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→
司馬牛問仁。子曰：「仁者，其言也訒。」曰：「斯言也訒，斯謂之仁矣乎？」子曰：「為之難，言之得無訒乎？」 Sima Niu asked about goodness. Confucius said: “A person who practices goodness is cautious in speech.” Sima Niu said: “Cautious in speech? Is that what you call goodness?” Confucius said: “When something is difficult to do, how is it possible not to be cautious in speaking about it?”
Talk is cheap. Better to wait until you have clarified your thoughts on a major decision before sharing them with others. The earlier you talk, the greater the risk you’ll end up confusing and perhaps even disappointing people – not mention getting yourself into unnecessary trouble. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: talk is cheap→
顏淵問仁。子曰：「克己復禮，為仁。一日克己復禮，天下歸仁焉。為仁由己，而由仁乎哉？」 顏淵曰：「請問其目？」子曰：「非禮勿視，非禮勿聽，非禮勿言，非禮勿動。」顏淵曰：「回雖不敏，請事斯語矣！」 Yan Hui asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Exercising self-discipline and returning to ritual constitute goodness. If you manage to exercise self-discipline and return to ritual for just one single day, goodness will prevail throughout the world. You can only achieve goodness through your own efforts. How can it come from anybody else?” Yan Hui said: “May I ask what specific steps I should follow?” Confucius said: “Don’t look at anything that goes against ritual; don’t listen to anything that goes against ritual; don’t say anything that goes against ritual; don’t do anything that goes against ritual.” Yan Hui said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, with your blessing I will strive to live up to your guidance.”
曾子曰：「士不可以不弘毅，任重而道遠。仁以為己任，不亦重乎，死而後已，不亦遠乎。」 Zengzi said: “A scholar-official must be strong and resolute because his burden is heavy and his road is long. He takes goodness as his burden: is it not heavy? His journey ends only with death: is it not long?” (1)
子曰：「若聖與仁，則吾豈敢？抑為之不厭，誨人不倦，則可謂云爾已矣。」公西華曰：「正唯弟子不能學也。」 Confucius said: “How could I possibly dare to claim that I’m a man of great wisdom and goodness? All that can be said of me is that I never grow weary of learning and never get tired of teaching others.” Gongxi Chi said: “This is exactly what we students are unable to grasp.”
Better not to blow your own trumpet. If you’re anywhere near as good as you think you are, others will no doubt sing your praises. Just don’t let all the compliments go to your head, that’s all. Even if everyone else thinks that you’re the best thing since sliced bread, you know deep down that the moment you rest on your laurels complacency will set in and the downward slide will begin. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the best thing since sliced bread→
宰我問曰：「仁者，雖告之曰，『井有仁焉。』其從之也？」子曰：「何為其然也？君子可逝也，不可陷也；可欺也，不可罔也。」 Zai Yu asked: “If a good person was told that someone lies at the bottom of a well, should they jump in after them?” Confucius said: “Why should they? A leader may be enticed down the wrong path but not into a trap; they can be deceived, but not made a fool of.”
There’s no need to put someone on the spot with a trick question. The aim of any conversation or meeting you hold should be to generate a positive discussion – not to show how clever you are. The more you put other people down, the more you’ll stifle the sharing of different perspectives and ideas. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a trick question→
Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 4 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher. Its main themes include goodness, leadership, filial devotion, and the need for restraint.
Before you read a single word of the Analects, it is important to understand that the work comprises a collection of conversations and aphorisms rather than a manifesto. Each of its twenty books features multiple exchanges between multiple characters discussing multiple topics – much like a modern-day social media feed. There are no linear arguments based on carefully-marshaled facts that build up to a resounding conclusion. It is left to you, the reader, to pick through the various threads of the text and connect them to the others to build up your overall understanding of the teachings contained in it. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Overview→