A Good Life

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?


2 thoughts on “A Good Life”

  1. Krishnan,
    Let us celebrate this new blog-site of yours. Given your curriculum vitae you are most certainly ideally positioned to discourse on the philosophy of life whether sourced from East Asian, Western or Middle Eastern spiritual antiquity.
    I hope your readers would take ‘antiquity’ as living antiquity, as in the living ephemeral spirit of eternal wisdom, and that through your discourse(s) we can learn from the living wisdom of ancient masters East or West because we are living antiquity being renascent of our ancestral DNA embedded in our helix.
    But of course all speech and writing must always be taken within context, within the time and place and mores, that they were made. Just like every court decision has to be understood on the individual facts and circumstances of the case and the prevailing and applicable laws and societal values and customs at that time.
    The ‘key’ to the Analects of Confucius before us here is in the didactic – “is this not the mark of the gentleman?” at the end.
    The word ‘gentleman’ here is a simplistic translation of the Chinese ‘junzi’ which awkward though it may seem, means the ‘ideal man’, the ‘exemplary man’ or the ‘moral up-lifting man’ or the ‘learned wise man’ and because such a person in his times were those exalted scholars who could express the vagaries and vicissitudes of life in poetry – the ancient erudite in Confucian times had eidetic memory and wrote poetry spontaneously or extempore – ‘the poet scholar’.
    Confucianist thought or philosophy should be taken as humanistic aphorism or code of conduct or relationship. The ‘exemplary poet scholar’ is not therefore in that sense like an English gentleman or a white knight in shiny armour. The concept of ‘junzi’ transcends etiquette, decorum, civility, mien and demeanour. It represents the apotheosis or epitome of a mortal human being in spiritual terms. He is a man of scholarship and learning, a man of moral rectitude and virtue, who practises filial piety and ‘rituals’ (what that means in the past is history and what it might mean now in modern times must of course vary according to the respective society or environment) and most of all someone who is an exemplar in terms of being an agent of peace and harmony (Chinese Yin and Yang) in the eyes of heaven and with nature and all other beings (material in body or asomatous, as the Chinese believed in ghosts and the after-life) on Earth.
    If you were an ‘exemplary poet scholar’, would you not enjoy learning and then enjoy the occasion – “to practice what you have learned — is this not satisfying? Would you also not enjoy having “friends arrive from afar” Would you also not – “be patient even when others do not understand”? – scholar to scholar, peer to peer, friend to friend, father to son, teacher to pupil, as learned educated well mannered (as in ‘rituals’ in Confucianist terms, although it means much more than that and in fact includes traditional Chinese religious rites like ancestral reverence and formalities of filial piety) civilised people do?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, Vince.I would translate Junzi as something like “superior person” or “full human being.” It’s a wonderfully rich word, Confucius’ creation of a new type of human being for us all to aspire to.


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