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The Analects
…in 3000 words

“The object of the superior man is truth”

Glyn Hughes’
















Kong Qiu was born in 551BC at Qufu, in South-East China. His elderly father died when Qui was just three and the once prosperous Kong family fell on harder times. After working in modest jobs as an accountant and herdsman, aged 50, his talents were at last recognised and he was made minister of justice to Duke Ding of Lu. Eventually, he fell out with his employer and began a period of wandering the small States trying, unsuccessfully, to persuade aristocrats and officials to take on his ideas of benevolent government. His later years were spent back home, teaching a band of disciples who knew him as ‘Master’ Kong , or Kong Fuzi, from where we get the Latinised name ‘Confucius’.

In China, and much of South-East Asia, he is accorded a degree of respect so extraordinary that many a westerner has assumed that ‘Confucianism’ is a religion. There are shrines where ‘The Great Teacher’ is remembered and where admirers might burn incense in his honour. But Confucius was an ordinary, mortal man, and Confucianism is a social philosophy, it has neither creed nor dogma, is unconcerned about the fate of the Universe, the status of spirits or the existence of an otherworld. Around 100BC Emperor Wu of Han made it the official ethical system of the State, a position it held until the 20th Century.

The Analects are sayings collected by Confucius’ students, perhaps seventy years after his death, which, along with ‘The Great Learning’, ‘The Doctrine Of The Mean’ and the book of his follower Mencius form the Four Classics of Confucian thought. To Westerners the Analects often seem abstruse. They make more sense if you realise that Confucius himself claimed to merely to be a “transmitter who invented nothing” (7:1) whose task was to find a “a unity all pervading” (15:2) in the wisdom of the Five Ancient Classics; the books of Changes, Poetry, Rites, History and the Spring and Autumn Annals, through the principles of:

Rn: “Humaneness”, “Virtue”, “Benevolence”, “Love”, “Jen”, “Goodness”
Chn-tzu: “The man who follows Rn”, “The Superior Man”, “Man of virtue”, “Gentleman” (1:1, 4:16, 15:18 etc)
Li: “Protocol”, “The proper way”, “The established rules”, “Rites”, “Decorum”, “Propriety”, “Manners”, “Human virtue”, “Ritual”, “Etiquette”
Zhongyong: “The Doctrine of the Mean”, “The middle way, “The middle road” (6:10)
Xi o: “Filial piety”, “Respect”, “Hsiao”  the long-established rules whereby in the ‘The Five Constant Relationships’ (parent/child, elder/younger siblings, husband/wife, elder/younger friends, rulers/subjects) the senior party owes care to the junior, who owes respect in return (4:18, 3:11 etc)
Cheng-ming: “The rectification of names”, “Correct descriptions”, “Defining terms” (13.3, 15:40)

This Squashed abridgement, largely based on the 1861 translation by James Legge, reduces the original 45000 words down to 3044 (7%), giving an estimated reading time of 20 minutes.

Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes  2008

1:1 The Master said, ‘Is it not pleasant to learn learn with a constant perseverance and application? 2. ‘Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?’ 3. ‘Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?’

1:3 The Master said, ‘Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue.’

1:4 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 practised the instructions of my teacher.

1:8 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. 3. ‘Have no friends not equal to yourself. 4. ‘When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them.’

1:13 The philosopher Yu said, ‘When agreements are made according to what is right, what is spoken can be made good. When respect is shown according to what is proper, one keeps far from shame and disgrace. When the parties upon whom a man leans are proper persons to be intimate with, he can make them his guides and masters.’

1:15 1. Tsze-kung said, ‘What do you pronounce concerning the poor man who yet does not flatter, and the rich man who is not proud?’ The Master replied, ‘They will do; but they are not equal to him, who, though poor, is yet cheerful, and to him, who, though rich, loves the rules of propriety.’

1:16 The Master said, ‘I will not be afflicted at men’s not knowing me; I will be afflicted that I do not know men.’

