A dark place

Confucius said: “I have never seen a person who truly loves goodness and truly detests evil. A person who truly loves goodness would place nothing above it; a person who truly detests evil would practice goodness in such a way that he would allow no evil to enter him. Is there anyone with the ability to devote all his strength to goodness for a single day? I have never seen anyone whose strength is not sufficient. There may be people who do not have even the small amount of strength it takes, but I have never seen them.”

Confucius was usually an optimist about people’s ability to cultivate their capacity for goodness if they received the right guidance and teaching. Yet here he seems to be in an uncharacteristically dark place, arguing that even if people know what goodness is they don’t have the will to act on it even “for a single day”. Continue reading A dark place

The right thing to do

Confucius said: “Wealth and status are what people desire; but if they can only obtain them through improper ways, they should not pursue them. Poverty and obscurity are what people detest; but if they can only escape from them through improper ways, they should accept them. If a leader abandons goodness, how can he live up to that name? A leader never abandons goodness, even for as long as it takes to eat a single meal; in moments of haste and confusion he still stays true to it.”

A leader pursues goodness as an end in itself, not because they will receive any material or social benefits but because it is the right thing to do.

Border encounter

A border official at the town of Yi requested a meeting with Confucius. He said: “Whenever a gentleman has come to these parts, I have never failed to meet him.” The disciples arranged the meeting, and coming out of it the official said: “Sirs, why worry about his dismissal? The world has been without the Way for a long while. Heaven is going to use your master like the wooden clapper of a bell.”

This encounter is generally understood to have taken place when Confucius left the state of Lu for exile in in 497 BC after supporting the failed attempt by Duke Ding to raze the fortified city walls of the Three Families. Continue reading Border encounter

A jarring statement

Confucius said: “Only a truly good person can admire people and detest people.”

This is quite a jarring statement to the modern ear. To Confucius, goodness doesn’t equate to tolerance. It means being able to dispassionately discern the good and the bad in people. But, and it’s a big but, only for the right reasons without letting any emotional reactions cloud your judgment.

Thick and thin

Confucius said: “People who aren’t imbued with goodness cannot endure adversity or enjoy happiness for long. People who are imbued with goodness find contentment in it; people who think they are clever only pursue goodness if they believe they will profit from it.”

Goodness is much more than being kind to other people. It is a state of being that you have internalized so thoroughly that you effortlessly stick to it through thick and thin without having to even think about it. Continue reading Thick and thin