Tag Archives: rites

The final chapter

子曰:「不知命,無以為君子也。不知禮,無以立也。不知言,無以知人也。」
Confucius said: “If you don’t understand fate you cannot become a leader. If you don’t understand the rites, you cannot become a complete person. If you don’t understand the meaning of words, you cannot understand people.”

The Analects finishes with three final nuggets of advice for an aspiring leader. Learn to focus on what you can control rather than concerning yourself with the vagaries of fate. Learn how to behave appropriately in order to make a full contribution to society. And learn how to judge the true character of other people by knowing when they are speaking truthfully or lying. Continue reading The final chapter

Venting their spleen

子貢曰:「君子亦有惡乎?」子曰:「有惡。惡稱人之惡者,惡居下流而訕上者,惡勇而無禮者,惡果敢而窒者。」曰:「賜也亦有惡乎?」「惡徼以為知者,惡不孫以為勇者,惡訐以為直者。」
Zigong said: “Does a leader have things that he can’t stand?” Confucius said: “Yes. He can’t stand those who point out the evils in others. He can’t stand those in inferior positions who slander their superiors. He can’t stand those whose courage is not tempered by the rites. He can’t stand those who are impulsive and stubborn.” Confucius continued. “Do you have things that you can’t stand?” “I can’t stand those who pretend to be learned by plagiarizing. I can’t stand those who pretend to be brave by acting arrogant. I can’t stand those who pretend to be frank by being malicious.”

Confucius and Zigong certainly don’t hesitate to vent their spleen on people who act in a hypocritical fashion. They have no time for the backstabbers who stir the pot with their unwarranted criticism of others or the phonies who mask their ignorance and weakness by pretending to be what they are not. Continue reading Venting their spleen

Three years of mourning

宰我問:「三年之喪,期已久矣!君子三年不為禮,禮必壞;三年不為樂,樂必崩。舊穀既沒,新穀既升;鑽燧改火,期可已矣。」子曰:「食夫稻,衣夫錦,於女安乎?」曰:「安!」「女安則為之。夫君子之居喪,食旨不甘,聞樂不樂,居處不安,故不為也。今女安,則為之。」宰我出。子曰:「予之不仁也!子生三年,然後免於父母之懷。夫三年之喪,天下之通喪也;予也,有三年之愛於其父母乎?」
Zai Yu asked: “Three years of mourning for your parents: this is a long time. If a leader doesn’t practice the rites for three years, the rites are sure to decay; if he doesn’t practice music for three years, music is sure to collapse. As the grain from last year’s crop is used up, grain from this year’s crop ripens, and the flint for lighting the fires is changed with each season. One year of mourning is surely enough.” Confucius said: “Would you be comfortable eating your fine food and wearing your fine clothes then?” “Absolutely.” “In that case, go ahead! When a leader is in mourning fine food is tasteless to him, music offers him no pleasure, and the comforts of home give him no peace, so he prefers to do without these pleasures. But if you think you will be able to enjoy them, go ahead.” Zai Yu left. Confucius said: “Zai Yu has no goodness! During the first three years after a child is born, he doesn’t leave the arms of his parents. Three years of mourning is a custom that is followed throughout the world. Didn’t Zai Yu receive three years of love from his parents?”

The three-year mourning period after the death of a parent was a tradition from the Zhou Dynasty, though it must have been honored significantly more in breach rather than in practice. Even sons from the richest and most powerful of families would have found it extremely difficult to take so much time out of their official, military, or family responsibilities – unless of course they wanted to establish a reputation as a beacon of morality or needed to spend some time in the background to cook up some nefarious scheme to further their interests. Continue reading Three years of mourning

More than just jade and silk

子曰:「禮云禮云,玉帛云乎哉?樂云樂云,鐘鼓云乎哉?」
Confucius said: “The rites, the rites, surely there is more to them than just jade and silk! Music, music, surely there is more to it than just bells and drums!”

