The Master said, “To learn and then have occasion to practice what you have learned — is this not satisfying? To have friends arrive from afar — is this not a joy? To be patient even when others do not understand — is this not the mark of the gentleman?”
(Confucius, Analects, 1.1, tr. Slingerland)
Confucius’ Analects has probably shaped East Asian cultures more than any other book, and it begins with this laconic sketch of a life well lived. We see here a portrait in three brush-strokes of a person who not only learns but gets satisfaction from occasions in which to put into practice what has been learned, even though these occasions may be challenging; who has friends scattered far and wide, and takes joy in something as simple as a visit; and who is so composed and independent that being misunderstood or not understood has no power to faze or unsettle. We are invited to fill in with our imaginations the spaces between the brush-strokes. Characteristically, Confucius paints this portrait with questions: do we find in ourselves these three signs of human satisfaction?