Spiritual guidance

Confucius said: “To sacrifice to spirits that don’t belong to your ancestors is presumptuous. To do nothing when rightness demands action is cowardice.”

There is some debate over whether the character 鬼 (guǐ) means ancestral spirits or gods. Whatever the case, the meaning of Confucius’s admonition is clear: you should only worship the gods of your own land and the ancestral spirits of your own family.

Some commentators speculate that this chapter is closely linked to Chapter VI of Book 3. According to this interpretation, in the first sentence Confucius is criticizing the head of the Ji family for being “presumptuous” in carrying out a sacrifice on Mount Tai, the most sacred mountain in China, because only the feudal ruler of the state of Lu was allowed to do this.

In the second one, Confucius goes on to admonish his disciple Ran Qiu for his “cowardice” in failing to use his influence with the Ji family stop this flagrant abuse of the rites.

The head of the Ji family was about to set off to carry out a sacrifice on Mount Tai. Confucius said to Ran Qiu: “Can you not stop this?” Ran Qiu replied: “I cannot.” Confucius said: “Oh no! Has it ever been said that the spirit of Mount Tai has even less knowledge of the rites than Lin Fang?”

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