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Sometime You Got It. Sometime You Don't: a personal reaction the Analects of Confucius Thought is what distinguishes humans from animals. It is the driving force that brings human societies to the belief of superiority over the rest of the living world. However, this is not to say that humans are the only living species that have thought. It is just that we are aware of only our thoughts and may not answer for other sentient beings. Thought produces such ideas from which religion, numbers, alphabets, and spoken language manifest.
Thought gives humans the ability to ponder circumstances and determine solutions to problems. Thought is imagination, reflection, and cogitation. Most of all thought procures answers that shape cultural lives around the world. It is thought from great thinkers that influence the values and habits of a culture. This essay will focus on the most and least appealing themes of one of the world's great thinkers, Confucius.
Thoughts of Confucius are carried through history in a book called the Lun-yu. According to Hucker, "the title means discourses and is normally translated Analects (77). " It is also important to explain that Confucius himself does not write the Analects. They are but "a collection of Confucius's sayings that appear to have been remembered and passed along by his disciples until they were gathered up into a single compilation, probably not many decades after his death (Hucker, 77). " For this reason I am a little skeptic about the authenticity of these works, but I am also aware that the Analects are the only source that claim to show the thoughts of Confucius in the purest form. In this case, I leave my skepticism behind and take the Analects to be the only understanding I have into the world of Confucius. I may also not forget the magnitude of impact this book has on Chinese culture beginning centuries before present. Traditional dates place Confucius between 551 - 479 B.
C. (Ebrey, 17). Most themes of the Analects appeal to some sense of my understanding. However, different aspects of certain themes can tend to be less appealing. Examples of this are determining a true gentleman. An appealing view of a gentleman comes from Book XV, chapter 18 and 20: 18.
The Master said, A gentleman is distressed by his own lack of capacity; he is never distressed at failure of others to recognize his merits. 20. The Master said, 'The demands that a gentleman makes are upon himself; those that a small man makes are upon others. ' From these two chapters I gather that a gentleman looks within himself and does not strive to be recognized. This is not unlike my feelings on how one ought to be secure with oneself and their capacities. An obvious contradiction to these themes comes from chapter 19 of the same Book. "The Master said, A gentleman has reason to be distressed if he ends his days without making a reputation for himself. " This aspect of a gentleman now lies in the hands of others, and how one ought to be distressed if others do not recognize one's capacities. In most cases, however, the theme of a true gentleman portrays an appealing figure that I feel compelled to follow. For instance, "The Master said, A gentleman is not an implement (I. 12). " Confusing for me at first, I find this chapter is meant to explain how a gentleman need not be specialize in only one qualification.
Similar to the European version of a Renaissance man, Confucius's gentleman ought to be a man of many qualifications. This also may include a lack of biases while one follows the path to a true gentleman. "The Master said, A gentleman can see a question from all sides without bias. The small man is biased and can see a question only from one side (I. 14). " This appeals to my understanding that there are always two sides to every story, and one ought not ignore either side if one is to truly understand. Another appealing theme of the Analects is the Master's vision of government and rulers. When posed the question on killing those without principles in order to save those with principles Confucius responded, "You are the government. Why employ killing?
If you want what is good, the people will be good. The virtue of a gentleman is like the wind, the virtue of a small person like grass. When the wind blows over it, the grass bends (Ebrey, 21). " I interpret this to mean that a fair and kind ruler need only be one who represents good, and the people will follow the ruler's virtue. In a broad sense the ruler must be Good and love men, as well as wise and know men, in order to set a good example and straighten those that are crooked (Analects, XII. 22). Confucius is very adamant on how one ought to interact with others. There is an appealing nature in his form of interaction that gathers knowledge from all types of people.
Confucius stresses that one can learn by selecting good qualities from the good, and one can learn self-correction from those that emulate bad qualities (Analects, VII. 21). I understand that there is good and bad in everyone, and one ought not ignore either side in order to gain from interaction with people. However, I also understand that most people do not enjoy having their faults pointed out to them, which is similar to how Confucius would respond. "The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others; he does not call attention to their defects (Analects, XII. 16). " Aware that there is good and bad in everyone, one would find oneself abandoned by people if a negative attitude towards others is used. The least appealing theme in the Analects is the goal of achieving Goodness. In the original text of the Analects the term jen represents what is meant by Good. Jen, in the Analects is a quality so rare one "cannot be chary in speaking of it (XII. 3). " It is explained as "a sublime moral attitude, a transcendental perfection attained to by legendary heroes such as Po I, but not by any living of historic person (Analects, 28). " For a theme so apparently unreachable to the living, Confucius and his disciples spend much time trying to understand this concept.
