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The Analects (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – August 1, 2008
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Raymond Dawson, Emeritus Fellow, Wadham College, Oxford.
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“The Master said, To men who have risen at all above the middling sort, one may talk of things higher yet. But to men who are at all below the middling sort it is useless to talk of things that are above them.”
“As to be being a Divine Sage or even a Good Man, far be it from me to make any such claim. As for unwavering effort to learn and unflagging patience in teaching others, those are merits that I do not hesitate to claim.”
~ Confucius from The Analects of Confucius
We’re going old school on this one.
Believed to be rockin’ it in the 5th/6th century BCE (around the same time as Lao Tzu and Buddha), Confucius was super passionate about learning and developing himself into the best person he could be according to the dictates of his classic society.
The book can get a little funny as Confucius goes into some detail on how to live properly according to ancient Chinese customs (don’t forget to wear the black silk on special occasions! :) but it’s packed with a lot of great gems.
Here are some of the Big Ideas:
1. Let There Be No Evil - In your thoughts.
2. Recognizing Merit - See it in others!
3. Practicing - What you preach.
4. What Needs Doing? - Get on it!
5. I Can Always Be Certain - Of learning.
As we embrace these Big Ideas, let’s remember Confucius advising us: “There is one single thread binding my way together… the way of the Master consists in doing one’s best… that is all.”
(More goodness--including PhilosophersNotes on 250+ books at http://www.brianjohnson.me)
Arthur Waley’s translation has too many footnotes. I suspect that he was trying to write a translation that was as literal as possible, and felt that the footnotes were necessary to clarify the meaning of his translation. James R. Ware’s translation and Lin Yutang’s translations may be less literal. They are more literary.
In the West Confucius is often considered to be the founder of a religion. It would be more accurate to say that he was a moral and political philosopher, who also discussed theology. He did not name the gods. He believed that they should be worshiped in the traditional manner, but that one should not spend a lot of time thinking about who and what they are.
He seems to have thought that traditional religious practices have a harmonizing effect on society, but that religious dogmatism is divisive, and often dangerous. When we consider the history of religion in the West, it is easy to agree.
The gods Confucius worshiped are the autochthonous gods of ancient China. China lacks a great literature equivalent to the Bible, and the writings of the ancient Greek and Roman authors about its gods. To learn about them we must go to Chinese fairy tales. They are what is worshiped in what is called “Religious Taoism.”
When Buddhism entered China several hundred years after the life of Confucius it did so with its own pantheon of deities, largely borrowed from Hinduism. In China there was little conflict between Religious Taoism and Buddhism. Today many Chinese combine them in their worship of the Divine, just as many Japanese practice rites from Buddhism, Shinto, and even Christianity.
The Analects of Confucius was one of what Chinese call “The Four Books.” Together with “The Five Classics,” these comprise the Confucian canon. For about two thousand years Chinese youths were tested on these in the Imperial Exams. Those who passed entered the Scholar Gentry. The Scholar Gentry was equivalent to our civil servants, but they had more prestige and better incomes. They were expected to have several wives, and many children.
For two thousand years there was more social mobility in China than anywhere else on earth. Upward mobility was based on intelligence. Members of the Scholar Gentry were more prolific than members of any other class. This explains why Chinese are characterized by intelligence everywhere in the world that they live.
Nevertheless, the Imperial Exam System directed the attention of China’s most intelligent men to classics of the past, rather than to science. Because science is necessary for the invention of more advanced weapons, the Chinese had difficulty defending their nation from Western and Japanese aggression during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Now the Chinese are catching up. Chinese and Chinese Americans dominate science departments in American universities. They are coming to dominate American high tech companies. As the Chinese advance they rediscover the wisdom of Confucius and the Confucian canon.
There is indeed some truth to this if one looks at JAINISM, where their practitioners beg and avoid all indulgences until they die--a sort of spiritual suicide.
In spite of this, CONFUCIANISM lays heavy emphasis on being "Good", being a "true Gentleman" and having reverence for one's ancestors.
Within the "Analects of Confucius" one finds quite a few gems of wisdom, including the almost universal Golden Rule (the saying, not the health insurance company). Moderation is another prominent virtue. Finally, one is admonished not to worry if their own merits are not acknowledged--rather, one should strive to acknowledge the merits of others.
While there are lots of passages that are exceptionally quotable, there are others that presuppose that one has a firm grasp of Chinese History. The average reader is going to be very lost unless they have been reading tons of history books that document ~400 to 600 B.C.
There are footnotes, but it was the Introduction that I felt gave a more clear picture of who Confucius was and what specific terms meant.
As for the translation, it is very readable, minus all the references to figures in ancient Chinese history. The print is also a good size--you won't be squinting your eyes to read this book.
While I can't say with certainty that this is the "best" translation of the Confucian Analects, I certainly found it satisfactory enough for my needs--complete, readable, and informative.