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Analects


Although Confucius lived 2,563 years ago, many of his sayings still seem meaningful today.  Science and technology have developed and changed our lives immeasurably but human nature remains the same, and every new human being born into this world must be socialised and taught how to interact with others in society in an attempt to achieve the best outcome for that person and those affected by that individual’s actions.

It is because our characteristics as human beings remain the same though the world around has changed that we can still draw wisdom from the words of philosophers of the past.

Here we have chosen some of our favourite analects and noted how we think their wisdom might be applied in a modern context.  The original Chinese is given, along with our preferred translation, as English interpretations do vary.

1)學而時習之,不亦說乎?有朋自遠方來,不亦樂乎?人不知而不慍,不亦君子乎?

“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?”

The expression ‘Is it not delightful to have friends come from afar?’ has been used many times and therefore we think that the other two elements of this analect are perhaps more interesting.

The first (Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?) seems to point out that learning should be a pleasure, but sometimes the pleasure is to be found in the knowledge gained rather than in the process of acquiring it, which can simply be hard work.

The second (Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?) sums up an outlook that despite – or maybe because of – today’s celebrity culture seems to be very salient and applicable.

2)  This line of the analects was reputedly spoken by Confucius’ disciple Zi Xia:

子夏曰:賢賢易色,事父母能竭其力,事君能致其身,與朋友交言而有信。雖曰未學,吾必謂之學矣。

“If a man values the virtue of his wife above her appearance, does his utmost to serve his parents, would give his life for his country and is loyal and true to his friends, then I believe there is no reason to say he is uneducated though he may never have studied.”

We like this analects simply because it nicely describes the wisdom inherent in a life well lived regardless of formal education. Respect for this kind of decency and not only for material or academic attainments is as applicable today as when this analects was written.

3) 弟子入則孝,出則弟,謹而信,汎愛眾,而親仁。行有餘力,則以學文

“When at home a youth should be respectful to his parents, when outside he should respect his elders. He should be cautious and reliable. He should be generous in love to the masses but only keep company with decent people.  If he has excess energy, he should use it in self-cultivation.”

This analect may be considered rather optimistic in this day and age, but there is nothing wrong with having high goals! It seems to speak for itself without explanation.

4) 不患人之不己知,患不知人也

“Do not worry about people not understanding you but rather about misunderstanding others.”

In other words, the value of listening to others is important, and a greater emphasis on considering and understanding those around you might not go amiss.