Confucius Analects Quotes and Commentary by Larry Neal Gowdy
(PD) - Confucius presenting the young Gautama Buddha to Laozi
Copyright ©2014-2021 - updated February 06, 2021
[Update note: The following article was written prior to my having begun learning the ancient Chinese languages. The public domain quotes of James Legge's are all invalid translations, but it is useful to compare what I had written previously, to what I now know of the ancient texts. Thankfully, I did not stumble much beyond the foolishness of having assumed that Legge's translations ought to have been adequate representations of Confucius' sayings. In that light, I have not modified the original article.]
On occasion I pause and read writings of historical significance, writings that are perhaps well-known to many other individuals, but to me almost the entirety of Confucius' Analects is new. As with all other historical documents there will always be debates of how the writings should be interpreted, but for myself I am not interested in whether or not a Chinese word or phrase has been adequately translated into English, but rather my interest is in the personality behind the writings, the personality that chooses the choices, the firsthand reasoning of why a choice and concept are chosen, and not a reasoning based upon a philosophy or an education of memorizing another man's words.
The following quotes are taken from Project Gutenberg's e-text of The Chinese Classics (Confucian Analects) by James Legge. My choice of quotes is based upon how well my own firsthand knowledge appears to grasp the likely intentions of Confucius' concepts. My words are intended to speak of "this is how the Confucius concept applies to my own personal life in this modern era", and my words are not intended to claim "this is what Confucius taught". Confucius' era was very dissimilar to today's, and it is not reasonable for anyone in today's era to assume that Confucius' culture can be adequately interpreted relative to the culture of today's.
The Confucius sayings point to self-betterment, the act of an individual choosing to exert the effort to improve one's self, and the Confucius sayings are not as a tome of words to memorize and to then ignore as if knowing a word somehow makes the word alive. The highest ideals of religions, philosophies, ideologies, spiritualisms, sciences, and all else are found and realized within the individual having attained self-betterment. Man must participate in his own life, else all of his words are empty of value.
1. The Master said, 'Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?'
To speak of a constant perseverance, the man must first discover through contrast that some men do not think constantly. For the man who begins life with sporadic awareness, he is delighted when his enlightenment attains constant awareness, but for the man whose life began with constant never-ending thoughts, he may be shocked and horrified to learn that another man's mind is asleep. From which direction did Confucius arrive at his concept? Was Confucius a normal man who attained constant thought and effort, or did Confucius begin life aware and later learn of sleeping minds? The value of Confucius' Analects are weighed upon the scale of Confucius' own origins.
Constant perseverance and application require much effort, and much physical energy. Aside from the man's own knowing of his perpetual efforts, what evidence is observable for this effort? Observe the man's weight, compare his diet, study his movements; to expend constant effort at a high level, requiring high levels of physical and mental energy, if the man is obese then perhaps his is not a constant perseverance, and if his diet is not high in calories and fats, then upon what reasoning are we expected to believe that the man can exert such a high level of constant effort without his supplying the body the necessary energy gained from foods?
It is permitted that a man should observe and rationalize whether a claim might be true, false, or perhaps of a different nature, and it is each man's responsibility to observe and rationalize his own conclusions.
A man who is not in constant perseverance and application, he moves without purpose, he believes without reason, his life is hollow.
3. 'Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?'
And what is one's own composure? What is one's own state of intensity and knowing? To exist within a state of experiencing life as the observer, or to exist within a state of experiencing life as the creature itself, the weighing of the importance of external events is different for each. The life of the observer, there is no need nor desire to be known, and though his soul might be radiant of love, it is not the love that enables his absence of wishing to be known, but rather he simply has no need to be known; he is he, he is alone, he walks his own steps, he is a visitor, he stays for a short time, and then he leaves, his purpose is not the same as everyone else's. For the man who experiences life as the creature, he must attain a depth of self-acceptance for the man to not wish for fame, but is self-acceptance the act of virtue? What is virtue? Is the chosen word of "virtue" a correct translation, or a careless translation based upon western philosophy's manner of uncarefullness to not be of constant perseverance and application?
If no western book possesses a suitable description and definition of what "virtue" means, then upon what reasoning can it be assumed that a western interpretation of Confucius' Analects could be valid?
The man who is an observer, his soul might be virtuous, but his life is not of a nature that can be weighed as parallel to that of the creature's character: apples and potatoes, though both may be edible, both do not grow from the same vine, nor in the same direction.
