New Confucian

Confucianism is a living, vibrant tradition. This blog discusses modern Confucianism.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

To Advance, Help Others to Advance

This is a Confucian principle I put into practice:  To advance, help others to advance.  But I also practice a variant of this principle:  To advance your child, help other children to advance.  Strong communities make strong families and strong children.  This is why I have created blogs to advance our children and our communities.  Two blogs to advance our children are Plano Parents and Canright on Software and Programming.   One blog to advance our communities is Texas Ascendant.

I discuss this Confucian principle on page 108 of my book, Achieve Lasting Happiness, a book that makes Confucianism accessible.

From an older rendition of the Confucian sayings (Analects), the quote goes like this:  "Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others."

Ancient Confucian teachings have many practical applications in contemporary American life.  My book puts the Analects into contemporary language to make these sayings accessible.


The quote I used is from Book VI, CHAP. XXVIII (this is the traditional numbering scheme).  The complete section reads as follows:

        1. Tsze-kung said, 'Suppose the case of a man extensively conferring benefits on the people, and able to assist all, what would you say of him? Might he be called perfectly virtuous?'
The Master said, 'Why speak only of virtue in connexion with him? Must he not have the qualities of a sage? Even Yao and Shun were still solicitous about this.
        2. 'Now the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others.
        3. 'To be able to judge of others by what is nigh in ourselves;-- this may be called the art of virtue.'

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Six Maxims of Ming Taizu

The Six Maxims of Ming Taizu is a simple list of rules to live by.  The list is attributed to the founder of the Ming dynasty, but also appeared earlier in Zhu Xi’s exhortation to villagers on how to manage their lives, as mentioned here.  The Six Maxims are mentioned in Asian Values and Human Rights: A Confucian Communitarian Perspective by William T. De Bary and Sources of Chinese Tradition, Volume 2, by William Theodore De Bary,


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Getting Out of the Rabbit Hole and Getting Engaged, Analect 18.6

Besides being a Confucian, I am also a Christian. One of our preachers, Dave Stevens, recently quoted Jon Johnson who said, "Many believers are 'rabbit hole' Christians. In the morning they pop out of their safe Christian homes, hold their breath at work, and scurry home to their families and then off to their Bible studies, and finally end the day praying for the unbelievers they safely avoided all day."

Dave commented on this, saying,
"Don't be fooled; it takes courage to shine like lights in a dark world."

Later Dave said,
"I believe that we should be in the world but not of the world. However, for whatever reason, many are not even in the world while they try to not be of the world."

Dave raised an excellent point that applies to all people who believe in the life of virtue and service. I mentioned in an earlier post that Confucians are engaged. Confucians and Christians alike share the need to be engaged in helping humanity and promoting the virtuous life, and we share the reluctance to become personally engaged.

The Great Learning opens this way, after Gardner,
"The Way of Great Learning lies in letting one’s inborn luminous virtue shine forth, in renewing the people, and in coming to rest in perfect goodness."

Yes, Confucians too are supposed to shine like lights in a dark world.

Some Christians have turned their back on humanity and withdrawn into monastic orders, and some Chinese suggested to Confucius that he withdraw from the troubled world. Here is the account of that meeting and Confucius' reply: that he needed to associate with people instead of birds and beasts because the Chinese state needed to change:

Analect 18.6, also known as
CHAP. VI. (Legge's translation)
1. Ch'ang-tsu and Chieh-ni were at work in the field together, when Confucius passed by them, and sent Tsze-lu to inquire for the ford.

2. Ch'ang-tsu said, 'Who is he that holds the reins in the carriage there?' Tsze-lu told him, 'It is K'ung Ch'iu.' 'Is it not K'ung Ch'iu of Lu?' asked he. 'Yes,' was the reply, to which the other rejoined, 'He knows the ford.'

3. Tsze-lu then inquired of Chieh-ni, who said to him, 'Who are you, sir?' He answered, 'I am Chung Yu.' 'Are you not the disciple of K'ung Ch'iu of Lu?' asked the other. 'I am,' replied he, and then Chieh-ni said to him, 'Disorder, like a swelling flood,spreads over the whole empire, and who is he that will change its state for you? Than follow one who merely withdraws from this one and that one, had you not better follow those who have withdrawn from the world altogether?' With this he fell to covering up the seed, and proceeded with his work, without stopping.