2:2 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.”‘

2:4 1. The Master said, ‘At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. 2. ‘At thirty, I stood firm. 3. ‘At forty, I had no doubts. 4. ‘At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. 5. ‘At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. 6. ‘At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.’

2:5 1. Mang I asked what filial piety was. The Master said, ‘It is not being disobedient.’

2:7 Tsze-yu asked what filial piety was. The Master said, ‘The filial piety of now-a-days means the support of one’s parents. But dogs and horses likewise are able to do something in the way of support;- without reverence, what is there to distinguish the one support given from the other?’

2:11 The Master said, ‘If a man keeps cherishing his old knowledge, so as continually to be acquiring new, he may be a teacher of others.’

2:13 Tsze-kung asked what constituted the superior man. The Master said, ‘He acts before he speaks, and afterwards speaks according to his actions.’

2:15 The Master said, ‘Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.’

2:20 Chi K’ang asked how to cause the people to reverence their ruler, to be faithful to him, and to go on to nerve themselves to virtue. The Master said, ‘Let him preside over them with gravity;- then they will reverence him. Let him be filial and kind to all;- then they will be faithful to him. Let him advance the good and teach the incompetent;- then they will eagerly seek to be virtuous.’

2:24 2. ‘To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.’

3:4 2. The Master said, ‘In festive ceremonies, it is better to be sparing than extravagant. In ceremonies of mourning, it is better that there be deep sorrow than a minute attention to observances.’

3:32 The Master instructing the grand music-master of Lu said, ‘How to play music may be known. At the commencement of the piece, all the parts should sound together. As it proceeds, they should be in harmony while severally distinct and flowing without break, and thus on to the conclusion.’

3:26 The Master said, ‘High station filled without indulgent generosity; ceremonies performed without reverence; mourning conducted without sorrow;- wherewith should I contemplate such ways?’

4:3 The Master said, ‘It is only the (truly) virtuous man, who can love, or who can hate, others.’

4:5 1. The Master said, ‘Riches and honors 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.

4:9 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. ‘

4:11 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 favors which he may receive. ‘

4:16 The Master said, ‘The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the mean man is conversant with gain.’

4:18 The Master said, ‘In serving his parents, a son may remonstrate with them, but gently; when he sees that they do not incline to follow his advice, he shows an increased degree of reverence, but does not abandon his purpose; and should they punish him, he does not allow himself to murmur.’

4:25 The Master said, ‘Virtue is not left to stand alone. He who practices it will have neighbors’

5:15 The Master said of Tsze-ch’an that he had four of the characteristics of a superior man:- in his conduct of himself, he was humble; in serving his superiors, he was respectful; in nourishing the people, he was kind; in ordering the people, he was just.’

5:19 Chi Wan thought three times before taking action. When the Master was informed of it, he said, ‘Twice will do.’

6:10 Yen Ch’iu said, ‘It is not that I do not delight in your doctrines, but my strength is insufficient.’ The Master said, ‘Those whose strength is insufficient give over in the middle of the way but now you limit yourself.’

6:18 The Master said, ‘They who know the truth are not equal to those who love it, and they who love it are not equal to those who delight in it.’

7:7 The Master said, ‘From the man bringing his bundle of dried flesh for my teaching upwards, I have never refused instruction to any one.’

7:8 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.’

7:15 The Master said, ‘With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my bended arm for a pillow;- I have still joy in the midst of these things. Riches and honors acquired by unrighteousness, are to me as a floating cloud.’

7:36 The Master said, ‘The superior man is satisfied and composed; the mean man is always full of distress.’

8:2 1. The Master said, ‘Respectfulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes timidity; boldness, without the rules of propriety, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the rules of propriety, becomes rudeness.

8:9 The Master said, ‘The people may be made to follow a path of action, but they may not be made to understand it.’

9:4 There were four things from which the Master was entirely free. He had no foregone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinacy, and no egoism.