Confucius regarded ritual ceremonies and music as the ultimate embodiment of civilization and tradition, and urged his contemporaries to treat them with due sincerity and respect. Continue reading More than just jade and silk

Fatherly advice

陳亢問於伯魚曰:「子亦有異聞乎?」對曰:「未也。嘗獨立,鯉趨而過庭。曰:『學詩乎?』對曰:『未也。』『不學詩,無以言。』鯉退而學詩。他日,又獨立,鯉趨而過庭。曰:『學禮乎?』對曰:『未也。』『不學禮,無以立。』鯉退而學禮。聞斯二者。」陳亢退而喜曰:「問一得三,聞詩、聞禮,又聞君子之遠其子也。」
Chen Gang asked Confucius’s son Boyu: “Has your father given you any special teaching?” Boyu replied: “No, he hasn’t. Once, when he was standing on his own and I was hurrying across the courtyard, he asked me: ‘Have you studied the Book of Songs?’ I replied: ‘Not yet.’ He said: ‘If you don’t study the Book of Songs, you won’t be able to speak.’ I retired and studied the Book of Songs. On another day, when he was again standing on his own and I was hurrying across the courtyard, he asked me: ‘Have you studied the rites?’ I replied: ‘Not yet.’ He said: ‘If you don’t study the rites, you won’t be able to take your place in society.’ I retired and studied the rites. These are the two lessons I received from him.” Chen Gang left delighted and said: “I asked one thing and learned three. I learned about the Book of Songs, I learned about the rites, and I learned how a leader keeps his distance from his son.”

This is only the second reference in the Analects to Confucius’s son Boyu, or Kong Li (孔鲤) as he is more formally known. Continue reading Fatherly advice

All the threes

孔子曰:「益者三友,損者三友。友直,友諒,友多聞,益矣。友便辟,友善柔,友便佞,損矣。」
Confucius said: “Three kinds of friends are beneficial to you; three kinds of friends are harmful to you. Friends who are straightforward, sincere, and wise are beneficial. Friends who are devious, insincere, and superficial are harmful.”

孔子曰:「益者三樂,損者三樂。樂節禮樂,樂道人之善,樂多賢友,益矣。樂驕樂,樂佚遊,樂宴樂,損矣。」
Confucius said: “Three kinds of pleasure are beneficial to you; three kinds of pleasure are harmful to you. The pleasure of performing the rites and music properly, the pleasure of praising the qualities of other people, and the pleasure of having many wise friends; these are all beneficial. The pleasure of wild extravagance, the pleasure of idle wandering, the pleasure of lavish feasting; these are all harmful.”

These two passages are very formulaic with their forced symmetry, but useful advice nonetheless: choose your friends wisely and enjoy simple and fulfilling pleasures rather than extravagant and empty ones.

When the Way prevails in the world

When the emperor sits on his throne radiating virtue, harmony is ensured at all levels of the social hierarchy. However, when the emperor fails in his duty, the feudal lords, grand families, and junior officials scramble for influence and power. Once they gain control, it’s only a matter of time before the state collapses and chaos ensues. Continue reading When the Way prevails in the world

Confucius on the exercise of power

子曰:「知及之,仁不能守之,雖得之,必失之。知及之,仁能守之,不莊以 之,則民不敬。知及之,仁能守之,莊以 之,動之不以禮,未善也。」
Confucius said: “Power acquired through knowledge that cannot be maintained through goodness will inevitably be lost. Power acquired through knowledge and maintained through goodness will not be respected by the people if it is not exerted with dignity. Power acquired through knowledge, maintained through goodness, and exerted with dignity is still not perfect if it is not implemented in accordance with the rites.”

There is extensive debate over the meaning if “it” (之/zhī) in this passage. I have translated it as “power” because it seems to make the most sense in the overall context. Others render it as “official position” or “the Way.” Continue reading Confucius on the exercise of power

Leadership attributes

子曰:「君子義以為質,禮以行之,孫以出之,信以成之,君子哉!」
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.”

子曰:「君子病無能焉,不病人之不己知也。」
Confucius said: “A leader is distressed by his own lack of ability; he is never distressed at the failure of others to recognize him.”

子曰:「君子疾沒世而名不稱焉。」
Confucius said: “A leader hates the thought of leaving this world without having made a name for himself.”

子曰:「君子求諸己,小人求諸人。」
Confucius said: “A leader makes demands on himself; a petty person makes demands on others.”

子曰:「君子矜而不爭,群而不黨。」
Confucius said: “A leader is proud without being contentious and sociable without taking sides.”

子曰:「君子不以言舉人,不以人廢言。」
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