子曰：「管仲之器小哉。」或曰：「管仲儉乎？」曰：「管氏有三歸，官事不攝，焉得儉？然則管仲知禮乎？」曰：「邦君樹塞門，管氏亦樹塞門。邦君為兩君之好，有反坫，管氏亦有反坫。管氏而知禮，孰不知禮？」 Confucius said: “Guan Zhong had his limitations.” Someone objected: “Do you mean that Guan Zhong wasn’t frugal?” Confucius replied: “Guan Zhong had three households, each one staffed by a huge retinue. How could he be called frugal?” “But didn’t he know ritual?” “Even though only the ruler of a state can place a screen to mask the view of his gate, he also had one installed. Even though only the ruler of a state can use a special stand to place his inverted cup on when meeting with another ruler, Guan Zhong had one too. If you say Guan Zhong knew ritual, then who doesn’t know it?”
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→
Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 1 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher. Its main themes include learning, filial devotion, self-cultivation, and leadership.
Confucius said: “Isn’t it a pleasure to study and constantly apply the lessons that you’ve learned? Isn’t it a joy to have friends visit from afar? Isn’t it the mark of a leader to remain unconcerned when others don’t recognize your talents?” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: New English Translation→
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.
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→
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→