The Analects of Confucius Book 12 brings together a large cast of familiar followers of the sage. It also introduces a new one called Sima Niu, who makes his debut in 12.3 only to head off into the sunset two chapters later never to be seen or heard of again.
Sima Niu was a government official from the state of Song. In his conversations with Confucius, he asks for guidance on how to deal with his eldest brother’s plans to overthrow the rightful ruler of the state with a couple of indirect questions about the nature of goodness leadership. Although Confucius gives him sensible advice on how to conduct himself, he sensibly avoids striking at the heart of the matter. In 12.5, with his brother’s attempted coup a failure, Sima Niu’s lament that he alone has no brothers earns him a withering riposte from the follower Zixia, which is often misattributed to Confucius: “Within the four seas all men are brothers!” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12: followers
Despite making just three appearances in the Analects, Sima Niu (司馬牛) succeeded in keeping his name preserved for posterity while many far more deserving figures had theirs disappear into obscurity.
It’s not as if he comes up with any stunning intellectual or ethical insights in the three brief and rather melodramatic appearance he makes in Book 12 of the Analects either. At best, he functions as a foil for Confucius to expound in detail on the nature of goodness and leadership and for Zixia to utter the famous phrase: “within the four seas all men are brothers” – which ironically is often misattributed to the sage himself rather than his dour follower! Continue reading Followers of Confucius: Sima Niu
Youzi (有子), or Zi Ruo (子若) or You Ruo (有若) to use his courtesy and given names, was regarded for a short period after the death of Confucius as his spiritual heir – mainly, it seems, because he bore a remarkable physical resemblance to the sage.
However, while Youzi’s looks may have been similar to those of Confucius, his talents came nowhere near to matching those of the sage, and he soon lost the confidence of the other followers. Continue reading Followers of Confucius: Youzi
In 7.23 of the Analects, Confucius snaps back at his followers after hearing that some of them suspect he is refusing to reveal the secret sauce to his great learning and wisdom. “My friends, do you think I’m hiding something from you?” he protests. “I’m hiding nothing at all. There’s nothing I do without sharing it with you. That’s my way.”
Perhaps if they had listened more carefully to what he had to say to the them, these doubting Thomases wouldn’t have found any reasons to question the sincerity of his intentions. Book 7 of the Analects, in particular, is full of evidence of Confucius’s love of learning and teaching. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius’s love of learning and teaching
Since Book 7 of the Analects is focused on Confucius, his interactions with his followers are limited compared to the previous two books. Of the six followers that are featured, Zilu makes the most appearances with three. Yan Hui, Ran Qiu, Zigong, Gongxi Chi, and Wuma Qi are limited to one. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: by numbers
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