Having put his followers under the microscope in the first half of Book 6 of the Analects, Confucius laments in 6.17, “Who would leave a house except through the doorway? Why is it that nobody follows the way?”
Confucius, in other words, finds it impossible to understand why his followers are either unable or unwilling to fully embrace the “way” (道/dào) that he has charted for them and worked so hard to lead them along. He is mystified and no doubt frustrated that they find it so difficult to follow what he sees as the natural and obvious path for anyone who aspires to be a leader (君子/jūnzǐ). Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: why is it that nobody follows the way?
Confucius has more than his fair share of awkward encounters with his followers in Book 6 of the Analects. The most notable one is with Zilu of all people. In 6.28, he is extremely unhappy when he learns about the sage’s visit to Nanzi, the allegedly depraved and scheming consort of Duke Ling of Wei. Although Confucius protests that nothing untoward happened during the audience, Zilu is rightly incensed that at the very least his master has sullied his reputation by meeting with her.
The young follower Zai Yu, of rotten wood and dung wall fame, attempts to put Confucius on the spot in 6.26 when he asks if a good person should jump into a well if he hears that someone is lying at the bottom of it. Confucius manages to bat the question away with relative ease by explaining that while it’s possible that a leader can be enticed down the wrong path, he wouldn’t be gullible enough to fall into a trap. So much for Zai Yu’s cunning plan to bamboozle the sage with a trick question. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: awkward encounters
In stark contrast with the totally devoted Yan Hui, Ran Qiu isn’t that bothered about following the teachings of Confucius and adhering to the sage’s strict moral principles. In 6.12 he unrepentantly admits: “It’s not that I don’t enjoy the way of the Master, but I don’t have the strength to follow it.”
Although Confucius attempts to encourage Ran Qiu to stay on track, his response that he can give up half-way if he doesn’t have enough strength to go on suggests that the sage understands that he is pursuing a lost cause. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: a rocky relationship with Ran Qiu
Confucius has a high regard for Ran Yong, otherwise known as Zhonggong, judging by his opening comment in Book 6. By declaring that “Ran Yong could take a seat facing south”, he is saying that he is fit to be a feudal lord, who traditionally sat in that position while presiding over the his court and ritual ceremonies.
The sage expresses his admiration for Ran Yong using a much more colorful metaphor in 6.7 while imploring people not be prejudiced against his lowly origins and focus on his abilities. “Some might hesitate to choose the offspring of a plow ox for a sacrifice,” he says, “but if a bullock has fine horns and sports a ruddy coat would the spirits of the hills and rivers reject it?” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: Confucius and Ran Yong
In Book 6 of the Analects, Confucius expresses his devastation at the loss of Yan Hui, his protégé and favorite, on three occasions. When Duke Ai, the nominal ruler of the state of Lu, asks him in 6.3 which of his followers love learning, he laments: “There was Yan Hui who loved learning; he never vented his anger; he never made the same mistake again. Sadly, his life was cut short and he died. I have not heard of anyone else with such a love of learning.”
It’s important to note that rather than talk about the intellectual knowledge that Yan Hui has accumulated as a result of his love of learning, Confucius focuses on demonstrating how he exhibits this knowledge though his conduct, including keeping his temper under control and never repeating previous mistakes. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: Confucius laments the loss of Yan Hui
Book 6 of the Analects continues along the same lines as Book 5 with more comments from Confucius about his followers and historical and contemporary figures. 15 followers, 7 contemporary figures, and the legendary sage kings Yao and Shun are featured.
The followers Ran Yong, Ran Qiu, and Yan Hui each receive three mentions, while Zilu and Zigong get two. All the others are only featured once. Among these, Yuan Xian, Min Ziqian, Ran Geng (Boniu), and Tantai Mieming make their debut in the Analects. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: by numbers
There’s a strong air of frustration and despair for Confucius in Book 5 of the Analects. This is most graphically illustrated in 5.27, when he metaphorically throws his hands up in the air and declares: “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.”
It’s as if all his hard work in guiding his followers like Zigong, Zilu, and most notably Zai Yu have been for nothing. Despite all his teaching and cajoling, none of them are cut out to achieve the gold standard of goodness. Not even Confucius himself is able to equal the only one of his followers who hits the mark, the beatific Yan Hui. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: frustration and despair for Confucius
Confucius is just as frank and open with the impetuous Zilu as he is with Zigong in Book 5 of the Analects. When he says in 5.7 that he expects that Zilu would join him if he decided to take a raft out to sea, Zilu is delighted that his master has chosen him as his only companion. Confucius, however, is quick to burst his bubble by pointing out that although Zilu is braver than he is, he would bring no materials or talent (a play on words using a homonym of the character (材/cái) to the enterprise. Even if Confucius is just making a lighthearted joke, as some commentators claim, his comment has an unnecessarily sharp edge to it.
In the next chapter, Confucius refuses to tell Meng Wubo, a minister of the state of Lu, whether he thinks Zilu is a good person, saying only that he “could be entrusted with military recruitment” in a “middle-sized country”. Although the sage probably had sound political reasons for not answering the question directly, his characterization of Zilu’s abilities hardly counts as a ringing endorsement. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: Confucius and the impetuous Zilu
Book 5 of the Analects shows some tensions in the relationship between Confucius and Zigong, one of his most loyal and distinguished followers. Zigong had already established himself as a successful merchant when he first met Confucius, but he clearly saw the need for the sage’s guidance in cultivating other aspects of his character. For his part, Confucius was more than willing to help Zigong along this path by providing frank critiques of his shortcomings – perhaps a little too frank at times.
When Zigong asks the sage what he thinks of him in 5.4, Confucius lets him know that he still hasn’t cultivated all the necessary qualities to become a leader (君子) by describing him as a “vessel” (器/qì). Perhaps realizing that he has been a little harsh in his criticism, Confucius softens the blow by adding that he sees Zigong as a “precious sacrificial vessel” (瑚璉/húliǎn), but his implication that the conscientious but unimaginative Zigong still has ample room for improvement remains the same. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: Confucius and Zigong
The Analects of Confucius Book 5 opens with a remarkable statement from Confucius when he declares that Gongye Chang would make a good husband even though he has spent time in prison. Given that convicted criminals were social outcasts in ancient China, Confucius is demonstrating his contempt for the corrupt and arbitrary manner in which justice was administered during the turbulent times he lived in. By taking the extraordinary step of marrying his own daughter to Gongye Chang, he’s making a powerful statement of his determination to challenge existing social conventions and restore what he saw as the strict but fair judicial code established in the glory days of the Zhou dynasty.
In 5.2 Confucius continues in the matchmaking business, marrying the daughter of his crippled stepbrother Mengpi to the cautious, and apparently wealthy and privileged, Nan Rong. In line with the custom of the times, we don’t even know the names of the sage’s daughter and niece. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5 overview: a long and winding path