Ritual purity

子曰:「禘自既灌而往者,吾不欲觀之矣。」
Confucius said: “Once the first libation has been performed at the sacrifice to the great imperial ancestor, I do not want to watch the rest of the ceremony.”
或問禘之說。子曰:「不知也。知其說者之於天下也,其如示諸斯乎!」指其掌。
When someone asked Confucius to explain the meaning of the sacrifice to the great imperial ancestor, he replied: “Whoever knows that would rule the world as easily as I place this here.” Then he pointed his finger towards the palm of his hand.

Confucius can’t have made too many friends in high places with his zealous pursuit of ritual purity, particularly as many of his criticisms featured thinly-veiled attacks on the members of the ruling class of Lu, In other words, the very people he was seeking to persuade to mend their ways

Even his closest disciples must have wondered from time to time whether a more pragmatic approach would have been more effective in promoting his beliefs than carping from the sidelines.

The boorish behavior Confucius displays in these two chapters must have helped cause such doubts. By flouncing out of an important ceremony and pretending not to know its meaning, he not only comes off as a bit of drama queen but also politically naïve.

Even though he may have been technically correct in his belief that the ceremony should never have been held at all because only descendants of the kings of the Zhou dynasty were allowed to carry out offerings to the imperial ancestor, he failed spectacularly in bringing it to a halt and no doubt stirred up a lot of unnecessary resentment against himself into the bargain.

No wonder he was never able to generate enough support from other people to enable him to achieve his dream of following in the footsteps of his hero the Duke of Zhou and restoring China to its former glories.

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