The Sayings Of Confucius
To date, the oldest extant manuscript of the Analects are the discovered texts found in the Haihunhou Tomb in 2011; the Haihunhou Analects "circulated at least seventeen years" before the Dingzhou and Pyongyang ones. Not to mention Kongcongzi, which may or may not contain forgeries and contain collected sayings of Confucius his disciples and his later family which could also be part of the transmission of the text.
The Sayings of Confucius
Within these incipits a large number of passages in the Analects begin with the formulaic ziyue, "The Master said," but without punctuation marks in classical Chinese, this does not confirm whether what follows ziyue is direct quotation of actual sayings of Confucius, or simply to be understood as "the Master said that.." and the paraphrase of Confucius by the compilers of the Analects.
Confucius eventually returned to Lu, where he gathered more disciples and edited the classics of Zhou culture, including texts on ritual, music, history and poetry that became the bedrock of later Confucianism. Soon after Confucius' death in 479 B.C.E, his followers committed his most cherished sayings to print in a series of dialogues called the Analects.
This book of the Master's Sayings is believed by the Chinese to have been written by the disciples of Confucius. But there is nothing to prove this, and some passages in the book point the other way. Book viii speaks of the death of Tseng-tzu, who did not die till 437 b.c., forty-two years after the Master. The chief authority for the text as it stands to-day is a manuscript found in the house of Confucius in 150 b.c., hidden there, in all likelihood, between the years 213 and 211 b.c., when the reigning emperor was seeking to destroy every copy of the classics. We find no earlier reference to the book under its present name. But Mencius (372-289 b.c.) quotes seven passages from it, in language all but identical with the present text, as the words of Confucius. No man ever talked the language of these sayings. Such pith and smoothness is only reached by a long[xiii] process of rounding and polishing. We shall probably come no nearer to the truth than Legge's conclusion that the book was put together by the pupils of the disciples of Confucius, from the words and notebooks of their masters, about the year 400 b.c.
That Confucius possessed a noble, commanding personality, there can be little doubt. It is shown by his recorded traits of character, by his lofty moral teachings, by the high-minded men that he trained to continue his life-work. In their enthusiastic love and admiration, they declared him the greatest of men, the sage without flaw, the perfect man. That he himself did not make any pretension to possess virtue and wisdom in their fullness is shown by his own recorded sayings. He was conscious of his shortcomings, and this consciousness he made no attempt to keep concealed. But of his love of virtue and wisdom there can be no question. He is described in "Analects", VII, 18, as one "who in the eager pursuit of knowledge, forgot his food, and in the joy of attaining to it forgot his sorrow". Whatever in the traditional records of the past, whether history, lyric poems, or rites and ceremonies, was edifying and conducive to virtue, he sought out with untiring zeal and made known to his disciples. He was a man of affectionate nature, sympathetic, and most considerate towards others. He loved his worthy disciples dearly, and won in turn their undying devotion. He was modest and unaffected in his bearing, inclined to gravity, yet possessing a natural cheerfulness that rarely deserted him. Schooled to adversity from childhood, he learned to find contentment and serenity of mind even where ordinary comforts were lacking. He was very fond of vocal and instrumental music, and often sang, accompanying his voice with the lute. His sense of humour is revealed in a criticism he once made of some boisterous singing "Why use an ox-knife", he said, "to kill a fowl?"
The fourth "King" is the "Li-ki" (Book of Rites). In its present form it dates from the second century of our era, being a compilation from a vast number of documents, most of which date from the earlier part of the Chow dynasty. It gives rules of conduct down to the minute details for religious acts of worship, court functions, social and family relations, dress--in short, for every sphere of human action. It remains today the authoritative guide of correct conduct for every cultivated Chinese. In the "Li-ki" are many of Confucius's reputed sayings and two long treatises composed by disciples, which may be said to reflect with substantial accuracy the sayings and teachings of the master. One of these is the treatise known as the "Chung-yung" (Doctrine of the Mean). It forms Book XXVIII of the "Li-ki", and is one of its most valuable treatises. It consists of a collection of sayings of Confucius characterizing the man of perfect virtue. The other treatise, forming Book XXXIX of the "Li-ki", is the so-called "Ta-hio" (Great Learning). It purports to be descriptions of the virtuous ruler by the disciple Tsang-tze, based on the teachings of the master. The fifth "King" is the short historical treatise known as the "Ch'un-ts'ew" (Spring and Autumn), said to have been written by the hand of Confucius himself. It consists of a connected series of bare annals of the state of Lu for the years 722-484 B.C. To these five "Kings" belongs a sixth, the so-called "Hiao-king" (Book of Filial Piety). The Chinese attribute its composition to Confucius, but in the opinion of critical scholars, it is the product of the school of his disciple, Tsang-tze.
