Tuesday, September 29, 2009

September 29: Prophet of 400 Million People (Vol. 44, pp. 5-14)

It's interesting that the editors of The Harvard Classics led off their two volumes of sacred writings of the world's major religions with Confucius. Packed in this reading is the code to how a true learned person should behave in the world:

“Listen much, keep silent when in doubt, and always take heed of the tongue; thou wilt make few mistakes. See much, beware of pitfalls, and always give heed to thy walk; thou wilt have little to rue. If thy words are seldom wrong, thy deeds leave little to rue, pay will follow.”

“Study without thought is vain: thought without study is dangerous.”

“Who contains himself goes seldom wrong.”

“Gentlemen cherish worth; the vulgar cherish dirt. ... Gentlemen trust in justice; the vulgar trust in favour. ... A gentleman considers what is right; the vulgar consider what will pay. ... The chase of gain is rich in hate."

" A gentleman wishes to be slow to speak and quick to act."

"Without truth I know not how a man can live."

“A gentleman has nine aims. To see clearly; to understand what he hears; to be warm in manner, dignified in bearing, faithful of speech, painstaking at work; to ask when in doubt; in anger to think of difficulties; in sight of gain to remember right.”

"Be not concerned at want of place; be concerned that thou stand thyself. Sorrow not at being unknown, but seek to be worthy of note."

Humility. A love of knowledge. Awareness of one's faults and a desire to improve upon oneself. A concern for others. These are values Confucius set down more than 2,500 years ago, but are sadly in short supply in the modern world. It would be a vastly different place if his precepts were heeded by those in public life today.

But even Confucius wasn't always honored in his time. The last two decades of his life were spent in exile outside the power centers of his time, and his advice was ignored by the emperors. It was only after his death that Confucius was restored to his rightful place as one of the great teachers of all time.

To live a life devoted to truth is to live a life of constant disappointment. The things that Confucius taught weren't invented by him, he merely distilled universal truths, clarified them and passed them on to all who were willing to listen.

Today, humility gets confused with weakness, stoicism with lack of feeling, selflessness with being a sucker for others. The Confucian ideal is seen as a losers game in a cutthroat world. But it remains the right path to follow.

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