simplicity -- 4/23/20

Today's selection -- from Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary and the Classical Tradition by Daniel K. Gardner. Confucius (551 - 479 BCE), a Chinese thinker and social philosopher whose influence extends to the present, attempts to define goodness. In the Analects, his definition of goodness starts with the "golden rule," but he takes his concept further, famously stating that to be good one must be "resolute and firm, simple and slow in speech." [Note: Most current historians do not believe that any specific documents can be said to have been written by Confucius]:

"The Master said, 'To be resolute and firm, simple and slow in speech, is to approach true goodness.' (Analect 13.27 [17]). Commentator Wang Su said, 'Gang [resolute] is to be without desire; yi [firm] is to be determined and daring; mu is to be [simple]; na [slow in speech] is to be slow in speech. To be possessed of these four qualities is to approach true goodness.' ...

A Western Han (202 BC – 9 AD) fresco depicting Confucius

" 'Simple and slow in speech' becomes almost a refrain in the teachings of Confucius. For instance, in 12.3, he says, 'The person of true goodness is restrained in speech.' Throughout the text he repeatedly cautions his followers not to mistake eloquence for substance, as in 1.3: 'The Master said, Artful words and a pleasing countenance have little, indeed, to do with true goodness.' ...

"Zhu ... wants to understand why this is so. The answer for him is partly that restraint in speech indicates a general self-restraint, which, in turn, indicates that one's original mind-and-heart, with its endowed true goodness, has been preserved and not won over by selfish desires. ... For Zhu, words that are not simple but, rather, are 'artful' are evidence that one has become interested in 'adorning oneself on the outside in an effort to please others, a matter of human desire's having grown dissolute.' "


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author:

Daniel K. Gardner

title:

Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects: Canon, Commentary and the Classical Tradition

publisher:

Columbia University Press

date:

Copyright 2003 Columbia University Press

pages:

75-76
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