Perhaps one of Confucius's favorite disciples, Yen Hui, (which the Master said, "is capable of occupying his whole mind for three months on end with no thought but that of Goodness. ") is very perplexed in the search for Goodness. This is evident in a passage where Yen Hui "strain[s] [his] gaze up towards it, the higher is soars. The deeper [he] bore down on it, the harder it becomes (IX. 10). " To no avail Yen Hui searches for Goodness until he realizes he "can find no way of getting to it at all. Finding Goodness seems as though it is an imposable feat, and for this reason I find it most unappealing. Further, I understand goodness and badness to be necessary in human existence. Goodness is necessary when interaction between people takes place.
However, it should not become an obsession. The themes from the Analects that tell how one ought to live and react to others are the most appealing to me. Confucius is aware that government should set examples so as to correct those that are crooked it rules over. Learning from those around you must not necessarily come from the good qualities but from the bad as well. And there are habits that one ought to follow to become a solid figure in society. Bibliography:
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Research essay sample on Good And Bad True Gentleman
The concept of The Golden Rule appears in almost all the world's religions in one form or another. Examine its usage in The Analects (Book V, Ch. 11; Book XV, Ch. 23). Why is this such a universal concept?
Such a concept would fit easily into the ideology presented in The Analects. Confucius repeatedly stresses the concept of goodness or humaneness (jen) in the text. The Golden Rule, or ethic of reciprocity, dictates simply that behavior should be determined by an understanding of another human being's capacity for goodness, as well as one's own humanity. If we were to engage in abusive behavior, we could not ask anything better for ourselves. In doing so, we not only destroy our capacity for jen but also could contribute to its erosion in others. Its universality only underscores its importance in the maintenance of a civilized society. As such, it is no surprise that it is found in nearly every major religion.
Examine Book VII, Ch.1, in which Confucius states that he only transmits what has been taught to him but does not innovate or add anything of his creation. Why do you think this is the case? How does this approach complement Confucian ideology?
Confucius placed great value on the ways of the ancients before him. In Chapters 2 and 3 of Book VII, he continues to elaborate on this idea by professing his love of learning, but not of teaching specifically. It can be inferred that if a relationship between learning and teaching could be ascertained, Confucius would place greater weight on learning. In this manner the knowledge that he has gained is simply passed on but not to be reinterpreted. He states in Chapter 3 that the thought of not having perfected his learning is among those things that would bring him great sadness. At numerous times in the text, Confucius tells his disciples that he is not himself an example of perfection, and that he does not know one who is. It can be argued that he saw himself more as an arrow pointing to the Way, rather than presenting himself as one who had lived it.
Examine the passage from Book II, Chapter 4 ("At fifteen, I set my heart upon learning. At thirty I had planted my feet firm upon the ground..."). What is the significance of this passage and how does it relate to the larger thematic principles of the text?
The passage ends with the phrase "At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart; for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right." Confucius reveals that self-cultivation is a lifelong goal. The self that Confucius wishes to cultivate is one that looks within and compares himself with the moral and social canons of tradition. The standard of Chun-tzu/junzi is not one that is simply reached and then used as an example to others. Rather it is a constant process of refinement, in which every thought and action must be evaluated against the moral ideals of Confucius's time. Confucius states that it took him until the age of seventy to be able to feel he had internalized this moral canon as his own.
Examine the concepts of li, te, and jen/ren. How are they related to the manifestation of the junzi/chun-tzu?
In examining these concepts it is helpful to see jen/ren as a characteristic, while the other terms can be seen as a means to attain it. A gentleman applies te, or moral force, in accordance with what is proper (li), in order to achieve ren/jen, or goodness. By providing this outline, the text makes an argument for their relationship, but more importantly illustrates how the moral attitude of a gentleman is manifested. It can be argued that it is actually goodness which is necessary to first seek out the knowledge of li, for example. By examining the terms in a related but not necessarily linear arrangement, this relationship can take on an almost cyclical nature. This would also explain not only how goodness is achieved, but also how it is maintained.
Examine the concept of filial piety hsiao/xiao in The Analects. How does it relate to the guidelines presented regarding governance over a population?
The text repeatedly stresses the importance of how each action can affect one's parents, while also stressing the importance that one's parents have in his or her daily life. Deference to them is praised as a virtue unto itself. Duties were assigned not only to the living but also to the dead. As part of the larger fabric of Confucianism, there is an underlying theme of consideration for others. Book II of the text in particular contains passages on both filial piety as well as governance. While seemingly unrelated, both stress the importance of the responsibility to care for others. Confucian ideals about governance also stress fairness and leading by virtue (te). Although a relationship between the two is never literally spelled out, their inclusion as topics together in Book II draws an implication that caring for others as part of one's duties applies just as directly to the expectations of public office. This connection is revisited again in Book XII, Ch. 11.
