Given the turbulent times that Confucius lived in, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there are plenty of passages in the Analects that resonate with the difficult times that we ourselves are experiencing.
The one I find most resonant is in 9.28, were Confucius quotes an ancient saying: “It’s only in the cold of winter that you realize that the pines and cypresses are the last to wither.” The key point he is making is that it is only when tough times arrive that people reveal their true character. While it’s all too easy to prosper in the soft warmth of summer without any real effort, it’s a lot more difficult to make it through the harsh cold of winter. Continue reading Notes from the field: it’s only in the cold of winter
Even though Confucius was a strong advocate of preserving ancient Zhou dynasty rituals in all their pristine glory, that didn’t mean that he was completely averse to making changes to them when it made sense – as long as they didn’t affect the integrity of the ceremonies.
In 9.3, he doesn’t raise any objections to replacing hemp or linen with silk in the production of ceremonial caps because it is much more economical to do so. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: Confucius on ritual integrity
Unlike the sainted Yan Hui, neither Zilu nor Zigong manage to earn unequivocal praise from Confucius in Book 9 of the Analects. Indeed, Confucius rebukes them both for a variety of sins – ranging from a serious violation of ritual protocol to a failure to understand the qualities required of a leader.
Zilu is the one who is responsible for breaching ritual conventions by acting as if he is a retainer of a feudal lord while the sage is seriously ill in 9.12. Given that Confucius doesn’t belong to such an august rank, he roundly scolds his well-meaning if misguided follower after he recovers: “Zilu, this deception has lasted long enough. Who do I deceive with these bogus retainers? Do I deceive heaven? 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.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: the great forbearance of Zilu and Zigong
Like Book 8, Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius is a bit of a hodgepodge of various sayings and episodes culled from multiple sources – making it impossible to discern a central theme. It does, however, include some revealing passages involving Confucius and three of his most faithful followers that shed further light on his relationships with them.
Confucius’s protégé and favorite Yan Hui makes the most appearances in the book with three. Zilu and Zigong both make two. The only other possible follower featured is the enigmatically-named Lao (牢) in 9.7. He is usually identified as the fastidious and relatively obscure Yuan Xian. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9 overview: Confucius praises Yan Hui
Here is a list of resources covering Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can click on the links below to learn more about the main themes of the book:
Analects of Confucius Book 9: translation
Here is a list of articles I have written about each chapter in the book. Again, click on the links to learn more. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: resources
Confucius said: “It’s only in the cold of winter that you realize that the pines and cypresses are the last to wither.”
It’s only when your back’s against the wall that you’ll find out what you’re really made of. Tough times and crises provide a test of character and ability like no other. Are you sure that you have the mental and physical toughness to withstand them like pines and cypresses in the winter? Do you possess the inner strength to remain calm while everyone else is losing their head around you? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: pines and cypresses
Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 9 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher, including his thoughts on how to observe ritual and his hopes for the younger generation.
Confucius disapproved of profit, but he approved of fate and goodness. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: new English translation
“The flowers of the cherry tree,
Flutter and turn.
How could it be that I don’t long for you?
But your house is so far away!”
Confucius said: “He doesn’t really long for her. If he did, would he care about the distance?”
If you have a goal that you truly wish to achieve, don’t just talk about it. Don’t complain about the difficulties you face. Go out and make it happen. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the flowers of the cherry tree
Confucius said: “Those who learn together won’t necessarily take the same path; those who take the same path won’t necessarily stand together; those who stand together won’t necessarily exercise their judgment in the same manner.”
Education is about providing people with the intellectual tools they need to make good decisions in a complex and dynamic world. It’s not about attempting to ensure that everyone conforms to a certain set of pre-approved values. Even if you attempt to force everybody to sing from the same hymn book, their opinions will naturally diverge based on their own experiences of the world. There is no universal truth that applies to everything. There is no single right answer for resolving every problem. Life is far too nuanced and complex for that. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the same path?
Confucius said: “The wise are never perplexed; the good are never anxious; the brave are never afraid.” (1)
Put in the time required to understand what’s really happening. Don’t take what other people have to say at face value. Question all your assumptions. Ignore all the fake narratives and bogus statistics designed to befuddle rather than enlighten you. Blow away the smoke and smash the mirrors until you reach such a state of clarity that you can make a decision without any doubts or second thoughts.
Embrace uncertainty rather than resist it. Analyze the opportunities and the threats and decide on your course of action. While others are flailing around trying to figure out what’s going on and what to do about it, you’re ready to swoop in and make your move.
Don’t confuse courage with recklessness. The reason you’re not afraid is because you’ve fully prepared yourself for this very moment. While others waste valuable time complaining about the vagaries of fate, you’ve already executed your plan and decided what your next step will be. Because they are in control of their thoughts and emotions and know the right time to take action, the wise are never perplexed.
This article features a translation of Chapter 29 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.
(1) Confucius makes a similar point in 14.28: “A leader adheres to three principles that I have been unable to live up to: the good are never anxious; the wise are never perplexed; the brave are never afraid.” In 12.4, he explains to his follower Sima Niu that a leader has no anxiety or fear because: “When he looks inside himself and finds nothing wrong, what does he have to be anxious about or fear?”
I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.