity; when at his duties, he focuses on being respectful; when he has doubts, he focuses on asking questions; when angry, he focuses on the negative consequences; when faced with an opportunity for profit, he focuses on rightness.

I suppose that a list of nine makes a change from the lists of three that littered the earlier parts of Book 16. But even taking into account the conciseness of the classical Chinese text compared to the English, the list has for too many items for most people to remember. Continue reading Nine ways a leader focuses his thoughts

Leadership attributes

Confucius said: “A leader takes rightness as his essence, practices it in conformity with the rites, enacts it with humility, and faithfully brings it to fruition. This is how a leader behaves.”

Confucius said: “A leader is distressed by his own lack of ability; he is never distressed at the failure of others to recognize him.”

Confucius said: “A leader hates the thought of leaving this world without having made a name for himself.”

Confucius said: “A leader makes demands on himself; a petty person makes demands on others.”

Confucius said: “A leader is proud without being contentious and sociable without taking sides.”

Confucius said: “A leader doesn’t promote someone simply because of what they say, nor does he dismiss what is said because of the person who said it.”

Chapters XVIII to XXIII of Book 15 provide a long list of attributes that a leader should possess. Continue reading Leadership attributes

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 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