Confucius attracted quite a following during his lifetime as a result of his reputation as a great teacher. It is traditionally believed that he had as many as three thousand students, though only seventy-two were said to have truly mastered his teachings. In Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian (史記/shǐjì) Confucius himself is quoted as saying that he had seventy-seven “scholars of extraordinary ability” who were able to understand his “instructions.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: young pretenders and old companions
Confucius said: “Shen, my way is woven into a single thread.” Zengzi replied: “Indeed.” After Confucius had left, the other followers asked: “What did he mean?” Zengzi said: “The way of the Master is based on loyalty and reciprocity; that and nothing more.” (1) (2)
Do you have a Golden Rule that you follow: a core ethical principle that guides all your actions? For Confucius, this could be boiled down to reciprocity. As he explains in Chapter 14 of Book 15 of the Analects, this means: “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.” In other words, put yourself in other people’s shoes before you say or do something to them.
Book 1 is one of the shortest books in the Analects with just sixteen chapters. In addition to Confucius, it introduces five of his followers including two of his most faithful companions, Zigong and Zixia.
Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: by numbers
Virtue (德/dé) is very close to goodness (仁/rén) at the apex of Confucius’s hierarchy of values. Generally, though not always, it refers to the highest state that a ruler can aim for.
Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Confucius on virtue
Trustworthiness (信/xìn) is another of the so-called secondary values promoted by Confucius. It means remaining true to your word and being a dependable support for others. In some contexts it can also be translated as “faithfulness”, “sincerity”, “truthfulness”, or “honesty”. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Confucius on trustworthiness
Loyalty (忠/zhōng) is one of what some commentators classify as the secondary values of Confucius. It is often mentioned together with trustworthiness (信/xìn). The first instance of this pairing can be found in Chapter 8 of Book 1 in which Confucius advised that a leader (君子/ jūnzǐ) should: “Hold loyalty and trustworthiness as your highest principles.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Confucius on loyalty
Filial devotion (孝/xiào) is one of the best known of the values taught by Confucius, not least because it was so heavily promoted by a succession of imperial dynasties starting with the Han who drew a direct link between obedience to parents and obedience to the ruler. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Confucius on filial devotion
Although this may come as a surprise to people who have experienced or even just heard about the rigors of China’s so-called “Confucian” education system, Confucius himself believed that learning should involve much more than simply imbibing and regurgitating the ancient classics. Rather, it should be focused on the practical application of the timeless principles found in the texts to your daily life so that you can make a positive contribution to your family, your community, and ultimately the whole society you live in. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Confucius on learning
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 was studying with the aim of securing an official position. Confucius said: “Listen for as much information as possible, ignore anything that is suspect, and be cautious when talking about the rest; that way you will only rarely say anything out of place. Observe as much as possible, ignore anything that is dangerous, and carefully apply the rest to your actions; that way you will rarely have reason for regret. By speaking cautiously to avoid mistakes and acting carefully to avoid regrets, your career is set.” (1)
How to mentor raw talent? Do you directly criticize their weaknesses, or do you indirectly encourage them to improve certain aspects of their behavior? Confucius takes the latter approach with his bright but brash young follower Zizhang. Rather than taking a stick to him for his rashness and arrogance, Confucius dangles a carrot in front of him by counseling him to adopt a more low-key approach if he wants to get secure a government job. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: on mentoring