Tag Archives: Confucius on ritual

Leadership lessons from Confucius: happy new year!

子曰:「事君盡禮,人以為諂也。」
Confucius said: “When you serve your lord in full accordance with ritual, people regard you as a sycophant.” (1)

Take your own path. Don’t waste precious time and energy worrying what other people are thinking or saying about you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: happy new year!

Leadership lessons from Confucius: welcoming the new moon

new moon

子貢欲去告朔之餼羊。子曰:「賜也!爾愛其羊,我愛其禮。」
Zigong wished to do away with the sacrifice of a live sheep for the ceremony welcoming the new moon. Confucius said: “You love the sheep; I love ritual.” (1)

How to react when someone opposes a much-needed change? Do you back down or do you find other ways of making sure it’s implemented? Unfortunately, this passage doesn’t tell us whether Zigong caved in to Confucius or continued to fight his corner. I hope he took the former tack – but given Zigong’s devotion to the sage I suspect he adopted the latter one. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: welcoming the new moon

Leadership lessons from Confucius: on archery

on archery

子曰:「射不主皮,為力不同科,古之道也。」
Confucius said: “In archery, it doesn’t matter whether you pierce the covering of the target, because some archers are stronger than others. This is the way of the ancients.” (1) (2)

There’s no need to overdo things. Clear your mind and relax. Focus on the process rather than trying to impress everyone around you or worrying that others will be stronger or more powerful than you. That way you will not only have a better chance of hitting the target but will also be able to save your energy so that you are ready to take on the next challenge. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: on archery

Leadership lessons from Confucius: asking questions

asking questions

子入太廟,每事問。或曰:「孰謂鄹人之子知禮乎?入太廟,每事問。」子聞之,曰:「是禮也。」
Whenever Confucius visited the Grand Ancestral Temple, he asked about everything that was happening there. Someone said: “Who said this son of a man from Zou is an expert on ritual? When he visits the Grand Ancestral Temple, he has to ask about everything that’s happening.” Hearing this, Confucius said: “Exactly, this is ritual.” (1) (2)

Don’t be afraid of asking questions. There’s always something new to learn even if you’re already familiar with the subject under discussion. Don’t worry about ridiculed for asking them either. You should always take it as a compliment when someone wants to show that they’re superior to you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: asking questions

Leadership lessons from Confucius: in person

in person

祭如在,祭神如神在。子曰:「吾不與祭,如不祭。」
Sacrifice to your ancestors as if they are present; sacrifice to the deities as if they are present. Confucius said: “If you don’t attend a sacrifice in person, you’re not there in spirit either.” (1) (2) Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: in person

Leadership lessons from Confucius: sarcasm

sarcasm

或問禘之說。子曰:「不知也。知其說者之於天下也,其如示諸斯乎!」指其掌。
When someone asked Confucius to explain the meaning of the sacrifice to the great imperial ancestor, he replied: “Whoever knows that would rule the world as easily as I can place this here.” Then he pointed his finger towards the palm of his hand. (1)

Sarcasm is a weapon that should be used sparingly – not least because there’s a real risk that your audience won’t pick up on your true meaning. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: sarcasm

Leadership lessons from Confucius: the first libation

first libation

子曰:「禘自既灌而往者,吾不欲觀之矣。」
Confucius said: “Once the first libation has been performed at the sacrifice to the great imperial ancestor, I don’t want to watch the rest of the ceremony.” (1)

Do you really want to stick around for the rest of an event when you know it’s about to descend into a squirm-inducing fest of self-congratulation and status-signaling? Of course, some people may accuse you of being impolite, but why waste your precious time watching the great and good spouting self-serving platitudes on the stage when you could be doing something more productive? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the first libation

Leadership lessons from Confucius: sufficient evidence

sufficient evidence

子曰:「夏禮,吾能言之,杞不足徵也;殷禮,吾能言之,宋不足徵也。文獻不足故也。足,則吾能徵之矣。」
Confucius said: “I could talk about Xia Dynasty ritual, but the state of Qi hasn’t preserved sufficient evidence. I could talk about Yin Dynasty ritual, but the state of Song hasn’t preserved sufficient evidence. There aren’t enough written records and learned men; if there were, I could obtain evidence from them.” (1) (2)

In an age when information is so abundant and accessible, it can be very tempting to voice an opinion on a subject after carrying out a cursory Google search and scanning a few secondary sources. If you choose to do that at least have the courtesy to let people know that your views are based on limited evidence, or better still keep your lips pursed while the real experts do the talking. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: sufficient evidence

Leadership lessons from Confucius: plain white silk

plain white silk

子夏問曰:「巧笑倩兮,美目盼兮,素以為絢兮。何謂也?」子曰:「繪事後素。」曰:「禮後乎?」子曰:「起予者商也!始可與言詩矣。」
Zixia asked: “What do these verses mean: ‘Ah, the lovely dimples of her artful smile! Ah, the black and white of her beautiful eyes! It’s on plain white silk that colors sparkle.’” Confucius said: “Painting comes after plain white silk.” Zixia said: “Is ritual also something that comes afterwards?” Confucius said: “You have opened up my eyes to true meaning of these verses! It’s only with a man like you that I can discuss the Book of Songs!” (1)

Even the greatest ideas are useless without the right foundation to implement them on. You can’t build an awesome new product, for example, without getting investment to fund the project, designers and engineers to develop it, a factory to manufacture it, and marketing and sales people to promote it. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: plain white silk

Leadership lessons from Confucius: achieving a state of flow

flow

子曰:「君子無所爭,必也射乎!揖讓而升,下而飲。其爭也君子。」
Confucius said: “A leader does not engage in competition. But if you can’t avoid it, you should practice archery. You bow and exchange courtesies with your opponent before entering the range and enjoy drinks with him after leaving it. Even when engaged in competition, you remain a leader.” (1)

Like archery, leadership involves achieving such a state of flow that every action you take comes so naturally that you don’t even have to think about it. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: achieving a state of flow