Book 6 of the Analects continues along the same lines as Book 5 with more comments from Confucius about his followers and historical and contemporary figures. 15 followers, 7 contemporary figures, and the legendary sage kings Yao and Shun are featured.
The followers Ran Yong, Ran Qiu, and Yan Hui each receive three mentions, while Zilu and Zigong get two. All the others are only featured once. Among these, Yuan Xian, Min Ziqian, Ran Geng (Boniu), and Tantai Mieming make their debut in the Analects.
Duke Ai, the ruler of the state of Lu, and Ji Kangzi, the chief minister and real power behind its throne, are probably the best-known of the contemporary figures featured in the book. However, in terms of notoriety, Nanzi, the allegedly corrupt and decadent consort of Duke Ling of Wei, and Song Chao, her alleged lover and perhaps even brother, beat them hands down. The Daoist recluse Zisang Bozi, the general Meng Zhifan, and the Wei minister Zhu Tuo make up the rest.
The nature of goodness (仁/rén) is one of the most important themes in the book. When the follower Fan Chi asks Confucius what goodness is in 6.22, Confucius tells him: “A good person is first in line to confront difficulties and last in line to collect rewards. This is goodness.” In a conversation with Zigong in 6.30, Confucius concludes that “standing in other people’s shoes” means that someone is “on the right track to goodness.”
The nature of wisdom (知/zhī) is a second key theme in the book. Indeed, it is inextricably linked with goodness. In 6.22, Confucius tells Fan Chi: “Do what is right for the common people; respect the spirits and gods but keep them at a distance. This is wisdom.” In 6.23, he adds “The wise love water, the good love mountains. The wise are active, the good are tranquil. The wise are joyful, the good enjoy long life.”
Another significant theme that Confucius hammers away at is the importance of following his way (道/dào). In 6.17, he asks: “Who would leave a house except through the doorway? Why is it that nobody follows the way?” In 6.19, he promises: “If you take the right path, you’ll enjoy a happy life.” In the following chapter, he adds: “Those who know the way are not the equal of those who love it; those who love the way are not the equal of those who take joy in it.”
The fourth major theme that hangs over the book is the vagaries of fate. In 6.10, Confucius laments the impending death of his follower Ran Geng (Boniu): “He is dying. Such is fate, alas! That such a man should have an illness like this!” When Duke Ai asks him which of his followers love learning in 6.3, he responds: ““There was Yan Hui who loved learning; he never vented his anger; he never made the same mistake again. Sadly, his life was cut short and he died. I have not heard of anyone else with such a love of learning.”
For all his knowledge and love of the way, Confucius still can’t immunize himself from the cruelty of fate.