Even though Confucius was a strong advocate of preserving ancient Zhou dynasty rituals in all their pristine glory, that didn’t mean that he was completely averse to making changes to them when it made sense – as long as they didn’t affect the integrity of the ceremonies.
Confucius never defines exactly what he means by ritual in Book 3 of the Analects. Instead, he spends most of his energy on criticizing others, most notably members of the Three Families, the true powers behind the throne of his home state of Lu, for their violations of the unwritten rules governing important ritual ceremonies that had existed since at least the beginnings of the Zhou dynasty in the early 11th century and probably even before that. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 3: Confucius on ritual ceremonies→
With civilization collapsing around him as multiple states and factions within them fought for control of China, Confucius looked back to the “golden age” at the beginning of the Zhou dynasty in the 11th century BC as the model for restoring stability and culture to the country. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 3: I follow the Zhou!→
The Analects of Confucius Book 3 features some quite astonishing tirades from Confucius against the Three Families, the real power behind the throne of his home state of Lu, for what he saw as their shameless violations of the ancient ritual ceremonies and proprieties that he believed were essential for a civilized society. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 3: overview→
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→
One very good reason to study the Analects of Confucius and the Daodejing is that, for all the archaic and in the latter case mystic language they feature, these two ancient works focus on providing practical solutions to real-world problems.
Unlike many of the works in the Western philosophical cannon, neither text features an agonized search for a universal “truth” or any promises of eternal salvation for ascribing to the “right” set of values or behaving in the “correct” manner. Instead, they are concerned with dealing with the challenges of the here and now, exploring how you can improve your character to make a greater contribution to the stability and prosperity of your family, community, and society overall. Continue reading Situational leadership in the Analects and the Daodejing→
有子曰：「信近於義，言可復也。恭近於禮，遠恥辱也。因不失其親，亦可宗也。」 Youzi said: “If your commitments conform to what is right, you will be able to keep your word. If your manners conform to ritual, you will be able to avoid shame and disgrace. Only if you associate with reliable people will you be successful.”
Making rash promises that you have no hope or intention of fulfilling is a sure way of eroding the trust that people have in you. You might be able to get away with it for a while through sheer force of personality or verbal dexterity, but eventually the chickens will come home to roost and your credibility will be destroyed. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: rash promises→
有子曰：「禮之用，和為貴。先王之道，斯為美，小大由之，有所不行，知和而和，不以禮節之，亦不可行也。」 Youzi said: “When practicing ritual, harmony matters most. This is what made the way of the ancient kings so admirable and inspired their every action, no matter how great or small. But they also knew where to draw the line: seeking harmony for its own sake without it being regulated by ritual won’t work.” (1)
Promoting a strong esprit de corps is a key responsibility of a leader. Without high levels of cooperation between individuals and departments, silos can quickly appear in an organization and rivalries between different groups can lead to unnecessary inefficiencies and even conflicts.