Leadership lessons from Confucius: the essence of ritual

essence of ritual

林放問禮之本。子曰:「大哉問!禮,與其奢也,寧儉;喪,與其易也,寧戚。」
Lin Fang asked: “What is the essence of ritual?” Confucius said: “That’s a big question! For festive ceremonies, simplicity is better than extravagance; for funerals, genuine grief is better than excessive formality.” (1) (2)

There’s no need to lavish huge amounts of money on a fancy event just to impress other people. Keep things simple. Authenticity beats lavishness. Moderation trumps ostentation. Speak from your heart – not from your wallet.

When marking the passing of someone, conducting the ceremony in the right spirit is far more important than making sure that you adhere to strict guidelines. A single tear of genuine grief shows much more respect for the departed than the fake maudlin wails of professional mourners brought in for the occasion.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 4 of Book 3 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 3 here.

(1) Very little is known about Lin Fang except that he was from Lu, the home state of Confucius. His only other appearance in the Analects is in Chapter 6 of Book 3.

(2) Even today, criticisms of lavish weddings and funerals from government officials appear in Chinese media. Just like Confucius’s admonitions against ritual extravagance, they fall on deaf ears more often than not.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Beijing. You can read more about it here.

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