Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Analects, Books VII-X

Book VII

Book VII continues with the method of profiles, but focuses more on Confucius himself. As always, the profile is built up by several different means, rather than only one. In this way we get a rounded view of the kind of teacher he was.

(1) What Master Kong did. At several points we get merely a brief statement of how Master Kong organized his life. He was relaxed during his leisure time (7.4); restrained in eating when around mourners (7.9); careful not to mix mourning and singing (7.10). He took care in matters involving fasting, war, and illness (7.13). He used the standard pronunciation rather than his own dialect in ritual and related contexts (7.18). He did not talk about "prodigies, force, disorders, or spirits" (7.21), but he took as the subjects of his teaching "culture, conduct, loyalty, and good faith" (7.25). He expressed his approach even in matters like fishing and archery (7.27) or singing (7.32). In all things he acted moderately (7.38).

(2) What Master Kong said of himself. He characterizes his approach as one of admiration of antiquity (7.1; 7.20). This is an attitude of perpetual discovery and teaching, and thus not one that can grow dull (7.2; 7.22; cp. 7.28); it is also an attitude of perpetual self-improvement (7.3). He will teach anyone, however poor (7.7; cp. 7.24, 7.29) and for himself, money is not itself especially important (7.12; 7.16). He expects his students, however, to use what he says as a starting-point for their own thought rather than simply stopping at his own words (7.8). He himself does not pretend to have reached the goal he seeks (7.17; 7.33; 7.34).

In addition, we get general comments that perhaps can be taken as reflecting on him as a teacher, perhaps as clarifying his goals (7.6; 7.26; 7.30; 7.37).

My favorite part of this book, though, is the story of the Minister of Crime of Chen (7.31). Asked by the Minister whether the Duke of Zhao understood appropriate action or rites (li), he affirms that he does, but later, talking to one of his students, remarks in his usual way about an obvious violation of the rites by the Duke of Zhao in the matter of marriage, saying that if he understood the rites, everyone does. However, word gets back, and Confucius wryly remarks, "I am fortunate. If I have faults, other people are certain to be aware of them."


Much of Book VIII seems to be concerned with the high standards of public service. It takes an appropriate balance and moderation (8.2, 8.10, 8.16), requires eliminating arrogance from oneself (8.11), and a focus on the Way (8.13). If we do not fill a given office, it is not our task to plan what it should do (8.14). The ancients provide proper role models in this task (8.1, 8.18, 8.19, 8.20, 8.21).

Book IX

We return to the profile of Confucius.

(1) What Master Kong did. He rarely spoke of profit, fate, or ren (9.1). He avoided presumption, over-certainty, inflexibility, and arrogance (9.4). He always showed respect to those in mourning, those engaging in proper ceremony, and the blind (9.10).

(2) What Master Kong said of himself. He fulfilled his ritual obligations by regard for the spirit of the rite (9.3). He is not one of the genuinely noble because his circumstances have not given him focus (9.6) and his many accomplishments are the result of not having been tried in office (9.7). He has, essentially, failed in his work (9.9). The reason for this seems to be expressed in the tale of the jade box (9.13): you should put your talents to work, but one can only wait for the appropriate opportunity to do so. One continues the work anyway, because that is what is in one's power (cp. 9.19), but sometimes, as with the early death of Confucius's best student, Hui, things simply intervene before you can complete it (9.21). He does not have true understanding, but if a question is raised, he does whatever he can to think it through (9.8).

A particularly interesting passage (9.24) perhaps perfectly sums up the scholar's path as presented in The Analects. It is not enough to concur with exemplary sayings, which anyone can do; one must use them in self-improvement. It is not enough to be pleased with benefits, which anyone can do; one must ask what they are being given for. This is essential to being someone who can genuinely learn.

Book X

Book X has a greater obvious coherence than most of the other sections of the work. Itfocuses heavily on acting in accordance with the rites. We get a detailed description of how Confucius approached various ritual situations (10.1-10.4), then an extended description of the noble man's approach to rites in general (10.5-10.6), before returning to smaller comments on how Confucius approached various ritual situations (10.7-10.19). (The final sayings in the book, 10.20-10.21, are garbled and nobody knows exactly what the original was supposed to say.)

There are several notable points. Master Kong was more concerned for people than for horses, despite the expense of the latter (10.11; cp. 10.16), and he was careful to act appropriately toward a ruler (10.12-10.14). When participating in temple rites, he asked questions so that he might understand everything (10.15).

to be continued

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