4. Tsze-lu went and reported their remarks, when the Master observed with a sigh, 'It is impossible to associate with birds and beasts, as if they were the same with us. If I associate not with these people,-- with mankind,-- with whom shall I associate? If right principles prevailed through the empire, there would be no use for me to change its state.'

Virtuous people need to be engaged in helping humanity.

Robert Canright

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Five Loves and Commitments of Confucianism

“Know thyself,” said the temple at Delphi. Only you can peer into your heart and know what you truly love, but others can see your actions and see your commitments. These are related. Love empowers commitment; commitment sustains love.

What are the loves and commitments of Confucianism, the Ru Jia? To become a noble person I believe one starts by loving humanity. The love of humanity leads to a love of virtue. The love of virtue leads to a love of culture. The love of culture leads to a love of learning. And the love of learning leads to a love of order.

I believe the first commitment of a noble person is to family. The commitment to family enables a commitment to self-cultivation. The commitment to self-cultivation enables a commitment to community. A commitment to community enables commitment to a state. And a true commitment to a state should enable commitment to world peace, because no state is truly secure unless all states live in harmony.

A love for humanity empowers a family. A love of virtue empowers self-cultivation. A love of culture empowers community. A love of learning empowers a state. And a love of order empowers world peace.

World peace sustains order. A successful state sustains learning. Successful communities sustain culture. Successful self-cultivation sustains virtue. And successful families sustain humanity.

I have diagrammed these relationships. You can view the diagram at this web link:


Friday, January 02, 2009

Canonical Books and America's Future

A canon is an accepted body of related works. Mortimer Adler, the University of Chicago, and the Encyclopedia Britannica assembled and published 60 volumes of works called Great Books of the Western World. Adler studied at Columbia University where John Erskine developed classes based on Masterworks of Western Literature. Great Books courses have been very influential. The famous philosopher Richard Rorty studied the Great Books at the University of Chicago. Thirty years after graduating from Columbia University, the writer David Denby re-enrolled in the Great Books courses at Columbia and wrote "Great Books" about the experience. More recently Alex Beam has written, "A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books." As the quality of American education has declined, so has the study of the Great Books.

For a household or for an individual, the main problem with the Great Books is their quantity. Any list you find will have 100 or more works. Who can trully absorb that much? Who can absorb Plato's Republic in one reading?

The Confucian tradition, the Ru Jia, has a much shorter list. Even though Confucian scholars have been writing for thousands of years and many brilliant works have been produced, the Confucians have as their canon The Four Books and the Five Classics.

The Four Books are The Analects, The Mencius, The Great Learning, and The Doctrine of the Mean.

The Five Classics are The Book of Poetry (also called The Book of Songs or The Odes), The Book of Rites (also called The Liki), The Spring and Autumn Annuals (a history of the state of Lu), The Book of History (ancient Chinese history), and The Book of Changes (also called The I Ching).

The Four Books are the Core Curriculum of the Confucian tradition and they are remarkably compact. The Analects and the Mencius are books, but the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean are essays.

The Four Books are brilliant works. You can read them all in a month or two, but spend years studying the width and breadth of their wisdom.

The Confucian tradition is a sub-set of Chinese culture as Stoicism is a sub-set of Western philosophy, so it makes sense that the classical Confucian tradition can be represented by four books while it takes over 100 books to represent Western civilization.

The Christian tradition is represented by one canonical book, the Bible. Some Christians might have a second book like The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin or The City of God by Augustine of Hippo, but these second books tend to identify schisms in the Christian tradition.

Except for the Christian tradition, there is little that truly unifies Americans. This is why E.D. Hirsch, Jr. wrote "Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know." His concept of cultural literacy focused on effective communication, not unity.

As Christianity becomes less influential in America, America becomes less unified. This is probably why the Russian Igor Panarin is forcasting America breaking apart in 2010, as reported in the front page of the Wall Street Journal on Monday December 29, 2008 in "As if Things Weren't Bad Enough, Russian Professor Predicts End of U.S." by Andrew Osborn.

