Jeff's Reviews > Confucian Analects, The Great Learning The Doctrine of the Mean

Confucian Analects, The Great Learning  The Doctrine of the Mean by Confucius
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's review
Jan 07, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: non-fiction, holy_shit
Recommended to Jeff by: Confusion
Recommended for: Confucians

Book #2 in 2012's survey of holy shit (#1 was Tao Te Ching).

Simply put, virtually everything about this book was not what i wanted.

The Dover edition of James Legge's translation provides same-page Chinese, English, and footnotes, which briefly allowed me to think i could learn some Chinese. Comprehension of some recurring nouns and verbs can be acquired through simple code/pattern recognition but live instruction would be better.

After that brief excitement faded, only Confucian tedium remained. I slogged through ~70 uninspiring, mind-numbing pages of the Analects before desperately skipping to the Great Learning (TGL) and the Doctrine of the Mean (Mean Doc). I knew they were shorter so i wished and hoped (i almost prayed!) that they would also be livelier, juicier, or at least relevant to my belief that i was supposedly reading texts with religious value.

My faulty anticipation of encountering spiritual insights lead directly to my dissatisfaction. How can millions allegedly belong to a Confucian religion? They ought to be proud of themselves for finding meaning in writings with so much vagueness. I conclude that Confucianism as a discipline or way of life depends more on what is conveyed within the guru-devotee relationship than on what can be gleaned as a private reader of a primary text or two. *sigh* Since that's probably true of every religion, how about we say it's more true of Confucianism than any others i can think of at the moment?

Though Legge's copious prolegomena epitomize everything of value within this book—the history of Chinese political thought—these prefatory essays yielded no additional insights relevant to my search for meaningfulness in Confucianism as a religion. It's not you, Confucius; it's me (this reader contains the fault, not the author or his book).

This Kung Fu-tzu guy was a very practical fellow. He believed in the here and now, not some mystical afterlife or metaphysical interaction with supernatural power(s). And i'm not the right guy for his book.

Example of what's in Analects: The Master said, "The governments of Lû and Wei are brothers." (bk XIII, ¶vii [p.266])
That's all. Nothing more. Discernible wisdom might be packed deep into that statement, but how many folks have knowledge capable of unpacking it? Even Legge's frustration comes through more than once, most notably to me in a footnote on p.418: "The whole chapter is eminently absurd, and gives a character of ridiculousness to all the magniloquent teaching about 'entire sincerity'."
I'm the proverbial bad student/athlete: When the teacher/coach asks, "Son, what's your problem? Is it ignorance or apathy?," the kid replies, "Sir, i don't know and i don't care." I'm not really sure anymore, but maybe TGL boils down to
If you know the extremes, then you will know the everything in between.
Mean Doc = i definitely don't remember the gist. I flipped through the pages and skimmed my notes; it might be slightly more philosophical and moral in nature than Analects or TGL.

I rarely agreed with anything written. I rarely cared to notate my quibbles marginally. Of the few quibbles that resulted in scribbles, i don't care to share even one.

But i'm trying to be positive. Seriously: what preceded this is me trying to be positive. Or less negative. More effort. Here's some marginally noteworthy wisdom from Master Kung.

Tsang said, "The doctrine of our master is to be true to the principles of our nature and the benevolent exercise of them to others,—this and nothing more."
{Legge's footnote: The one thing or unity intended by Confucius was the heart, man's nature, of which all the relations and duties of life are only the development and outgoings.... [There is the] "center heart" = I, the ego; and the "as heart" = the I in sympathy with others. [Character 1] is duty-doing, on a consideration, or from the impulse, of one's own self; [Char 2] is duty-doing, on the principle of reciprocity. Confucius only claimed to enforce duties indicated by man's mental constitution. He was simply a moral philosopher.}
(Analects, bk V, ¶ xv [pp. 169-170])

The Master said, "To be poor without murmuring is difficult. To be rich without being proud is easy."
(Analects, bk XIV, ¶ xi [p.279])

"Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men."
(Analects, bk XX, ¶III.3 [p.354]. This is the ultimate sentence of the Analects.)

[To this attainment of sincerity] there are requisite the extensive study of what is good, accurate inquiry about it, careful reflection on it, the clear discrimination of it, and the earnest practice of it.
(Mean Doc, ch XX, ¶ 19 [p.413])

By the way, i did go back and read the last 150pp of the Analects after reading all of TGL and Mean Doc.

Next up in the survey of holy shit, Hinduism's Upanishads.

The following is comprehensible only to a couple of my friends, so feel free to skip it.
Dick Puzzle #3
Tsang Wan kept a large tortoise in a house, on the capitals of the pillar of which he had hills made, with representations of duckweed on the small pillars above the beams supporting the rafters.—Of what sort was his wisdom?
(Analects, bk V, ¶ xvii [p.179])

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Reading Progress

January 7, 2012 – Shelved
January 23, 2012 – Started Reading
January 24, 2012 –
page 30
5.68% "I really SHOULD have written about the Tao Te Ching BEFORE beginning to read this book. The Analects are pretty easy...except that i'm constantly fighting the impulse to figure out which Chinese characters correspond with the English translation (eg, Does that teardrop indicate past tense?). The amount of introductory material is positively and negatively stupefying so i've skipped most of it...for now?"
January 25, 2012 –
page 40
7.58% "I must've spent 15-20min last night searching the book's "dictionary" for one kanji ... it meant "and" *sigh*"
January 26, 2012 –
page 65
12.31% "I finally encountered some "digested conversations" of The Master that sparked intellectual curiosity. I'm not optimistic that this will happen with any more frequency within The Analects, but i'm trying to believe there might be more of interest in The Great Learning and/or The Doctrine of the Mean."
January 27, 2012 –
page 115
21.78% "i had to quit The Analects for now cuz they're driving me bonkers, but skipping to The Great Learning wasn't as much of a respite as i hoped it might be. Will The Doctrine of the Mean be our only hope, Obi-wan Kenobi?"
January 28, 2012 –
page 115
21.78% "no read yesterday"
January 29, 2012 –
page 155
29.36% "I find DotM a bit more intellectually energizing than everything that has come before it, with the exception of the section that was merely quotes from the Analects. I might have decided that reading Mencius was "unnecessary" simply based on my ignorance; in other words, i think i probably OUGHT to read it/him if i wanna consider my reading of Confucian basic texts semi-thorough."
January 30, 2012 –
page 225
42.61% "Done with DotM, so back to the tedious Analects, of which i've read 12 of the 20 "books," or 136 of 218pp. I am paying less close attention to everything, for example by not reading all of the (myriad) footnotes and no longer searching for kanji or even bothering to look at them."
January 31, 2012 –
page 260
49.24% "Done w/Book XIV. Not getting any better. Maybe i'll check out Mencius from the lieberry rather than buying it; that way if i abandon it partway, it won't be as much of a waste."
February 1, 2012 –
page 335
63.45% "I finished the Analects last night and i believe i will read no more of Legge's exhausting prolegomena: much like large swaths of Welch's book on Tao, i feel Legge's interests are unrelated to mine."
February 2, 2012 – Finished Reading

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