Tag Archives: Confucius on learning

Poetic exchanges

子曰:「誦詩三百,授之以政,不達;使於四方,不能專對。雖多,亦奚以為?」Confucius said: “Imagine a man who can recite the three hundred poems of the Book of Songs by heart but is unable to carry out his job when given an official post or proves to be incapable of responding on his own initiative when sent on a mission to another state. No matter how many poems he may have memorized, what use would they be to him?”

In Confucius’s time, court and diplomatic discussions were carried out in a ritualistic fashion in which the participants made extensive quotations from the Book of Songs (詩經/shījīng) to emphasize their points and make appropriate allusions to similar incidents in the past. Continue reading Poetic exchanges

Raising a mound


Confucius said: “Think of it like raising a mound: if I stop before piling on the last basket of earth, then I have stopped of my own accord. Think of it like filling a hole in the ground: if I have emptied the first basket of earth, I only need to keep on emptying more in order to make progress.”

This is a rather labored metaphor. Following the right path is a step-by-step process; don’t get discouraged and give up along the way. It may seem impossible now, but if you keep on going you will ultimately achieve your objective. Continue reading Raising a mound

A man from Daxiang


A man from Daxiang said: “What a great man Confucius is! Despite his vast learning, he has still not managed to make a name for himself in any particular field.” When Confucius heard of this, he said to his disciples: “Which skill should I master? Should I master charioteering? Should I master archery? I think I’ll master charioteering.”

The irony is somewhat leaden, but Confucius just about manages to make his point. For him the purpose of learning is not to cultivate a specific skill, but to develop your knowledge and character so that you are able make the right judgments in any situation. Continue reading A man from Daxiang

Irrepressible enthusiasm


Confucius said: “Quietly absorbing knowledge, learning and yet never growing weary, teaching and yet never becoming tired – how can any of these be difficult for me?”

The opening section of Book 7 of the Analects features some revealing quotes from Confucius about his character and approach to life. Continue reading Irrepressible enthusiasm

The court of their own heart


Confucius said: “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.”

Confucius said: “In a hamlet of ten houses, you are certain to find people as loyal and faithful as I am, but you will not find a single person who loves learning as much as I do.”

Self-cultivation is the essence of Confucius’s approach to learning. It requires the courage to recognize your weaknesses and the determination to correct them. It is difficult to argue with his lament that most of us lack this capacity for honest self-reflection. Continue reading The court of their own heart

Iterative learning


Confucius said: “When you see someone who is worthy, think how you can become their equal. When you see someone who is unworthy, look inside and examine yourself. ”

Confucius saw learning as an iterative process. By constantly observing how other people act and emulating their strengths, you can improve your own character and behavior. Continue reading Iterative learning

Learning without thinking

Confucius said: “Learning without thinking is futile. Thinking without learning is perilous.”
Confucius said: “To attack a question from the wrong starting point is harmful.”

Even though Confucius must have been cursed to damnation by millions of hapless youths who had to endure the rote learning of the Classics over the millennia, he himself held a more nuanced view of the learning process. Continue reading Learning without thinking