Analects of Confucius Book 1: Confucius on reverence


Reverence (恭/gōng) is one of the smaller stars in Confucius’s moral firmament, and can also be translated as “respectfulness”, “solemnity”, “gravity”, or simply “manners”. 

Reverence entails working hard at your studies and career and acting in a humble and serious manner when interacting with other people and attending ritual ceremonies.

In Chapter 13 of Book 1 of the Analects, the follower Youzi points out: “If your manners conform to ritual, you will be able to avoid shame and disgrace.” In other words, while there’s no denying the importance of reverence, this is but a first step along the road towards cultivating the characteristics of a leader (君子/jūnzǐ).

Confucius was concerned that people could easily put on a display of reverence without really meaning it. In Chapter 2 of Book 8 he cautions, “Reverence without ritual descends into indifference.”

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