Mention has just been made of the two treatises, the "Doctrine of the Mean" and the "Great Learning", embodied in the "Li-ki". In the eleventh century of our era, these two works were united with other Confucian texts, constituting what is known as the "Sze-shuh" (Four Books). First of these is the "Lun-yu" (Analects). It is a work in twenty short chapters, showing what manner of man Confucius was in his daily life, and recording many of his striking sayings on moral and historical topics. It seems to embody the authentic testimony of his disciples written by one of the next generation.
The second place in the "Shuh" is given to the "Book of Mencius". Mencius (Meng-tze), was not an immediate disciple of the master. He lived a century later. He acquired great fame as an exponent of Confucian teaching. His sayings, chiefly on moral topics, were treasured up by disciples, and published in his name. Third and fourth in order of the "Shuh" come the "Great Learning" and the "Doctrine of the Mean".
The religion of ancient China, to which Confucius gave his reverent adhesion was a form of nature-worship very closely approaching to monotheism. While numerous spirits associated with natural phenomena were recognized--spirits of mountains and rivers, of land and grain, of the four quarters of the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars--they were all subordinated to the supreme Heaven-god, T'ien (Heaven) also called Ti (Lord), or Shang-ti (Supreme Lord). All other spirits were but his ministers, acting in obedience to his will. T'ien was the upholder of the moral law, exercising a benign providence over men. Nothing done in secret could escape his all-seeing eye. His punishment for evil deeds took the form either of calamities and early death, or of misfortune laid up for the children of the evil-doer. In numerous passages of the "Shao-" and "She-king", we find this belief asserting itself as a motive to right conduct. That it was not ignored by Confucius himself is shown by his recorded saying, that "he who offends against Heaven has no one to whom he can pray". Another quasi-religious motive to the practice of virtue was the belief that the souls of the departed relatives were largely dependent for their happiness on the conduct of their living descendants. It was taught that children owed it as a duty to their dead parents to contribute to their glory and happiness by lives of virtue. To judge from the sayings of Confucius that have been preserved, he did not disregard these motives to right conduct, but he laid chief stress on the love of virtue for its own sake. The principles of morality and their concrete application to the varied relations of life were embodied in the sacred texts, which in turn represented the teachings of the great sages of the past raised up by Heaven to instruct mankind. These teachings were not inspired, nor were they revealed, yet they were infallible. The sages were born with wisdom meant by Heaven to enlighten the children of men. It was thus a wisdom that was providential, rather than supernatural. The notion of Divine positive revelation is absent from the Chinese texts. To follow the path of duty as laid down in the authoritative rules of conduct was within the reach of all men, provided that their nature, good at birth, was not hopelessly spoiled by vicious influences. Confucius held the traditional view that all men are born good. Of anything like original sin there is not a trace in his teaching. He seems to have failed to recognize even the existence of vicious hereditary tendencies. In his view, what spoiled men was bad environment, evil example, an inexcusable yielding to evil appetites that everyone by right use of his natural powers could and ought to control. Moral downfall caused by suggestions of evil spirits had no place in his system. Nor is there any notion of Divine grace to strengthen the will and enlighten the mind in the struggle with evil. There are one or two allusions to prayer, but nothing to show that daily prayer was recommended to the aspirant after perfection.
In Confucianism the helps to the cultivation of virtue are natural and providential, nothing more. But in this development of moral perfection Confucius sought to enkindle in others the enthusiastic love of virtue that he felt himself. To make oneself as good as possible, this was with him the main business of life. Everything that was conducive to the practice of goodness was to be eagerly sought and made use of. To this end right knowledge was to be held indispensable. Like Socrates, Confucius taught that vice sprang from ignorance and that knowledge led unfailingly to virtue. The knowledge on which he insisted was not purely scientific learning, but an edifying acquaintance with the sacred texts and the rules of virtue and propriety. Another factor on which he laid great stress was the influence of good example. He loved to hold up to the admiration of his disciples the heroes and sages of the past, an acquaintance with whose noble deeds and sayings he sought to promote by insisting on the study of the ancient classics. Many of his recorded sayings are eulogies of these valiant men of virtue. Nor did he fail to recognize the value of good, high-minded companions. His motto was, to associate with the truly great and to make friends of the most virtuous. Besides association with the good, Confucius urged on his disciples the importance of always welcoming the fraternal correction of one's faults. Then, too, the daily examination of conscience was inculcated. As a further aid to the formation of a virtuous character, he valued highly a certain amount of self-discipline. He recognized the danger, especially in the young, of falling into habits of softness and love of ease. Hence he insisted on a virile indifference to effeminate comforts. In the art of music he also recognized a powerful aid to enkindle enthusiasm for the practice of virtue. He taught his pupils the "Odes" and other edifying songs, which they sang together to the accompaniment of lutes and harps. This together with the magnetism of his personal influence lent a strong emotional quality to his teaching.