Live life to the full

Zizhang said: “If a man fails to embrace virtue with all his spirit and fails to follow the Way with all his heart, does it really matter whether he exists or not?”

The only way for people to make an impact on the world is to live life to the full. You can’t be half-pregnant: if you’re not going to fully commit yourself to something, you won’t achieve any meaningful results.

Let battle commence!

Zizhang said: “A scholar-official who is ready to give his life when faced with danger; who does the right thing when presented with an opportunity of profit; who shows due reverence when carrying out a sacrifice, and who truly grieves when in mourning. Such a man is acceptable.”

Confucius doesn’t appear in Book 19 of the Analects at all. He is already dead, and his disciples have started battling it out for control of his legacy by putting their own spin on his teachings. Continue reading Let battle commence!

Eight scholar-officials

The Zhou Dynasty had eight scholar-officials: Boda, Boshi, Zhongtu, Zhonghu, Shuye, Shuxia, Jisui, and Jigua.

Book 18 of the Analects finishes on an enigmatic note. Nobody knows who these men were or what they did to merit being included in such a list of presumably exemplary scholar-officials. Continue reading Eight scholar-officials

The Duke of Zhou speaks

The Duke of Zhou said to his son, the Duke of Lu: “A leader does not neglect his relatives, nor does he give his ministers the opportunity to complain that his advice is not heeded. He does not dismiss old retainers without serious cause, nor does he demand all-round perfection in a single individual.”

The Duke of Zhou sent his eldest son Bo Qin (伯禽) to establish Confucius’s home state of Lu as part of his efforts to expand the domains of the Zhou Dynasty. He is said to have ruled there as the Duke of Zhou from 1042 to 997 BC. Continue reading The Duke of Zhou speaks

The musicians flee

大師摯適齊,亞飯干適楚,三飯繚適蔡,四飯缺適秦;鼓方叔,入於河;播 武,入於漢;少師陽,擊磬襄,入於海。
Zhi, the grand music master, left for Qi. Guan, musician for the second course, left for Chu. Liao, musician for the third course, left for Cai. Que, musician for the fourth course, left for Qin. Fangshi, the drummer, crossed the river. Wu, the hand drummer, crossed the Han River. Yang, the grand music master’s deputy, and Xiang, who played the stone chimes, crossed the sea.

In all likelihood this chapter was added to the original text of the Analects at a later date. The musicians listed are believed to have worked at the court of Duke Ai, who was the ruler of the state of the Lu at the time of Confucius’s death. Like their counterparts during the collapse of the Shang dynasty, they are said to have fled the court in despair at the corruption and depravity of their ruler. Continue reading The musicians flee

Men who withdrew from the world

Men who withdrew from the world: Boyi, Shuqi, Yuzhong, Yiyi, Zhuzhang, Liuxia Hui, Shaolian. Confucius said: “They never compromised their ideals and never allowed themselves to be disgraced. Doesn’t this sum up the characters of Boyi and Shuqi?” On Liuxia Hui and Shaolian, he commented: “They compromised their ideals and allowed themselves to be disgraced, but they spoke with reason and acted with prudence.” On Yuzhong and Yiyi, he said. “They lived as hermits and spoke freely. They remained pure in body and retired from public life discretely. As for me, I am different: I have no rules about what is permissible or not.”

The meaning of this passage is quite obscure, but it appears that each of the pairs of men that Confucius names followed a strict moral code that compelled them to withdraw from public life and in one case even commit suicide. Continue reading Men who withdrew from the world

A false note

Zilu fell behind while traveling with Confucius. He met an old man who was carrying a basket hanging from his staff over his shoulder. Zilu asked him: “Have you seen my master?” The old man said: “You don’t toil with your four limbs, and you can’t even distinguish between the five types of grain. Who is your master?” He planted his staff in the ground and started weeding. Zilu stood respectfully, his hands clasped in front of him. The old man invited him to stay with him overnight, killed a chicken and cooked some millet for him to eat, and introduced his two sons to him. The next day, Zilu resumed his journey and reported to Confucius. Confucius said: “The man you met is a hermit.” He sent Zilu back to see the old man, but when he reached his place Zilu found that the old man had gone. Zilu said: “It is wrong to withdraw from public life. The codes that govern the rightful relationship between the old and young cannot be discarded. How can the rightful relationship between ruler and subject be discarded? You cannot disrupt the most basic human relationships just to preserve your purity. A leader takes office and performs his rightful duties even if he already knows that the Way will not prevail.”

This final allegorical tale warms up nicely with its lyrical opening scene – only to end on a false note in the final section. Zilu’s closing comments are way too harsh to ring true and have only the most tenuous of connections with the rest of the story. Indeed, it’s not even clear who Zilu is meant to be talking to at the end because in the previous section the old man had already disappeared. Continue reading A false note

The birds and the beasts

Changju and Jieni were plowing the fields together. Confucius passed by and sent Zilu to ask where the ford was. Changju said: “Who is in the chariot?” Zilu said: “Confucius.” “Confucius from Lu?” “Yes.” “Then he already knows where the ford is.” Zilu then asked Jieni the same question. He replied: “Who are you?” “I am Zilu.” “The disciple of Confucius from Lu?” “Yes.” “The whole world is inundated by the same flood. Who can reverse its flow? Instead of following someone who keeps fleeing from one man to the next, wouldn’t you be better off following a man who has forsaken the world?” All the while he kept on harrowing the field without stopping. Zilu went back and reported the incident to Confucius. With a furrowed brow, Confucius sighed: “I can’t associate with the birds and beasts. If I can’t associate with men, who can I associate with? If the world were following the Way, I would not have to try to reform it.”

A well-aimed barb from Jieni, one of the two Daoist hermits that Zilu encounters on his wanderings: why is he hanging on to Confucius’s coat tails as he conducts his fruitless quest to find an employer? Wouldn’t Zilu, and by extension Confucius, be better off giving up their worldly cares and retiring to the countryside? Continue reading The birds and the beasts