Even though Confucius was a strong advocate of preserving ancient Zhou dynasty rituals in all their pristine glory, that didn’t mean that he was completely averse to making changes to them when it made sense – as long as they didn’t affect the integrity of the ceremonies.
In 9.3, he doesn’t raise any objections to replacing hemp or linen with silk in the production of ceremonial caps because it is much more economical to do so. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: Confucius on ritual integrity
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
Book 7 includes yet more episodes in the fractious but close relationship between Zilu and Confucius. How, and perhaps more importantly why, this most loyal of followers continued to put up with the harsh critiques of his master is a great mystery to me. There’s a fine line between a light-hearted joke and a mean-spirited barb.
When Zilu asks Confucius who he would appoint to help him if he were given command of the Three Armies in 7.10, he is of course hoping that the sage will put his name at the top of the list. Instead, Confucius takes this opportunity to give him a sharp (though colorful) rebuke for his recklessness: “I wouldn’t choose someone who wrestles tigers barehanded or swims across rivers without fearing death. But I would choose someone who approaches difficulties with due caution and achieves victories through careful planning.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: the relationship between Zilu and Confucius
Book 7 of the Analects paints a vivid portrait of Confucius striving to put the lofty principles and values he teaches his followers and students into practice in his daily life. This is a never-ending quest that causes him to constantly reflect on his inability to live up to the standards he has set for himself.
“Although my commitment is as strong as anyone’s when it comes to cultural knowledge and refinement,” he laments in 7.32, “I haven’t yet hit the target of becoming a true leader in how I conduct myself.” “How could I possibly dare to claim that I’m a man of great wisdom and goodness?” he adds in the next chapter. “All that can be said of me is that I never grow weary of learning and never get tired of teaching others.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: a vivid portrait of Confucius
Since Book 7 of the Analects is focused on Confucius, his interactions with his followers are limited compared to the previous two books. Of the six followers that are featured, Zilu makes the most appearances with three. Yan Hui, Ran Qiu, Zigong, Gongxi Chi, and Wuma Qi are limited to one. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: by numbers
Confucius has more than his fair share of awkward encounters with his followers in Book 6 of the Analects. The most notable one is with Zilu of all people. In 6.28, he is extremely unhappy when he learns about the sage’s visit to Nanzi, the allegedly depraved and scheming consort of Duke Ling of Wei. Although Confucius protests that nothing untoward happened during the audience, Zilu is rightly incensed that at the very least his master has sullied his reputation by meeting with her.
The young follower Zai Yu, of rotten wood and dung wall fame, attempts to put Confucius on the spot in 6.26 when he asks if a good person should jump into a well if he hears that someone is lying at the bottom of it. Confucius manages to bat the question away with relative ease by explaining that while it’s possible that a leader can be enticed down the wrong path, he wouldn’t be gullible enough to fall into a trap. So much for Zai Yu’s cunning plan to bamboozle the sage with a trick question. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: awkward encounters
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
Even though Confucius is critical of several of his most loyal followers in Book 11, most notably Zilu, he reserves his most virulent scorn for Ran Qiu. In 11.17 he famously rips into him for helping the Lu strongman Ji Kangzi to levy yet more taxes on the common people by loudly declaring: “He’s no longer my follower. You may beat the drum and attack him, my young friends.”
While Confucius is justifiably upset at Ran Qiu for ignoring his advice not to impose any more unnecessary burdens onto the impoverished peasantry, he never uses such violent language towards Zilu and other followers who also helped the corrupt and venal Ji Family enrich themselves at the expense of the downtrodden Lu population. Indeed, even though Confucius often chides Zilu for his indiscretions and impetuousness, he generally adopts a much more indulgent tone towards him than Ran Qiu. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Ran Qiu
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