If there were a reasonable number canonical books, say between one and ten, embraced by a large majority of Americans, the philosophy or morality within these canonical books could unify our country. We could become a stronger and better nation, more purposeful and successful if we had better direction in our lives than acquiring money and buying things.

If every person, every household, every community started reading great books and discussing great ideas, that would be a step toward finding canonical books we might all believe in.

Robert Canright

A good introduction to the Four Books is "The Four Books" by Daniel K. Gardner (ISBN 978-0872208261)

Response to the comment attributed to Max Weismann

Thank you for the feedback regarding the book by Alex Beam. The negativity you discussed was in Beam's book, not my blog. One review of Beam's book mentions he "offers childish critiques and name calling," so the negativity you mention has been noted by others.

Readers can find quotes from Robert Hutchins' essay, "The Great Conversation," at this link and can read the entire essay at this other link. Here is a link to the Great Books Academy for my readers.
-- Robert

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Sage, Perhaps Misunderstood by Americans

President George W. Bush was quoted using the word "sage" in the New York Times, Friday December 19, 2008 in this article: "‘Headed Out of Town,’ Bush Turns Reflective" by David Stout.

His exact words were:
Reflections by a guy who’s headed out of town,” Mr. Bush called his musings in a question-and-answer session. “An old sage at 62 ... headed to retirement.”

President Bush used "sage" in the sense of "old man" or "wise old man." But this is not the sense in which "sage" is used in the Confucian tradition. They remembered the sage-kings of their ancient history, like Yao, who ruled with benevolence and led their kingdom into prosperity. The ancient sage kings were revered.

Confucius might have been thought a sage by his students and admirers, but he would never call himself a sage, for example:

From the Analects of Confucius, translated by James Legge, BOOK VII, CHAP. XXXIII:

"The sage and the man of perfect virtue — how dare I rank myself with them? It may simply be said of me, that I strive to become such without satiety, and teach others without weariness."

Being a sage in the Confucian tradition is not about experience or knowledge. It is not just about wisdom. Being a sage depends upon wisdom and virtue, and virtue in the sense that refers to an "inner potency" or "divine power," as explained in the Wikipedia article about the Tao Te Ching.

Here is a link to a nice article on the Sage.

This dependence on virtue makes the Confucian sage different than the Philosopher King of Plato. Plato believed true philosophers to be the most virtuous of men, but that sense of inner power flowing from virtue, in my opinion, is missing from Plato's Philosopher King.

Lack of virtue in America's financial leaders is what crashed the American economy in the Fall of 2008. I think we can learn much from the Confucian tradition about virtue and how it should lead to prosperity for the people.

Robert Canright

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Great Learning

The Great Learning is one of the most important Confucian works. It is very short. The Legge translation is 334 words long. You can read it aloud in 2 or 3 minutes, yet spend years pondering its marvelous wisdom.

I studied various translations of The Great Learning over the years, but it was not until I was preparing to discuss it in a new book that I began to understand it. I saw it having three sections, with the middle section being a blue-print for society.

I was so moved by The Great Learning that I stopped writing my book. I started The Timeless Way Foundation, and I started running for the local school board. The vision of society in The Great Learning was so compelling it became an important part of my life.

The wars in Vietnam and in Iraq, and the repeated economic meltdowns in 2001 and again in 2008, are good evidence of a serious and persistent problem in America, a problem casting a menacing shadow over the future, threatening our children's safety and prosperity, a problem demanding solution.

Something has gone wrong in America. It will be up to our children to decide the source of the problems and make corrections. I believe we need to provide them the best education and communities so they will have the right mind and heart to save America, to save themselves.

I believe The Great Learning offers valuable insight. I have expressed a few thoughts on my website where I describe one view of The Great Learning, a view I call The Winding Spring Process of Education.

Here is a copy of The Great Learning in HTML and a copy of The Great Learning in PDF. Everyone should study it, think it through for themselves, then consider how it might apply in our lives today. I believe it is most pertinent.

Robert Canright