First know what virtue is, first know what the firsthand experience is to not possess a desire to be known, and then know that there exists a different polarity of view that cannot be known. Are a man's words descriptive of his own thoughts, or are the words arranged to be heard? Know virtue, be virtue, taste one's own virtue, and then with the knowledge of knowing that one's virtue can never attain the highest possible cleanliness of purity and intensity, then judge one's own self. Is it virtue, or is it the several ingredients combining to create a state of being? If a man does not know of his own ingredients, then he cannot know virtue, and he cannot grasp what Confucius may have implied.
The Master said, 'Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue.'
What is false virtue, and what is virtue? To what is graded to be "fine" and "insinuating"? How can a man judge words and appearances to a third thing if the third thing is an unknown?
The man whose attributes are of gentleness, quietude, carefulness, mindfulness, and all that create attentiveness within a tone of caring, perhaps the sum of the man's actions may appear to create the interpretation of virtue, but it is not the sum of virtue that is worthy of being weighed to one's actions, but rather is it the nature of each ingredient that chooses one's words and appearances.
What is quietude, what is quietude composed of, and what effect does quietude have upon the inward self and the external actions? To observe one's self, to know one's own thoughts, virtue does not exist, virtue is what another man interprets of one's actions, and the virtuous man does not take note of whether his choices are virtuous.
The philosopher Tsang said, 'I daily examine myself on three points:-- whether, in transacting business for others, I may have been not faithful;-- whether, in intercourse with friends, I may have been not sincere;-- whether I may have not mastered and practiced the instructions of my teacher.'
To examine one's self after having committed a deed, it is a confession that the individual did not apply constant perseverance and application. The prisons are full of individuals who act first and think last. The enlightened man, and the observer, and the man of intelligence, they examine themselves while in the act of forming each thought, of weighing and critiquing each thought prior to its nascent, and never is there a post-examination; the examination arose and was complete before the man spoke a word. Words of philosophy are words of philosophy, and not words of mindfulness.
(PD) - Confucius Tang Dynasty
The Master said, To rule a country of a thousand chariots, there must be reverent attention to business, and sincerity; economy in expenditure, and love for men; and the employment of the people at the proper seasons.'
If a man were virtuous to not care that he is unknown, but yet the man could desire to rule a country, is this a contradiction, or is this an example of an era that is unknown today? What ruler today is virtuous? What man or woman is praised for their virtue today? Popularity and praise are given to those who, today, exhibit no virtue.
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.'
A love towards all, is all, is earnest, is truthful, is respectful, is filial, is good, and is friendship. To be one, is to be all others.
1. The Master said, 'If the scholar be not grave, he will not call forth any veneration, and his learning will not be solid.
2. 'Hold faithfulness and sincerity as first principles.'
But what of virtue and love? What is faithfulness? What is sincerity? Faithfulness and sincerity are composed of attributes, and it is the attribute that is the first principle that creates sincerity and faithfulness. If a man is asleep and does not know the origins of his thoughts, then how can he hold onto a thing that he does not know? If the man changes an originating attribute, then so will be changed sincerity and faithfulness. Focus on what is correct, and do not be concerned in believing that the created thing is its own origin.
3. 'Have no friends not equal to yourself.
Not one thing in the universe is equal to anything else; not one. What mind is so asleep that it cannot recognize differences? Know what is equal in one manner, and know what is not equal in another manner.
4. 'When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them.'
If a man helps his neighbor on the left, he must do so by choosing to not help the neighbor on the right. To do good in one direction requires that we choose to not do good in all other directions. No man is without fault, all men are ruled by the limitations of three dimensions, and not one of us can choose what Nature refuses. To abandon negativities, yes, just let them go, but there can be no abandoning that which is ruled by Nature. If there were no faults, then there would be no good. Choosing constant perseverance and application, that of weighing through logic that which is the greater good and the lesser fault, it is all that we can hope.
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.'
And for what does a man's heart aim? Perseverance of correctness, the act is the act of learning correctness.
Book II Chapter XIII
Tsze-kung asked what constituted the superior man. The Master said, 'He acts before he speaks, and afterwards speaks according to his actions.'
Contradiction. Truth. From which angle did Confucius speak, and from which angle does a man interpret Confucius' words? The superior man thinks first, the thoughts are the act, and his words arise after the act. The man who is not superior, he does not think before speaking, and he is not aware that an act can exist prior to speaking.
Book IV Le Jin - Chapter II
The Master said, 'Those who are without virtue cannot abide long either in a condition of poverty and hardship, or in a condition of enjoyment. The virtuous rest in virtue; the wise desire virtue.'
The animal, it is that which does not reason ideals, and the animal is driven by the cravings of the flesh, never to be satisfied nor content of having attained an ideal of self-value. The mind that can reason, it yearns for correctness, the mind forms ideals, ideals of a constant perseverance and application to achieve correctness, and the superior man finds rest in that which is correct; virtue.