9:13 1. The Master was wishing to go and live among the nine wild tribes of the east. 2. Some one said, ‘They are rude. How can you do such a thing?’ The Master said, ‘If a superior man dwelt among them, what rudeness would there be?’

9:18 The Master said, ‘The prosecution of learning may be compared to what may happen in raising a mound. If there want but one basket of earth to complete the work, and I stop, the stopping is my own work. It may be compared to throwing down the earth on the level ground. Though but one basketful is thrown at a time, the advancing with it is my own going forward.’

9:28 The Master said, ‘The wise are free from perplexities; the virtuous from anxiety; and the bold from fear.’

10:12 The stable being burned down, when he was at court, on his return he said, ‘Has any man been hurt?’ He did not ask about the horses.

12:4 1. Sze-ma Niu asked about the superior man. The Master said, ‘The superior man has neither anxiety nor fear.’ 2. ‘Being without anxiety or fear!’ said Nui;- ‘does this constitute what we call the superior man?’ 3. The Master said, ‘When internal examination discovers nothing wrong, what is there to be anxious about, what is there to fear?’

12:11 1. The Duke Ching, of Ch’i, asked Confucius about government. 2. Confucius replied, ‘There is government, when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son.’ 3. ‘Good!’ said the duke; ‘if, indeed; the prince be not prince, the minister not minister, the father not father, and the son not son, although I have my revenue, can I enjoy it?’

12:13 The Master said, ‘In hearing litigations, I am like any other body. What is necessary, however, is to cause the people to have no litigations.’

12:15 The Master said, ‘By extensively studying all learning, and keeping himself under the restraint of the rules of propriety, one may thus likewise not err from what is right.’

12:17 Chi K’ang asked Confucius about government. Confucius replied, ‘To govern means to rectify. If you lead on the people with correctness, who will dare not to be correct?’

12:19 Chi K’ang asked Confucius about government, saying, ‘What do you say to killing the unprincipled for the good of the principled?’ Confucius replied, ‘Sir, in carrying on your government, why should you use killing at all? Let your evinced desires be for what is good, and the people will be good. The relation between superiors and inferiors, is like that between the wind and the grass. The grass must bend, when the wind blows across it.’

12:22 1. Fan Ch’ih asked about benevolence. The Master said, ‘It is to love all men.’ He asked about knowledge. The Master said, ‘It is to know all men.’

12:23 Tsze-kung asked about friendship. The Master said, ‘Faithfully admonish your friend, and skilfully lead him on. If you find him impracticable, stop. Do not disgrace yourself.’

13:3 1. Tsze-lu said, ‘The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?’ 2. The Master replied, ‘What is necessary is to rectify names.’ 3. ‘So, indeed!’ said Tsze-lu. ‘You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?’ 4. The Master said, ‘How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. 5. ‘If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. 6. ‘When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. 7. ‘Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires, is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.’

13:5 The Master said, ‘Though a man may be able to recite the three hundred odes, yet if, when intrusted with a governmental charge, he knows not how to act, or if, when sent to any quarter on a mission, he cannot give his replies unassisted, notwithstanding the extent of his learning, of what practical use is it?’

13:6 The Master said, ‘When a prince’s personal conduct is correct, his government is effective without the issuing of orders. If his personal conduct is not correct, he may issue orders, but they will not be followed.’

14:1 Hsien asked what was shameful. The Master said, ‘When good government prevails in a state, to be thinking only of salary; and, when bad government prevails, to be thinking, in the same way, only of salary;- this is shameful.’

14:23 Tsze-lu asked how a ruler should be served. The Master said, ‘Do not impose on him, and, moreover, withstand him to his face.’

14:24 The Master said, ‘The progress of the superior man is upwards; the progress of the mean man is downwards.’

14:29 The Master said, ‘The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.’

