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The Analects of Confucius: With A Selection of the Sayings of Mencius, The Way and Its Power of Laozi

Image of The Analects of Confucius: With a Selection of the Sayings of Mencius, the Way Its Power of Laozi
Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
May 2010
Fred's Rating: 
Lao Tzu
Total Pages: 
Signature Press

The Chinese philosophers Confucius, Mencius, and Laozi (or Lao Tzu) lived from the 6th to the 4th centuries BC, a period of spiritual awakening when philosophers and religious leaders in diverse cultures throughout the world appeared as teachers. This was a gift book. (For books by an author, click on his name.)

A good summary appears on this book’s front flap: “The Analects of Confucius, the first of the three books in this volume, was compiled many years after Confucius’ death, allegedly by his disciples and students. The teachings profoundly influenced Eastern cultures – Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, in addition to Chinese.

“His philosophy is now known as Confucianism, and though his teachings are ethical rather than religious, many temples are dedicated to him throughout the Far East. The Analects include the Golden Rule, which in this translation by James Legge, published in 1861, appears as ‘What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.’ The book serves as a guide not only for individual behavior but also for society as a whole.

“The second book in this volume, A Selection of the Sayings of Mencius, presents just the first part of the much longer work by Mencius, who wandered throughout China over a century after Confucius’ death spreading and expanding upon that great man’s wisdom. As with Confucius, his teachings were not recorded until after his death, and his philosophy did not enjoy widespread appeal until the twelfth century.

“The Way and the Power of Laozi completes this volume. As with Confucius and Mencius, very little is known about Laozi, including whether a person by that name actually existed. Regardless, ‘The Way’ (also known as the Tao) offers a powerful prescription for living and a moral code, for both individuals and societies.

“In this volume you will find a treasure of timeless wisdom, preserved and passed down for over twenty-five centuries.”

The Preface provides some summaries by John S. Bowman (an editor and author involved in a wide spectrum of publishing projects): “The Analects is basically a collection of aphorisms, or maxims – relatively terse statements offering insights and advice. ‘Analects,’ in fact, means nothing more than ‘selected sayings’.”…”Taken as a whole, The Analects is an ethical doctrine, not a religious one, even though many of its precepts echo various religious’ teachings.” …”Mencius was chief among early promoters of Confucianism.” …”Mencius went beyond Confucius and claimed that the people had a right to revolt against a ruler who did not govern with justice, morality, and regard to his people’s well-being. He also stressed the role of education in creating a society where citizens could attain their full potential. Above all, Mencius stressed that human nature is fundamentally good.”

Dao De Jing (The Way and the Power) was written about two or three centuries after the death of Laozi. [The name Dao De Jing has also been rendered into English as Tao Te Ching, and ‘The Way’ has also been called The Way of Lao Tzu (see books 188 and 345) and the philosopher named in the present book as ‘Laozi’ has also been named as ‘Lao Tzu’ or Lao Tsu. (These different names remind me that the city once known in English as ‘Peking’ has recently been changed to ‘Beijing.’] Bowman says “The philosophical system laid out in ‘The Way’ is known as Daoism, or Taoism, and in some respects it is the opposite of Confucianism but it other respects it complements it. Where Confucianism is prescriptive and practical, communal and activist, Daoism is liberating and transcendental, individualist and passive.”

Since modern authors have borrowed the name ‘the Way’ or ‘The Tao’, books have appeared with names like The Tao of Physics or The Tao of Pooh (yes, Winnie-the-Pooh!), Bowman feels the need to remind the reader that “Clearly, Daoism has taken the path not foreseen by Laozi: a New Age fad. But readers can see just what it is about these three texts that have made them the classics of Chinese culture. All three are quite transparent as philosophical writings go, and although all have elements that will seem somewhat foreign and exotic to Western readers, they still have much relevance to out lives and times.” I agree fully with this.

However, it is by no means easy to understand these classics of Chinese culture. Part of this is because there is no precise or simple way to translate ancient Chinese sayings into modern English. But there have been many attempts to do so. My Jewish and Muslim friends say the same thing about translations of ancient Hebrew or Arabic into modern English. This gift book is such that it may need to be read more than once to get the most out of it. One difficulty is trying to think as someone who had to live under the autocratic rule of an emperor (who could lord it over mere kings or princes). The idea of democratic (as in ancient Greece) or the elective representative government of today was unknown to the writers of ancient philosophy, whether from the Mid East or the Far East. However, it seems that these ancient Chinese philosophers were quite brave and willing to give advice to rulers to persuade them to rule wisely – that is, to “govern with justice, morality, and regard to his people’s well-being” and also to educate them as these ancient sages advised twenty-five centuries ago.

I have been asked to compare these Chinese sayings to the Abrahamic scriptures of today’s three theistic religions. There is much overlap in insight into wise or proper actions, thinking, and living – this overlap may be most easily seen by comparing biblical Old Testament sayings such as in Proverbs and our ‘Wisdom’ scriptures. As one should expect, however, there are no narrative-type stories in these Chinese classics such as are found in the Old Testament. I have been quite pleased to find that comparing wisdom across the various cultures’ traditions and religions, albeit it often hindered by translation variations, has revealed to me that human cultures have very much in common in that which they hold to be of utmost importance – how humans should behave towards others. The Golden Rule is the common root of all cultures, not the exclusive claim of any single one. I found this book to be valuable in my efforts to explore that which all cultures hold closest to their hearts. I recommend it to all – I only wish that it had contained more discussions like the Preface by John S. Bowman.

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