Are Confucius's ideas on the governance of common people realistic or idealistic?
Confucian ideals stress that a ruler should rule by example and te/de, or moral force, rather than by the use of fear or physical force. As presented in The Analects, Confucius believed that a just and benevolent ruler would be able to spread such goodness and positivity by example and thus help it spread throughout a kingdom so that all the people within it would learn to apply it in their own lives. While this is somewhat idealistic on its face, it also illustrates that Confucius's beliefs stemmed from benevolence and not the later ideologies represented by Legalism. While this is a sound basis for a philosophy of governance, The Analects does not deal in specific examples but rather in general statements. As such, there is no clear guidance on how to best deal with complex problems. For example, Confucian ideals teach that if a ruler is not able to act in what is right or best, that ruler should step down. By stepping down, a ruler may actually invite greater difficulties and problems into a kingdom. Good and bad are presented as largely black and white ideas, with no shades of gray.
In opposition to the gentleman (junzi/chun-tzu), the text presents the character of the "small man". Compare and contrast these two characters.
The junzi/chun-tzu is described in the text as being benevolent, concerned with the welfare of others, governed by ritual and tradition, honest, and also deferential to ancestors and the Way. Such an individual is concerned with doing what is right in any and all situations. By contrast, a small man is not concerned with morality but with what is profitable. Such an individual is on the look out for what can benefit only himself and has no concern for benevolence. The text describes a small man as easily agitated and stressed, whereas the gentleman is calm and centered. Beyond describing these characters simply in terms of superior vs. inferior moral codes, the text also presents the life of the gentleman as being of greater benefit to others and to himself. In this sense, Confucius elevates this standard because he believes it is in every person's self-interest to cultivate the gentleman within.
Confucius was born into a poor family and managed to climb the social strata by becoming one of a growing number of shi, an intermediate class between commoners and aristocracy. Discuss why Confucius's ideas are of particular note considering his background and class status.
Considering his own climb through the social classes on a path that would have led to a possible political career, Confucius could have easily become a goal-oriented individual seeking wealth and status. Instead he eschewed these principals and substituted a moral philosophy that was concerned with the betterment of all classes in society. It is certain that Confucius was disillusioned by some of the behavior he witnessed men in power engaging in. His exile from the kingdom of Lu is evidence of that. Confucius imposed this exile on himself in order to travel to neighboring kingdoms to spread his particular brand of philosophy. In keeping with his own beliefs, he continually engaged in seeking out and spreading what he saw as good. A lesser man may have simply given up or decided to join those in power. Confucius's occupation in the intermediate class also gave him perspective. Coming from a poorer home, he had knowledge of the lives of commoners. In the shi class he was able to move up and had some exposure to aristocracy. This unique position allowed for the development of his social and political beliefs.
Confucius travels to several kingdoms to try to spread his particular brand of gospel but does not see it implemented anywhere. Afterward he returns home. Why do you think Confucius's ideology did not gain support amongst the leaders of these kingdoms?
Confucius's ideology called for rulers who did not act out of personal gain but out of benevolence for their people. Given that the power was beginning to be usurped by feudal lords during his lifetime, it is likely that many kingdoms did not see the practicality of his teachings. They may even have seen benevolence as partially responsible for the scattering of power. Confucius's beliefs also limited the power of the ruler to some extent. Ruling by what was just and right was considered paramount, even superior to the ruler himself. In this framework, a ruler was always to be held accountable to interests that may benefit others but not necessarily benefit his own political interests. Though the teachings of The Analects are steeped in morality and ritual, they may have been seen by rulers as being old-fashioned as well as a check on their own power.
It is clear from textual analysis as well as dating of the work that The Analects were written after Confucius's death as well as the death of some of the disciples mentioned. Despite this fact the work has had great influence on Chinese society and philosophy. Examine the content presented in the work. Why has it resonated with so many people for so long?
While the practicality of Confucius's ideas may be called into question, the principles have a timeless quality that have encouraged the pursuit of what Confucius believed was the best in all people. Confucius presented an underlying order of justice in his assessment of human existence. If someone were to behave selfishly or treat others poorly, a punishment was not necessary. This individual's life would simply not be one of happiness but one of anxiousness and despair. Contrast this with the concept of punishment awaiting them in the afterlife. Meanwhile someone who lived according to a moral code and followed the Way would find that to be its own reward. This is of particular importance to someone who may have suffered injustice at the hands of others and could be tempted to simply behave in the same manner. In this sense it can argued that a concept of faith can be found in Confucianism, and this may explain its reach and longevity.