Confucian Analects Quotes and Commentary 為政 Wei Zheng #2
(PD) Patriarchs of Zen cropped, sized, color enhanced, and text added by Larry Neal Gowdy.
Copyright ©2019 June 01, 2019
The original words of Wei Zheng's second section:
Zi say: Poem three hundred, one describe use cover, it say: 'Think nothing evil'.
Rephrased within modern English:
Zi said: "The book of three-hundred poems... one description use on the cover... it say: 'Think nothing evil'".
The sentence could be worded in numerous different ways, but still generally express the same underlying concept, that of the mental sum of the three-hundred poems containing no thoughts of evil.
The book of poems, some of the poems are very, very good... some poems, not as good... but, either way, the poems did attempt to present positive views of life...
Poetry, within ancient Asia, appears to have been very popular... perhaps as popular as television and movies are today... but unlike the ancient poems, modern American television and movies give no attempt to be kind.
A portion of the problem is that the word 'evil' is itself undefined in English. There is no shared standard within modern cultures, and without the standard, definitions of 'evil' change relative to ideologies, philosophies, clique beliefs, and personal whims of the moment. Precisely what might have been interpreted to have been 'evil' during Confucius' era, is unknown, and unknowable.
Nevertheless, if it were remarkable enough for Confucius to comment on the idea of a cover's title, or the encapsulated idea of the whole of the poems, then it suggests that — perhaps similar to today — it was rare for good writings to exist.
Only a few good writings, like those of Confucianism's, have survived the millennia... and amongst the writings, are the three-hundred poems that could feasibly be titled 'Think Nothing Evil'.
Public domain translations:
"The Master said, "In the Book of Poetry are three hundred pieces, but the design of them all may be embraced in one sentence - 'Having no depraved thoughts.'" (James Legge, 1890)
"The 'Book of Odes' contains three hundred pieces, but one expression in it may be taken as covering the purport of all, viz., Unswerving mindfulness." (Anonymous, 1900)
"The Master said, The three hundred poems are summed up in the one line, Think no evil. (Leonard A. Lyall, 1909)
"The Odes are three hundred in number, but their purport may be summed up in a word:—Have no depraved thoughts." (Lionel Giles, 1910)
The public domain translations were generally good enough, but the "depraved" word was dark and less than ideal for modern American English. 'Depraved' tends to infer 'intensely crooked, immorality, an inner sickness of perversion'. An individual can be evil, but not be perverse within the modern meaning of the word... while a perverse person is always evil. Within American English, the 'depraved' word opens the interpretation that the 300 poems could still contain many evils, but not contain the extreme of depravity.
Regardless of the public domain translators' own personal environments and the common English usage of their eras, it is unfair to Confucius' words and character to choose the 'depraved' word today.
Within all English cultures, there is no known ideological writing available to the public that is sizably free of 'evil'... the evil is so prevalent, that most people are unable to recognize that the evil exists... no writing is available to be used as a contrast, to compare what is good, to what it evil.
The three-hundred poems... are good examples of what 'think nothing evil' implied thousands of years ago.