14:36 1. Some one said, ‘What do you say concerning the principle that injury should be recompensed with kindness?’ 2. The Master said, ‘With what then will you recompense kindness? 3. ‘Recompense injury with justice, and recompense kindness with kindness.’

15:2 1. The Master said, ‘Ts’ze, you think, I suppose, that I am one who learns many things and keeps them in memory?’ 2. Tsze-kung replied, ‘Yes,- but perhaps it is not so?’ 3. ‘No,’ was the answer; ‘I seek a unity all-pervading.’

15:18 The Master said, ‘The superior man is distressed by his want of ability. He is not distressed by men’s not knowing him.’

15:19 The Master said, ‘The superior man dislikes the thought of his name not being mentioned after his death.’

15:20 The Master said, ‘What the superior man seeks, is in himself. What the mean man seeks, is in others.’

15:21 The Master said, ‘The superior man is dignified, but does not wrangle. He is sociable, but not a partisan.’

15:22 The Master said, ‘The superior man does not promote a man simply on account of his words, nor does he put aside good words because of the man.’

15:23 Tsze-kung asked, saying, ‘Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?’ The Master said, ‘Is not Reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.’

15:31 The Master said, ‘The object of the superior man is truth. Food is not his object. There is ploughing;- even in that there is sometimes want. So with learning;- emolument may be found in it. The superior man is anxious lest he should not get truth; he is not anxious lest poverty should come upon him.’

15:36 The Master said, ‘The superior man is correctly firm, and not firm merely.’

15:38 The Master said, ‘In teaching there should be no distinction of classes.’

15:40 The Master said, ‘In language it is simply required that it convey the meaning.’

16:6 Confucius said, ‘There are three errors to which they who stand in the presence of a man of virtue and station are liable. They may speak when it does not come to them to speak;- this is called rashness. They may not speak when it comes to them to speak;- this is called concealment. They may speak without looking at the countenance of their superior;- this is called blindness.’

16:8 1. Confucius said, ‘There are three things of which the superior man stands in awe. He stands in awe of the ordinances of Heaven. He stands in awe of great men. He stands in awe of the words of sages. 2. ‘The mean man does not know the ordinances of Heaven, and consequently does not stand in awe of them. He is disrespectful to great men. He makes sport of the words of sages.’

16:9 Confucius said, ‘Those who are born with the possession of knowledge are the highest class of men. Those who learn, and so, readily, get possession of knowledge, are the next. Those who are dull and stupid, and yet compass the learning, are another class next to these. As to those who are dull and stupid and yet do not learn;- they are the lowest of the people.’

17:2 The Master said, ‘By their natures, men are nearly alike; it is by their habits they get to be wide apart.’

17:3 The Master said, ‘There are only the wise of the highest class, and the stupid of the lowest class, who cannot be changed.’

17:6 Tsze-chang asked Confucius about perfect virtue. Confucius said, ‘To be able to practice five things everywhere under heaven constitutes perfect virtue.’ He begged to ask what they were, and was told, ‘Gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness. If you are grave, you will not be treated with disrespect. If you are generous, you will win all. If you are sincere, people will repose trust in you. If you are earnest, you will accomplish much. If you are kind, this will enable you to employ the services of others.

17:24 1. Tsze-kung said, ‘Has the superior man his hatreds also?’ The Master said, ‘He has his hatreds. He hates those who proclaim the evil of others. He hates the man who, being in a low station, slanders his superiors. He hates those who have valor merely, and are unobservant of propriety. He hates those who are forward and determined, and, at the same time, of contracted understanding.’

19:9 Tsze-hsia said, ‘The superior man undergoes three changes. Looked at from a distance, he appears stern; when approached, he is mild; when he is heard to speak, his language is firm and decided.’

20:3 1. The Master said, ‘Without recognizing the ordinances of Heaven, it is impossible to be a superior man. 2. ‘Without an acquaintance with the rules of Propriety, it is impossible for the character to be established. 3. ‘Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men.’









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