There’s a strong air of frustration and despair for Confucius in Book 5 of the Analects. This is most graphically illustrated in 5.27, when he metaphorically throws his hands up in the air and declares: “I give up! I have yet to meet a person capable of seeing their own faults and taking themselves to task in the court of their own heart.”
It’s as if all his hard work in guiding his followers like Zigong, Zilu, and most notably Zai Yu have been for nothing. Despite all his teaching and cajoling, none of them are cut out to achieve the gold standard of goodness. Not even Confucius himself is able to equal the only one of his followers who hits the mark, the beatific Yan Hui.
None of the historical or contemporary figures he points to meet the gold standard either. Despite a few honorable mentions such as the great statesman Zichan and the dynamic duo of filial devotion Boyi and Shuqi, he considers most of the role models that people point to as better examples of how not to behave rather than how to conduct yourself.
Of course, there are a few exceptions like Qidiao Kai in 5.6 and Zuoqiu Ming in 5.25, but overall the pickings are slim. No wonder he decides in 5.22 that it’s time to go home and focus his efforts on preparing the younger generation of the state of Lu who are “full of fire and bursting with talent” but with “no idea how to use it.”
Unfortunately for Confucius, he had to wait another seven years before he was finally able to return home at the ripe old age of 68 – far too late mobilize the youth of Lu to return the shattered Zhou dynasty to its glory days.
I took this image at the Shanghai Confucius Temple. You can read more about it here.