"The Sayings of Confucius," translated by James. R. Ware
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The two most important books in Chinese philosophy are “The Sayings (or Analects) of Confucius,” and the “Tao Te Ching,” by Lao Tsu. There are other books, but they have less to say to contemporary Westerners. Confucianism and Taoism are often considered to be rival philosophies. Nevertheless, they do not contradict each other as diametrically as the writings of Karl Marx do with the economics of Adam Smith, and the political philosophy of Edmund Burke. Confucianism can be seen as the philosophy of the moral ruler. Taoism is more like the art of how at least to survive and at best to prevail in situations where one cannot get what one wants through an obvious superiority of something like wealth or power.
In the West Confucius is often believed to be the founder of a religion. It would be more accurate to say that he was a moral and political philosopher who also discussed theology. In religion his emphasis was on “the rites” – that is to say on traditional religious observances carried out in the proper manner. He does not name the gods, but they are the autochthonous deities that the Chinese worshiped – many of them still do – before Buddhism entered China in the first century AD with a new pantheon derived largely from Hinduism.
In Chapter VII: 21 it is written, “The Master did not speak of anomalies, feats of strength, rebellions, or divinities.” He believed that traditional religious practices have a harmonizing effect on society, but theological speculation is divisive. When we consider the violent history of religion in the West, it is easy to agree.
Confucius upheld a hierarchical society, but he believed that power brought with it moral obligations. In Chapter V: 16 he said, “Kung-sun Ch’iao possessed four virtues characteristic of Great Man: humility, respect for superiors, graciousness toward dependents, and a sense of justice toward subordinates.” As a CEO he would view layoffs as a last resort to save a company, and not the first choice in improving profitability.
Although Confucius respected those with power, he was indifferent to wealth and said, Chapter IV: 9 “I cannot discuss things with a gentleman who, while devoted to System is at the same time ashamed of poor clothes or bad food.” He also said, Chapter VI: 4, “I have always understood Great Man does everything possible to help the poor but nothing to enrich the rich.” He would oppose cutting taxes for the rich while reducing social services.
“The Sayings of Confucius” should be studied by everyone who has power over others. This includes not only politicians, but employers and supervisors.