Daodejing: enough is enough

Know when enough is enough. Stay humble no matter how successful you are. Pride comes before the fall.

Holding a cup while filling it to the brim,
Is not as good as stopping in time;
Hammering a blade until it is sharp,
Will not preserve its edge for long.
When your hall is stuffed with gold and jade,
Nobody will be able to protect it.
When riches and honors lead to arrogance;
Disaster will inevitably follow;
Retire when you have accomplished your goal;
This is the way of heaven.

Daodejing: flow like water

The highest good is like water;
Water brings good to all things without contending with them;
It settles in places that people disdain;
Thus, it is akin to the way.
In choosing your home, it is the location that counts;
In cultivating your mind, it is depth that counts;
In dealing with others, it is goodness that counts;
In speaking, it is good faith that counts;
In governing, it is order that counts;
In handling affairs, it is ability that counts;
In action, it is timing that counts.
By not contending with others,
You won’t be singled out for reproach.

The Dao is like water. It sustains life without intending to.  Continue reading Daodejing: flow like water

Youzi speaks

Chapter Two of Book One of the Analects features the first quotation from one of Confucius’s disciples. Youzi (有子), or Zi Ruo (子若) or You Ruo (有若) to use his courtesy and given names, apparently bore such a remarkable physical resemblance to the sage that for a short period after Confucius’s death he was regarded as his successor. Unfortunately for Youzi, however, his talents didn’t match those as of the sage and he went off to set up his own school after losing the confidence of Confucius’s other remaining disciples. Continue reading Youzi speaks

Daodejing: the more you give

The more you give, the more you get back. I’m not sure I even need to add that.

Heaven is infinite and earth is eternal;
The reason why they last so long is because they do not exist for themselves;
Thus, they can continue to endure.
That is why the sage:
Places himself at the back, but finds himself at the front;
Places himself on the outside, but remains present.
Isn’t it because he doesn’t think of himself,
That he is able to achieve his private ends?

Narrative arcs and social media fodder

Youzi said: “A man who respects his parents and elders is not likely to question the authority of his superiors. Such a man will never provoke disorder. A leader focuses on the fundamentals; once these are established the Way appears. Respect for parents and elders constitutes the essence of goodness.”

One of the pleasures – and frustrations – of reading the Analects is that it has no coherent narrative arc and instead comprises a random collection of pithy sayings from the sage and his disciples as well as some curt mini-dialogs between them. Continue reading Narrative arcs and social media fodder

The joy of learning

Confucius said: “To learn something and apply it at the appropriate time: isn’t this wonderful? To have friends visit from afar: isn’t this delightful? To remain unconcerned when others don’t recognize your talents: isn’t this the mark of a leader?”

Even though it’s only three sentences long, the first chapter of the Analects does an admirable job of introducing two of the most important themes of Confucian thought: namely, the importance of learning and guidance on how a leader (君子/ jūnzǐ) should behave. Continue reading The joy of learning