The Master said, 'It is only the (truly) virtuous man, who can love, or who can hate, others.'
For the man who loves all, his hate is not for another's soul, but for the incorrect actions. The observer, he simply loves, he simply observes, he is himself, he is not a participant. The man of words believes that he knows what the observer is; the man of words is as a twinkling noise of no importance.
The Master said, 'If the will be set on virtue, there will be no practice of wickedness.'
If the ingredients of virtue are of correctness, wickedness cannot spawn.
1. The Master said, 'Riches and honours are what men desire. If it cannot be obtained in the proper way, they should not be held. Poverty and meanness are what men dislike. If it cannot be avoided in the proper way, they should not be avoided.
2. 'If a superior man abandon virtue, how can he fulfil the requirements of that name?
And what is superior? Superior implies to be better, to be more accurate, to be more aware; to be with a constant perseverance and application. Compared to any human, a tape recorder is better, more accurate, always receptive, and functions with constant application. Memorizing many men's words is not superiority. What is it that enables a man to be superior to that of a tape recorder? What are the ingredients of virtue? Discover virtue's ingredients, and in them there is found that which is superior. The superior man is virtuous; the virtuous man is superior.
3. 'The superior man does not, even for the space of a single meal, act contrary to virtue. In moments of haste, he cleaves to it. In seasons of danger, he cleaves to it.'
And what else can a man of virtue do? If his virtue is created upon a firm set of ingredients, and thus his virtue is true, then will not the ingredients remain the same ingredients regardless of circumstance? A tree remains a tree regardless of winds and rains. A virtuous man remains superior regardless of winds and rains.
1. The Master said, 'I have not seen a person who loved virtue, or one who hated what was not virtuous. He who loved virtue, would esteem nothing above it. He who hated what is not virtuous, would practice virtue in such a way that he would not allow anything that is not virtuous to approach his person.
To choose what is correct, and to contrast the choice with what is not correct, responds with a self-demand to be more correct.
The Master said, 'The faults of men are characteristic of the class to which they belong. By observing a man's faults, it may be known that he is virtuous.'
What more can be said?
The Master said, 'If a man in the morning hear the right way, he may die in the evening without regret.'
To end one's life without regret, for some, it is a choice chosen from the very beginning; it is correct.
The Master said, 'A scholar, whose mind is set on truth, and who is ashamed of bad clothes and bad food, is not fit to be discoursed with.'
If a man thinks of his business while kissing his wife, then his love for her is not true. If a scholar thinks of clothes and food while speaking, then his words are not true.
The Master said, 'The superior man, in the world, does not set his mind either for anything, or against anything; what is right he will follow.'
The goal, the aim, the purpose, all is for correctness, for what is right, and all else is irrelevant.
The Master said, 'The superior man thinks of virtue; the small man thinks of comfort. The superior man thinks of the sanctions of law; the small man thinks of favours which he may receive.'
And such is the nature of humanity.
The Master said, 'A man should say, I am not concerned that I have no place, I am concerned how I may fit myself for one. I am not concerned that I am not known, I seek to be worthy to be known.'
If a man has not achieved quality, then he should not become known as quality.
(PD) - Konfucius
The Master said, 'The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the mean man is conversant with gain.'
And what is righteousness? How many degrees and levels of righteousness exist? How many have been observed firsthand? If righteousness has not been empirically observed firsthand, then upon what reasoning can it be claimed that a man knows what righteousness is? What is the ingredient that flavors virtue, and thus creates righteousness? The righteous man is righteous because his ingredients are of quality, but the unrighteous man could not grasp what righteousness is even if he memorized the very ingredients. A symphony is beautiful to the ears, but the notes written on paper are not heard. Righteousness is a song to be lived, not a set of written ingredients to be read.
The Master said, 'When we see men of worth, we should think of equaling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.'
A great incentive to better one's self is to observe behavior that we do not want for ourselves. But for the masters, who exhibit worthiness, their examples are the contrasts that teach us that improvement is possible, and the goal is not to become equal, but to master the master. A follower is always a follower, even if his is in every measure equal to the master's character, and for as long as the follower is a follower, so will he be inferior even if equal. No two men can share identical lives or experiences, and no righteousness can be identical. May yours become superior from where you walk; be master.
The Master said, 'The superior man wishes to be slow in his speech and earnest in his conduct.'
Quietude is expressed within quiet, soft, thoughtful words, each word cautiously arranged. The slowness and softness are not chosen, but are their natural effects of a thinking mind and a caring heart.
Book V Kung-Ye Ch'ang - Chapter I
1. The Master said of Kung-ye Ch'ang that he might be wived; although he was put in bonds, he had not been guilty of any crime. Accordingly, he gave him his own daughter to wife.
