If there’s one central theme of Book 7 of the Analects, it’s the importance Confucius places on the power of self-cultivation. He is so focused on what he saw as his heaven-given mission of restoring the former greatness of Zhou dynasty that he doesn’t have the time or inclination to pursue the power, wealth, fame, honors, and other trappings of success craved by his contemporaries.
Confucius doesn’t claim to have any particular talent for undertaking this mission. In 7.19, he candidly admits “I wasn’t born with innate knowledge. I simply love the past and am assiduous in seeking it there.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius on self-cultivation
Book 7 includes yet more episodes in the fractious but close relationship between Zilu and Confucius. How, and perhaps more importantly why, this most loyal of followers continued to put up with the harsh critiques of his master is a great mystery to me. There’s a fine line between a light-hearted joke and a mean-spirited barb.
When Zilu asks Confucius who he would appoint to help him if he were given command of the Three Armies in 7.10, he is of course hoping that the sage will put his name at the top of the list. Instead, Confucius takes this opportunity to give him a sharp (though colorful) rebuke for his recklessness: “I wouldn’t choose someone who wrestles tigers barehanded or swims across rivers without fearing death. But I would choose someone who approaches difficulties with due caution and achieves victories through careful planning.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: the relationship between Zilu and Confucius
Book 7 of the Analects paints a vivid portrait of Confucius striving to put the lofty principles and values he teaches his followers and students into practice in his daily life. This is a never-ending quest that causes him to constantly reflect on his inability to live up to the standards he has set for himself.
“Although my commitment is as strong as anyone’s when it comes to cultural knowledge and refinement,” he laments in 7.32, “I haven’t yet hit the target of becoming a true leader in how I conduct myself.” “How could I possibly dare to claim that I’m a man of great wisdom and goodness?” he adds in the next chapter. “All that can be said of me is that I never grow weary of learning and never get tired of teaching others.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: a vivid portrait of Confucius
What were the hopes and dreams of Confucius? What kept him plugging away despite the many setbacks he suffered during his career as a government official in his home state of Lu and his subsequent fourteen years of exile?
The first chapter of Book 7 of the Analects gives us a hint when he famously declares: “I transmit but I don’t create. I am faithful to and love the past.” On the surface, Confucius may appear to be speaking modestly about his own abilities and ambitions, but in reality he’s revealing that his ultimate dream is to restore the lost glories of the early Zhou dynasty when it was ruled by his great hero, the Duke of Zhou. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: hopes and dreams of Confucius
The greatest love that Confucius preferred to pursue rather than wealth was music (see 7.11). He is said to have been a fairly decent musician himself, and in 7.13 is described as being so enraptured by a performance of Shao music that he saw during a visit to the state of Qi that he “didn’t know the taste of meat” for three months.
Confucius didn’t just love music for its aesthetic beauty. He also saw it as the ultimate embodiment of cultural sophistication and civilization with its power to elevate people’s senses and thoughts to ever greater levels of harmony with each other and their surrounding environment. When combined with ritual, it exemplified the values that everyone could achieve if they followed the way he laid out for them. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius’s love of music
Although he grew up in relative poverty, Confucius had no interest in wealth for its own sake even if it was generated through what many would consider as legitimate business activities. Despite his close relationship with Zigong, he couldn’t resist the occasional digs at his follower’s wheeling and dealing. Many critics have even blamed him for holding back China’s economic development because of what they see as his disdain for the profit motive.
Confucius was even more critical of the rich and powerful who accumulated wealth through illegitimate means. He was particularly vociferous in his opposition to the notorious Three Families for their brutal exploitation of the common people of Lu through excessive taxation and venal corruption. This was a key bone of contention in his volatile relationship with his follower Ran Qiu, who made a fortune from serving as a steward for the powerful Ji family. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius on wealth
At a time when education was limited to members of the elite who could afford to pay for it, Confucius was genuinely radical in his willingness to teach anyone who wanted to learn from him no matter what social background he came from.
In 7.7, he declares: “I have never refused to teach anyone who has asked me to, even if they were too poor to offer no more than a token offering of a bundle of dried meat for their tuition.” In 7.28, he reprimands his followers who were reluctant to let a boy from Hu Village, the people of which were notorious for their orneriness, to approach him. “Why be so hard on him? If people make the effort to improve themselves, we should approve of their progress and ignore their previous missteps.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius on teaching
In 7.23 of the Analects, Confucius snaps back at his followers after hearing that some of them suspect he is refusing to reveal the secret sauce to his great learning and wisdom. “My friends, do you think I’m hiding something from you?” he protests. “I’m hiding nothing at all. There’s nothing I do without sharing it with you. That’s my way.”
Perhaps if they had listened more carefully to what he had to say to the them, these doubting Thomases wouldn’t have found any reasons to question the sincerity of his intentions. Book 7 of the Analects, in particular, is full of evidence of Confucius’s love of learning and teaching. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius’s love of learning and teaching
Since Book 7 of the Analects is focused on Confucius, his interactions with his followers are limited compared to the previous two books. Of the six followers that are featured, Zilu makes the most appearances with three. Yan Hui, Ran Qiu, Zigong, Gongxi Chi, and Wuma Qi are limited to one. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: by numbers