Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Analects of Confucius

The Analects of Confucius

The Analects is not at all a long book.  It consists of twenty short books, each containing about twenty-five sayings attributed to Master K'ung, or Confucius.  Some take the form of short conversations with particular disciples, or anecdotes, others are plain statements, and much of it has been changed or added to by legend.  Since most of it is abstract statements, often involving men of rank in various ancient Chinese states, it is interesting, but not something you can read for long stretches.  I found it best to try to read one book a day.


Confucius's sayings are mostly about how to behave, and they are entirely focused on the life of a gentleman.  He isn't particularly worried about the common people, because they will behave well if their rulers do.  He isn't worried about women at all.  He is only concerned with how a gentleman of wealth and rank should behave.  These men should ideally pursue the Good (as it is translated in my edition).  Very few people will ever achieve perfect Goodness, but all should try.

The Good consists of, firstly, doing all things in accordance with ritual.  What "ritual" consists of is not defined, because they all knew already, but it definitely involves doing religious ceremonies properly and honoring one's elders--including mourning a father for three years and making no changes in the household for that time.  A Good man would also rule wisely and well, keep promises, be respectful, and generally do as he would be done by.

My translation is a little elderly, but it's very informative and I liked it fine.  Here are some excerpts:
Fan Ch'ih asked about Goodness.  The Master said, In private life, courteous, in public life, diligent, in relationships, loyal.  This is a maxim that no matter where you may be, even amid the barbarians of the east or north, may never be set aside.  (XIII.19)
Tzu-kung was always criticizing other people.  The Master said, It is fortunate for Ssu that he is so perfect himself as to have time to spare for this.  I myself have none. (XIV.31)


This last week or so has been pretty nuts.  I feel a little bit like roadkill on the street of my own life.  I have been reading some interesting stuff, including two Diana Wynne Jones books, and I have lots to say about them, but blogging time is in short supply just now.

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