Tag Archives: Confucius on ritual

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: achieving the greatest impact

greatest impact

Fan Chi asked to learn about cultivating grain. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old farmer.” Fan Chi asked to learn about raising vegetables. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old gardener.” After Fan Chi had left, Confucius said: “What a petty person! When a ruler loves ritual, the people don’t dare to be disrespectful. When a ruler loves rightness, the people don’t dare to be disobedient. When a ruler loves trustworthiness, the people don’t dare to be deceitful. If such a ruler existed, people would flock to them from everywhere with their children strapped to their backs. What need would there be to learn about farming?”
樊遲請學稼,子曰:「吾不如老農。」請學為圃,曰:「吾不如老圃。」樊遲出,子曰:「小人哉,樊須也!上好禮,則民莫敢不敬;上好義,則民莫敢不服;上好信,則民莫敢不用情。夫如是,則四方之民,襁負其子而至矣;焉用稼!」

Your time and talent are precious. Focus them on where you’ll achieve the greatest impact. If you manage a team concentrate on making sure that you have the right people, culture, and processes in place to make sure it operates successfully. Leave the technical questions for the appropriate experts. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: achieving the greatest impact

Analects of Confucius Book 8 overview: from sage kings to ritual and music

Analects of Confucius Book 8 overview

There’s no discernible central theme to Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius, but it still contains plenty of interesting tidbits to chew on. Except for the bland and overcooked servings of the follower Zengzi early on in the book, that is. Why spend time trying to digest the tasteless imitations of the sous-chef when you can dine on the rich cuisine of the master chef instead?

Myths and counter-myths

The most enjoyable part of reading the book is digging through the myths and counter-myths surrounding the legendary sage kings Yao, Shun, and Yu in the final five chapters. Were these three men truly the paragons of leaderly virtue that Confucius praises to the skies? Did Yao and Shun really voluntarily cede power to their hand-picked successor rather than keep it in the family? Or were they summarily kicked off the throne when they became too old and weak to maintain their grip on it and bundled off into exile or prison? Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 8 overview: from sage kings to ritual and music

Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius’s love of music

Confucius's love of music

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

Analects of Confucius Book 11: new English translation

Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 11  to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher.

Chapter 1
子曰:「先進於禮樂,野人也;後進於禮樂,君子也。如用之,則吾從先進。」
Confucius said: “Those who learn ritual and music before taking up an official position are the common people; those who learn ritual and music after taking up an official position are the nobility. If I were to employ them, I would employ the former.”
Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: new English translation

Leadership lessons from Confucius: a special case?

special case

顏淵死,顏路請子之車以為之 。子曰:「才不才,亦各言其子也。鯉也死,有棺而無 ;吾不徒行,以為之 ,以吾從大夫之後,不可徒行也。」
When Yan Hui died, his father Yan Lu asked Confucius if he could sell his carriage so that he could pay for an outer coffin for his son. Confucius said: “Talented or not, a son is a son. When my son Li died, he was buried in an inner coffin but there was no outer coffin. I wouldn’t go on foot in order to give him one because it wasn’t proper for me as a former minister to go on foot.” (1) (2) (3)

If you fail to follow the rules and conventions of your organization, how can you expect others to observe them? If you allow yourself some wriggling room by treating a sensitive or contentious case as an exception, why can’t everyone else do the same? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a special case?

Leadership lessons from Confucius: ingrained institutional biases?

子曰:「先進於禮樂,野人也;後進於禮樂,君子也。如用之,則吾從先進。」
Confucius said: “Those who learn ritual and music before taking up an official position are the common people; those who learn ritual and music after taking up an official position are the nobility. If I were to employ them, I would employ the former.” (1) (2)

What kind of staff do you prefer to hire? Candidates who have put in the hard yards to develop their knowledge and expertise but are a little rough around the edges? Or candidates who have developed the right connections and demeanor as a result of their family background but know next to nothing about the job you plan to place them in? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: ingrained institutional biases?

Analects update: halfway there

Analects update

More by accident than design, I completed my overview of the first half of the Analects of Confucius just before my trip to the UK. I will start tackling the second half this weekend. In the meantime, here are links to materials covering the first ten books, including posts on each chapter and more general articles about certain topics.

Analects of Confucius Book 1
Analects of Confucius Book 2
Analects of Confucius Book 3
Analects of Confucius Book 4
Analects of Confucius Book 5
Analects of Confucius Book 6
Analects of Confucius Book 7
Analects of Confucius Book 8
Analects of Confucius Book 9
Analects of Confucius Book 10

Although I enjoyed Book 10, I still haven’t quite figured out what to make of it. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not even clear whether its chapters describe the behavior of Confucius himself or that of an archetypal gentleman. Nevertheless, its advocacy of the importance of ritual is as relevant today as it was in Confucius’s time. Essentially, it is telling you how to make the most of every moment in your life. Continue reading Analects update: halfway there

Analects of Confucius Book 10: resources

Here is a list of resources covering Book 10 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 10: 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 10: resources

Leadership lessons from Confucius: random delights

random delights

色斯舉矣,翔而後集。曰:「山梁雌雉,時哉時哉!」子路共之,三嗅而作。
Startled by a sudden movement, the bird flew off, hovered for a while, and then landed again. Confucius said: “The hen pheasant on the mountain bridge – How timely! How timely!” Zilu clasped his hands and bowed towards the bird, which tweeted three times and flew away. (1) (2)

No matter how well tuned in you are to the rituals of everyday life, it’s always good to escape from them with a visit to the countryside and enjoy the natural world. There’s no telling what random delights you might come across! Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: random delights

Leadership lessons from Confucius: the best you can be

the best you can be

升車,必正立執綏。車中不內顧,不疾言,不親指。
Before mounting his carriage, he stood straight and grasped the hand strap. Once in the carriage, he didn’t turn to look back, talk loudly, or point with his finger. (1)

Put your best foot forward. Screen out the noise and distractions. Focus on the here and now. Even if you’re just taking a short trip from A to B, proceed with grace, precision, and purpose. You never know what might happen or who you might meet along the way. Or what you might learn or experience if you’re paying full attention to everything that’s happening around you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the best you can be