2. Of Nan Yung he said that if the country were well governed he would not be out of office, and if it were ill-governed, he would escape punishment and disgrace. He gave him the daughter of his own elder brother to wife.
Though a man might tame his mind, it is the woman who births his heart.
1. Some one said, 'Yung is truly virtuous, but he is not ready with his tongue.'
2. The Master said, 'What is the good of being ready with the tongue? They who encounter men with smartnesses of speech for the most part procure themselves hatred. I know not whether he be truly virtuous, but why should he show readiness of the tongue?'
The righteous man, who when young aims for constant perseverance and application, he does not aim for elegance of language, but rather only for correct behavior, and his words may reflect his inexperience with words. Lucky is he who never learns a readiness of tongue, for to learn elegance of words, first is required the loss of focus on righteousness.
1. The Master said to Tsze-kung, 'Which do you consider superior, yourself or Hui?'
2. Tsze-kung replied, 'How dare I compare myself with Hui? Hui hears one point and knows all about a subject; I hear one point, and know a second.'
3. The Master said, 'You are not equal to him. I grant you, you are not equal to him.'
It is deemed by the common man to be a superior thing for another man to have memorized all written knowledge of a subject. To cross-light thoughts, is unknown to the common man. Having seen, and having heard, to the common man the two perceptions exist in solitude, but to the superior man, the perceptions are compared with a constant perseverance and application. Men are not equal.
Tsze-kung said, 'The Master's personal displays of his principles and ordinary descriptions of them may be heard. His discourses about man's nature, and the way of Heaven, cannot be heard.'
To write music, and to listen to what the written notes create with musical instruments, in none is there heard, or seen, or written of how the music serenades the heart.
When Tsze-lu heard anything, if he had not yet succeeded in carrying it into practice, he was only afraid lest he should hear something else.
First master the achievement, then read and hear what other men say of the thing. Little will as quickly destroy one's potential as that of being influenced by what other men believe.
The Master said, 'Fine words, an insinuating appearance, and excessive respect;-- Tso Ch'iu-ming was ashamed of them. I also am ashamed of them. To conceal resentment against a person, and appear friendly with him;-- Tso Ch'iu-ming was ashamed of such conduct. I also am ashamed of it.'
The claims of a master's false modesty are of themselves false. Honesty, spoken accuracy, this is treasured, even when the words describe one's own faults. To be the target of false respect, the master is ashamed for his having become the vehicle of an impropriety from a false speaker; the double-edged inaccuracy creates an emotional response that feels similar to being ashamed.
The Master said, 'It is all over! I have not yet seen one who could perceive his faults, and inwardly accuse himself.'
Within quietude, of constant perseverance and application, the mind and heart critique one's thoughts and acts. If a man cannot accuse one's self, then he has no conscience, nor compassion, or love. The superior man chooses correctness, and he is not hesitant of choosing what is correct; he will know his faults.
Book VII Shu R - Chapter VIII
The Master said, 'I do not open up the truth to one who is not eager to get knowledge, nor help out any one who is not anxious to explain himself. When I have presented one corner of a subject to any one, and he cannot from it learn the other three, I do not repeat my lesson.'
This quote is my favorite of all, for it mirrors my own choice of first testing an individual's interests before I speak of details that require interest and participation. As a child I found no adult to be interested in awareness and firsthand observations, nor much of anything else, and still today such a man is rare to be found.
If I speak of flour, oil, temperature, and time, and a man does not return with a loaf of unleavened bread, then I will not speak of yeast, herbs, or anything more. It is not logical to waste life for a man who has no goal but to memorize words, and who can never understand what the words mean. I speak of ingredients, those of sensory perceptions, quietude, honesty, and love, and if a man does not return with a loaf of unleavened virtue, then I will not speak of the other ingredients.
I speak of a concept, and if a man replies with an extrapolation of the concept, then I will speak of another related concept that flavors and colors the first concept. If the man replies with another extrapolation, then I will continue adding concepts up to the time that the man no longer replies with self-created thought. Of what value is it to speak of a ladder's rungs if a man will not lift his own foot to climb the ladder? If a man were to exert the effort to climb several rungs on his own without guidance, him I will honor with respect and reverence, and I will hand him my most prized treasures; his is a worthy soul.
The observer walks alone, aware of the creature, aware of being the visitor, and not the creature. Before the two became one, and the one became two, the walk had begun, and this is but a first step, with no man extrapolating, and of all the many things that I myself had yearned to speak of, none will be spoken, because no one extrapolated. And I wonder, how many things did Confucius not speak of due to no one extrapolating?