子曰：「巧言令色鮮矣仁。」 The Master said: “Smooth talk and an affected manner are seldom signs of goodness.” (1)
How do you deal with the sycophants that inevitably gravitate towards you like bees to a honeypot when you reach a leadership position? It’s easy enough to dismiss them for their “smooth talk” and “affected manner” as Confucius does in Chapter 3 of Book 1 of the Analects, but much more challenging to create a culture around you that doesn’t stand for such behavior in the first place.
There are no rules on when you should consult the I Ching. Some people only like to carry out a reading when they have a major decision to make. I prefer to do one when I wake up as an early-morning ritual to settle my mind and prepare for the day ahead. Daily interactions with the text also help me to build up a greater knowledge of the core principles that underlie it.
Ritual (禮/lǐ) consists of a combination of elaborate ceremonies and unwritten rules of behavior that govern smooth social interactions. The term has also been translated as “rites”, “rules”, “rules of proprietary”, “rules of behavior”, “courtesy”, “manners”, “etiquette” or “ethics”. Numerous references to the rites can be found in The Analects. Continue reading Analects of Confucius: on ritual→
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 their overall understanding of the teachings contained in it. Continue reading Analects Book 1: Overview→
子貢曰：「貧而無諂，富而無驕，何如？」子曰：「可也，未若貧而樂，富而好禮者也。」子貢曰：「詩云：『如切如磋，如琢如磨』，其斯之謂與？」子曰：「賜也，始可與言詩已矣，告諸往而知來者。」 Zigong said: “’Poor but not subservient; wealthy but not arrogant.’ What do you think of that?” Confucius said: “Not bad, but this would be better still: ‘Poor but content; wealthy but loves ritual.’” Zigong said: “In the Book of Songs it is said: ‘Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.’ Is this not the same idea?” Confucius said: “Wonderful, Zigong! At last I can discuss the Book of Songs with you! I only have to tell you what came before, and you can work out what comes next!”
“Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.” I can’t think of a better metaphor for the process of self-cultivation than this line from the Book of Songs that Zigong quotes to Confucius during their bout of poetic banter. I suppose that the modern day equivalent would be “sharpening the saw”. Continue reading Like carving and polishing stones→
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: “Trustworthiness is close to rightness because it means that your word can be counted on. Reverence is close to ritual because it means that you avoid shame and disgrace. Never losing sight of these virtues is worthy of respect.”
Yì (義) is another term that doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English. I have translated it here as “rightness”— as in having the moral disposition to do the right thing or act in the right way in any given situation. Alternatives include righteousness, propriety, and morality. Continue reading Primary and secondary virtues→
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 the rites, harmony is the key. This is what made the Way of the ancient kings so beautiful and inspired their every action, no matter how great or small. But they also knew where to draw the line, recognizing that if harmony is not governed by ritual everything will fall out of balance.”
There is no perfect translation for the term lǐ (禮), a central tenet of Confucius’s teachings. I’ve chosen to settle with “ritual”; though it could be alternatively rendered as “rites”, “rules”, “rules of proprietary”, “rules of behavior”, “courtesy”, “manners”, or perhaps even “etiquette” or “ethics”. Continue reading Perfect harmony→