Analects Of Confucius Essay, Research Paper
Sometime You Got It. Sometime You Don’t: a personal reaction the Analects of Confucius
Thought is what distinguishes humans from animals. It is the driving force that brings human societies to the belief of superiority over the rest of the living world. However, this is not to say that humans are the only living species that have thought. It is just that we are aware of only our thoughts and may not answer for other sentient beings. Thought produces such ideas from which religion, numbers, alphabets, and spoken language manifest. Thought gives humans the ability to ponder circumstances and determine solutions to problems. Thought is imagination, reflection, and cogitation. Most of all thought procures answers that shape cultural lives around the world. It is thought from great thinkers that influence the values and habits of a culture. This essay will focus on the most and least appealing themes of one of the world’s great thinkers, Confucius.
Thoughts of Confucius are carried through history in a book called the Lun-yu. According to Hucker, “?the title means discourses and is normally translated Analects (77).” It is also important to explain that Confucius himself does not write the Analects. They are but “?a collection of Confucius’s sayings that appear to have been remembered and passed along by his disciples until they were gathered up into a single compilation, probably not many decades after his death (Hucker, 77).” For this reason I am a little skeptic about the authenticity of these works, but I am also aware that the Analects are the only source that claim to show the thoughts of Confucius in the purest form. In this case, I leave my skepticism behind and take the Analects to be the only understanding I have into the world of Confucius. I may also not forget the magnitude of impact this book has on Chinese culture beginning centuries before present. Traditional dates place Confucius between 551-479 B.C. (Ebrey, 17).
Most themes of the Analects appeal to some sense of my understanding. However, different aspects of certain themes can tend to be less appealing. Examples of this are determining a true gentleman. An appealing view of a gentleman comes from Book XV, chapter 18 and 20:
18. The Master said, A gentleman is distressed by his own lack of capacity; he is never distressed at failure of others to recognize his merits.
20. The Master said, ‘The demands that a gentleman makes are upon himself; those that a small man makes are upon others.’
From these two chapters I gather that a gentleman looks within himself and does not strive to be recognized. This is not unlike my feelings on how one ought to be secure with oneself and their capacities. An obvious contradiction to these themes comes from chapter 19 of the same Book. “The Master said, A gentleman has reason to be distressed if he ends his days without making a reputation for himself.” This aspect of a gentleman now lies in the hands of others, and how one ought to be distressed if others do not recognize one’s capacities.
In most cases, however, the theme of a true gentleman portrays an appealing figure that I feel compelled to follow. For instance, “The Master said, A gentleman is not an implement (I. 12).” Confusing for me at first, I find this chapter is meant to explain how a gentleman need not be specialize in only one qualification. Similar to the European version of a Renaissance man, Confucius’s gentleman ought to be a man of many qualifications. This also may include a lack of biases while one follows the path to a true gentleman. “The Master said, A gentleman can see a question from all sides without bias. The small man is biased and can see a question only from one side (I. 14).” This appeals to my understanding that there are always two sides to every story, and one ought not ignore either side if one is to truly understand.
Another appealing theme of the Analects is the Master’s vision of government and rulers. When posed the question on killing those without principles in order to save those with principles Confucius responded, “You are the government. Why employ killing? If you want what is good, the people will be good. The virtue of a gentleman is like the wind, the virtue of a small person like grass. When the wind blows over it, the grass bends (Ebrey, 21).” I interpret this to mean that a fair and kind ruler need only be one who represents good, and the people will follow the ruler’s virtue. In a broad sense the ruler must be Good and love men, as well as wise and know men, in order to set a good example and straighten those that are crooked (Analects, XII. 22).
Confucius is very adamant on how one ought to interact with others. There is an appealing nature in his form of interaction that gathers knowledge from all types of people. Confucius stresses that one can learn by selecting good qualities from the good, and one can learn self-correction from those that emulate bad qualities (Analects, VII. 21). I understand that there is good and bad in everyone, and one ought not ignore either side in order to gain from interaction with people. However, I also understand that most people do not enjoy having their faults pointed out to them, which is similar to how Confucius would respond. “The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others; he does not call attention to their defects (Analects, XII. 16).” Aware that there is good and bad in everyone, one would find oneself abandoned by people if a negative attitude towards others is used.
The least appealing theme in the Analects is the goal of achieving Goodness. In the original text of the Analects the term jen represents what is meant by Good. Jen, in the Analects is a quality so rare one “?cannot be chary in speaking of it (XII. 3).” It is explained as “?a sublime moral attitude, a transcendental perfection attained to by legendary heroes such as Po I, but not by any living of historic person (Analects, 28).” For a theme so apparently unreachable to the living, Confucius and his disciples spend much time trying to understand this concept. Perhaps one of Confucius’s favorite disciples, Yen Hui, (which the Master said, “?is capable of occupying his whole mind for three months on end with no thought but that of Goodness.”) is very perplexed in the search for Goodness. This is evident in a passage where Yen Hui “?strain[s] [his] gaze up towards it, the higher is soars. The deeper [he] bore down on it, the harder it becomes (IX. 10).” To no avail Yen Hui searches for Goodness until he realizes he “?can find no way of getting to it at all. Finding Goodness seems as though it is an imposable feat, and for this reason I find it most unappealing. Further, I understand goodness and badness to be necessary in human existence.
Goodness is necessary when interaction between people takes place. However, it should not become an obsession. The themes from the Analects that tell how one ought to live and react to others are the most appealing to me. Confucius is aware that government should set examples so as to correct those that are crooked it rules over. Learning from those around you must not necessarily come from the good qualities but from the bad as well. And there are habits that one ought to follow to become a solid figure in society.