Tag Archives: goodness

Analects of Confucius Book 1: Overview

Lingxing Gate, Temple of Confucius, Qufu
Lingxing Gate, Temple of Confucius, Qufu

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

Zizhang gets a kicking

Ziyou said: “My friend Zizhang is a man of great ability, but he has not yet achieved goodness.”

Zengzi said: “Zizhang is so full of himself that it is difficult to cultivate goodness by his side.”

I presume that it wasn’t an editorial accident that these two put-downs of Zizhang are paired together. Continue reading Zizhang gets a kicking

Stay on the highway

Zixia said: “Although there’s a lot to see when you stroll along the byways, you risk getting get stuck in the mud if you have to travel far. That is why a leader should avoid them.”

Zixia said: “If you recognize day by day what you still need to learn and don’t forget month by month what you have already learned, you truly love learning!”

Zixia said: “Expand your learning and stick firmly to your purpose; question everything and reflect deeply: this is how you find goodness.”

Zixia said: “Artisans of all types live in their workshops to master their trade. A leader learns to master the Way.”

In contrast with the extroverted Zizhang, Zixia was one of the more conventional, some might say pedantic, disciples of Confucius. He had no time for fripperies and was relentlessly focused on the application of the teachings of his master by both himself and the students who joined his school. Continue reading Stay on the highway

Three good men

The Lord of Wei fled from Zhouxin, the Lord of Ji became his slave, and Bi Gan was executed for remonstrating with him. Confucius said: “The Yin Dynasty had three good men.”

Zhouxin (紂辛) was the last king of the Shang/Ying Dynasty (1600 BC to 1046 BC), and by all accounts ruled with appalling brutality and depravity. The Lord of Wei was Zhouxin’s half-brother or son, and reportedly fled into exile in order to safeguard the royal family’s ancestral temple so that it would be preserved for future generations. Continue reading Three good men

A fine line

Confucius said: “Zilu, have you heard of the six virtues and their six attendant vices?” “No, I haven’t.” “Sit down, and I will tell you. Loving goodness without loving learning leads to ignorance. Loving knowledge without loving learning leads to foolishness. Loving trustworthiness without loving learning leads to criminality. Loving frankness without loving learning leads to offensiveness. Loving valor without loving learning leads to chaos. Loving steadfastness without loving learning leads to recklessness.”

I wish I could find a better way of rendering the first sentence (言/yán literally means “words”) but the point that Confucius makes to Zilu is clear: even the most positive personal qualities need to be carefully cultivated in order make sure they don’t turn into negatives. Continue reading A fine line

Doing well by doing good

Zizhang asked Confucius about goodness. Confucius said: “Whoever is capable of putting five qualities into practice throughout the world is good.” “And what are those?” “Respectfulness, tolerance, trustworthiness, enthusiasm, and generosity. If you are respectful, you will not be insulted by others; if you are tolerant, you will win people’s hearts; if you are trustworthy, people will entrust you with responsibility; if you are enthusiastic, you will be successful; if you are generous, you will be capable of managing other people.”

The practical reasons for cultivating “goodness” are at least as strong as the altruistic ones. To use the common English idiom that may or not have been coined by Benjamin Franklin, it’s about doing well by doing good. Continue reading Doing well by doing good

A lucky escape?

Yang Huo wanted to see Confucius, but Confucius would not see him. Yang Huo sent him a suckling pig. Confucius chose a time when Yang Huo was not at home to call on him and give his thanks, but ran into him on the way. Yang Huo said to Confucius: “Come! I have something to say to you.” He continued: “Can a person be called good if they keep their talents hidden while their country has gone astray? I don’t think so. Can a person be called wise if they are eager to take part in public affairs, but constantly miss the opportunity to do so? I don’t think so. The days and months fly by; time is not on our side.” Confucius said: “All right, I shall take office.”

Despite touting his talents widely, Confucius never succeeded in securing the high-level official position that he craved so much. One of the very few serious offers he got was from a rebel called Yang Huo, who for a period of about four years around 500 BC ruled part of Confucius’s home state of Lu after rebelling against the Ji family and taking over their stronghold at Bi. In 502 BC, Yang was defeated by forces loyal to the Ji family after plotting to assassinate Ji Huangzi, the head of the family, and fled into exile in the state of Qi. Continue reading A lucky escape?