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
Although he grew up in relative poverty, Confucius had no interest in wealth for its own sake even if it was generated through what many would consider as legitimate business activities. Despite his close relationship with Zigong, he couldn’t resist the occasional digs at his follower’s wheeling and dealing. Many critics have even blamed him for holding back China’s economic development because of what they see as his disdain for the profit motive.
Confucius was even more critical of the rich and powerful who accumulated wealth through illegitimate means. He was particularly vociferous in his opposition to the notorious Three Families for their brutal exploitation of the common people of Lu through excessive taxation and venal corruption. This was a key bone of contention in his volatile relationship with his follower Ran Qiu, who made a fortune from serving as a steward for the powerful Ji family. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius on wealth
Confucius is just as frank and open with the impetuous Zilu as he is with Zigong in Book 5 of the Analects. When he says in 5.7 that he expects that Zilu would join him if he decided to take a raft out to sea, Zilu is delighted that his master has chosen him as his only companion. Confucius, however, is quick to burst his bubble by pointing out that although Zilu is braver than he is, he would bring no materials or talent (a play on words using a homonym of the character (材/cái) to the enterprise. Even if Confucius is just making a lighthearted joke, as some commentators claim, his comment has an unnecessarily sharp edge to it.
In the next chapter, Confucius refuses to tell Meng Wubo, a minister of the state of Lu, whether he thinks Zilu is a good person, saying only that he “could be entrusted with military recruitment” in a “middle-sized country”. Although the sage probably had sound political reasons for not answering the question directly, his characterization of Zilu’s abilities hardly counts as a ringing endorsement. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: Confucius and the impetuous Zilu
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
Confucius said: “Yan Hui has just about achieved perfection, but he lives in constant poverty. Zigong is never satisfied with his lot and engages in trading and speculation. He frequently succeeds in his business ventures.”
Poverty isn’t necessarily a price you have to pay in order to be virtuous. Indeed, it can be very difficult to stick to the right path if you can’t pay the bills.
You don’t necessarily have to compromise your morals in order to become wealthy either. Indeed, you have a greater chance of success if you stick to your values. Be sure to remember, though, to you use your riches productively for the overall benefit of society. That new multi-million dollar yacht you’ve just bought to impress everyone will soon lose its luster when someone else has one that’s even bigger and shinier. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the pursuit of perfection
Zigong asked: “Who is better: Zizhang or Zixia?” Confucius said: “Zizhang overshoots the mark and Zixia falls short of the mark.” Zigong said: “Then Zizhang must be better?” Confucius said: “Both miss the mark.”
When does your greatest strength become your greatest weakness? This is a question you should think deeply about when analyzing your actions. A lot may depend on the circumstances you’re in.
Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: both miss the mark
When at Confucius’s side, Min Ziqian was straightforward but respectful; Zilu was bold and intense; Ran Qiu and Zigong were frank but amiable. Confucius was happy but said: “A man like Zilu won’t die a natural death.”
How well do you know your colleagues? Not just how good they are at their work, but their personal strengths, weaknesses, and character traits. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: close to the edge
Zigong said: “If you had a precious piece of jade, would you hide it in a box for safekeeping or would you try and sell it for a good price?” Confucius said: “I would sell it! I would sell it! All I’m waiting for is the right price.” (1)
Pricing is one of the trickiest tasks in business. Set it too high and you risk putting off potential customers. Set it too low and you risk leaving money on the table – not to mention attracting customers who don’t appreciate the full value of the product or service you are offering. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: waiting for the right price