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.”
Only you can become your best self. Nobody else can do it for you. The buck stops with you. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: becoming your best self
Unlike the sainted Yan Hui, neither Zilu nor Zigong manage to earn unequivocal praise from Confucius in Book 9 of the Analects. Indeed, Confucius rebukes them both for a variety of sins – ranging from a serious violation of ritual protocol to a failure to understand the qualities required of a leader.
Zilu is the one who is responsible for breaching ritual conventions by acting as if he is a retainer of a feudal lord while the sage is seriously ill in 9.12. Given that Confucius doesn’t belong to such an august rank, he roundly scolds his well-meaning if misguided follower after he recovers: “Zilu, this deception has lasted long enough. Who do I deceive with these bogus retainers? Do I deceive heaven? Rather than die among retainers, I would prefer to die in the arms of my followers. I may not receive a grand funeral, but I’ll hardly die by the roadside.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: the great forbearance of Zilu and Zigong
Like Book 8, Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius is a bit of a hodgepodge of various sayings and episodes culled from multiple sources – making it impossible to discern a central theme. It does, however, include some revealing passages involving Confucius and three of his most faithful followers that shed further light on his relationships with them.
Confucius’s protégé and favorite Yan Hui makes the most appearances in the book with three. Zilu and Zigong both make two. The only other possible follower featured is the enigmatically-named Lao (牢) in 9.7. He is usually identified as the fastidious and relatively obscure Yuan Xian. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9 overview: Confucius praises Yan Hui
Having put his followers under the microscope in the first half of Book 6 of the Analects, Confucius laments in 6.17, “Who would leave a house except through the doorway? Why is it that nobody follows the way?”
Confucius, in other words, finds it impossible to understand why his followers are either unable or unwilling to fully embrace the “way” (道/dào) that he has charted for them and worked so hard to lead them along. He is mystified and no doubt frustrated that they find it so difficult to follow what he sees as the natural and obvious path for anyone who aspires to be a leader (君子/jūnzǐ). Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: why is it that nobody follows the way?
In stark contrast with the totally devoted Yan Hui, Ran Qiu isn’t that bothered about following the teachings of Confucius and adhering to the sage’s strict moral principles. In 6.12 he unrepentantly admits: “It’s not that I don’t enjoy the way of the Master, but I don’t have the strength to follow it.”
Although Confucius attempts to encourage Ran Qiu to stay on track, his response that he can give up half-way if he doesn’t have enough strength to go on suggests that the sage understands that he is pursuing a lost cause. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: a rocky relationship with Ran Qiu
In Book 6 of the Analects, Confucius expresses his devastation at the loss of Yan Hui, his protégé and favorite, on three occasions. When Duke Ai, the nominal ruler of the state of Lu, asks him in 6.3 which of his followers love learning, he laments: “There was Yan Hui who loved learning; he never vented his anger; he never made the same mistake again. Sadly, his life was cut short and he died. I have not heard of anyone else with such a love of learning.”
It’s important to note that rather than talk about the intellectual knowledge that Yan Hui has accumulated as a result of his love of learning, Confucius focuses on demonstrating how he exhibits this knowledge though his conduct, including keeping his temper under control and never repeating previous mistakes. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: Confucius laments the loss of Yan Hui
Book 5 is a very different beast to the previous four books of the Analects. Rather than talk directly about the key values and principles of his teachings, Confucius focuses his attention on evaluating how well a dozen of his followers, four of his contemporaries, and eleven figures from the past live up to them.
Among his followers, Confucius only considers Yan Hui to be up to snuff. Indeed, in 5.9 Confucius admits that even he is not the equal of his protégé.
Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: by numbers
Book 5 of the Analects shows some tensions in the relationship between Confucius and Zigong, one of his most loyal and distinguished followers. Zigong had already established himself as a successful merchant when he first met Confucius, but he clearly saw the need for the sage’s guidance in cultivating other aspects of his character. For his part, Confucius was more than willing to help Zigong along this path by providing frank critiques of his shortcomings – perhaps a little too frank at times.
When Zigong asks the sage what he thinks of him in 5.4, Confucius lets him know that he still hasn’t cultivated all the necessary qualities to become a leader (君子) by describing him as a “vessel” (器/qì). Perhaps realizing that he has been a little harsh in his criticism, Confucius softens the blow by adding that he sees Zigong as a “precious sacrificial vessel” (瑚璉/húliǎn), but his implication that the conscientious but unimaginative Zigong still has ample room for improvement remains the same. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: Confucius and Zigong
Unlike the quasi father and son combo of Confucius and Yan Hui, Confucius and Zilu were more like an elder and young brother who love each other deeply but aren’t afraid to enter into the occasional argument when the occasion demands it.
In Book 11 of the Analects Confucius shows how much he cares for “bold and intense” (11.13) Zilu with his repeated attempts to rein in his recklessness. In 11.12 he famously responds to Zilu’s questions about how to serve the spirits and gods and what he thought of death by telling him to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground: “’If you’re not yet able to serve other people, how are you able to serve the spirits? … If you don’t understand life yet, how can you understand death?’” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Zilu
Why was Confucius so devastated by the death of Yan Hui that his followers felt compelled to take the extraordinary step of admonishing their master for displaying excessive grief? Book 11 of the Analects not only poses this question with its vivid portrayal of Confucius’s anguish at the untimely passing of his favorite follower. It also answers it by showing how close the relationship between Confucius and Yan Hui was and the high regard the sage had for the man he had seen as his protégé and eventual successor.
Indeed, in 11.4 Confucius sounds exactly like a humble-bragging dad when he claims that Yan Hui is of no help to him at all because “he delights in everything I say.” In 11.7, he goes on to tell the strongman Ji Kangzi that the only follower of his who loved learning was Yan Hui (1). In 11.19 he tops that by declaring that he “just about achieved perfection”. Not even a life of grinding poverty can tempt the virtuous Yan Hui to stray from the strict moral path that he follows. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Yan Hui