Analects Book 9 provides a rich source of quotes from Confucius on Confucius that give us some fascinating insights into his character and motivations. The show him to be a man who grew up poor and was driven by a fierce determination to better himself through continuous learning and hard work. He also displays a hint of confidence, perhaps even arrogance, in his claim that heaven had entrusted in him to preserve civilization.
“If heaven wished civilization to be destroyed, why was it entrusted to me? If heaven doesn’t wish civilization to be destroyed, what do I have to fear from the people of Kuang?”
“In my youth I was poor, so I had to learn lots of different menial skills. Is it necessary for a leader to master so many menial skills? I don’t think so.”
“Since I was never appointed to high public office, I mastered the arts.”
“Do I possess knowledge? No, I do not. When a humble farmer asked me for advice about a problem, my mind went blank; but I attacked the problem from both ends until I found the solution.”
“Rather than die among retainers, I would prefer to die in the arms of my followers. I may not receive a grand funeral, but I’ll hardly die by the roadside.”
“Serving the duke and his ministers at court; serving my elders at home; mourning the dead with proper reverence; not being troubled by drink: how could I find any of these things difficult?”
“Let’s take piling up earth to build a mound as an example: even if I stop when I only need to pile on one last basket of earth, I have still stopped. Let’s take filling a hole in the ground as another example: if I have emptied the first basket of earth, I only need to keep on emptying more in order to continue to make progress.”
I took this image at the Beijing Confucius Temple.