This week we learned about our first religion tradition, Confucianism. After listening to the video lectures and reading the selections from the sacred texts of Confucianism, please answer both of the following questions:
1. Choose two of the passages from The Analects – what do you think they mean? Do they provide any connection to your life? What do you think Confucius was trying to teach his students with these words? Do you agree with the teachings? Why or why not?
2. In Western society we tend to value equality and believe that seeing everyone as equal is the best way to create a respectful, harmonious society. But Confucian society is based on hierarchies – hierarchies primarily based on age, wisdom and experience. In Confucian society, no relationship is completely equal – every relationship contains a built-in hierarchy and each member of that hierarchy is expected to behave accordingly. If you are the superior, you should care for, teach, and guide the other. If you are the inferior part of the relationship, you should show respect, honor, and deference to the other. This is very different from American society, where everyone is supposed to be equal and treated equally.
Which do you think is the best way to create a harmonious society? Should we emphasize the innate equality between all people or that every relationship has an innate hierarchy, which should be respected? In American society, do you think that we live up to our own teachings of equality?
The following texts come from the most important text of the Confucian tradition, The Analects.
The Analects is the principal text that we will be looking at for Confucianism – it is an interesting text because it was not written by Confucius himself. Confucius never wrote down any of his own ideas, although he did edit several previous “classics” that he thought people in China should be reading as part of their education. This is very much in keeping with Confucius’ idea that he was not necessarily coming up with anything new – he didn’t think of himself as starting a new tradition, but just reminding people of the wisdom of the past and how to re-connect with it.
The Analects were compiled by his students several generations after Confucius, who claimed that they had memorized and passed down his teachings. It is believed to have been written in the Warring States Period, so sometime from the 400s-200s BCE, but did not achieve its final form until around 175 BCE. It is a collection of Confucius’ sayings gathered by his students, and many of the passages take the form of conversations with his students.
One interesting aspect of The Analects is that there are not a lot of broad, abstract teachings – Confucius’ teachings were much more situational because he was responding to specific questions. As we will see in the following excerpts, when asked about certain virtues, Confucius would usually give a specific example of a person who possessed that virtue or a situation in which the virtue was demonstrated.
Important note: in The Analects, whenever it says “the Master said” it is referring to Confucius himself. It was customary in China at the time to refer to a respected teacher as “Master.” As you can see, The Analects are just a compilation of sayings of Confucius, so it’s not a story or a narrative, although sometimes Confucius tells short stories to his students.
Here are some images of The Analects in the original Chinese:
Excerpts from The AnalectsAnalects 1.1-3
The Master said, ‘Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application? ‘Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?’. ‘Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?’
Filial piety and respect for elders, are these not the roots of ren (compassion)?
Those of craft words and ingratiating expression are rarely ren.
The Master said, ‘A youth, when at home, should be filial, and, abroad, respectful to his elders. He should be earnest and truthful. He should overflow in love to all, and cultivate the friendship of the good. When he has time and opportunity, after the performance of these things, he should employ them in polite studies.’
Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles. And have no friends not like yourself”
The Master said, ‘He who aims to be a man of complete virtue in his food does not seek to gratify his appetite, nor in his dwelling place does he seek the appliances of ease; he is earnest in what he is doing, and careful in his speech; he frequents the company of men of principle that he may be rectified:– such a person may be said indeed to love to learn.’
The Master said, ‘At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. ‘At thirty, I stood firm. ‘At forty, I had no doubts.4. ‘At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. ‘At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. ‘At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.’
Virtue never stands alone. It is bound to have neighbors.
The ren person is one who, wishing himself to be settled in position, sets up others; wishing himself to have access to the powerful, achieves access for others.
The Master said, ‘A transmitter and not a maker, believing in and loving the ancients, I venture to compare myself with our old P’ang.’
*P’ang is one of the sage rulers that Confucius tried to emulate.
The Master said, ‘Let the will be set on the path of duty. ‘Let every attainment in what is good be firmly grasped. ‘Let perfect virtue be accorded with. ‘Let relaxation and enjoyment be found in the polite arts.’
*The translation “polite arts” is referring to the art forms that Confucius believed would help develop one’s character, such as music, poetry, and painting.
What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.
The Master said, ‘The superior man in everything considers righteousness to be essential. He performs it according to the rules of propriety. He brings it forth in humility. He completes it with sincerity. This is indeed a superior man.’ The Master said, ‘The superior man is distressed by his want of ability. He is not distressed by men’s not knowing him.’
The Master said, ‘What the superior man seeks, is in himself. What the mean man seeks, is in others.’
*here “mean” doesn’t mean not nice, it means a simple or selfish person.
[A student] asked, saying “is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all of one’s life?” The Master said, “Is not shu (reciprocity) such a word?”
Excerpts found at https://www.sacred-texts.com/cfu/cfu.html