Learning from eastern wisdom

Learning from Confucius: The Analects (1)


Reflections by Noriko Takigami

(This is the first article of a series in which Noriko Takigami (from the Secretariat of the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom) will share personal observations from her ongoing study of the Analects of Confucius.)

The Analects are a book of ancient writings by the disciples of the philosopher Confucius, a record of the aphorisms of the father of Confucianism, who lived about 2,500 years ago during the Spring and Autumn period in China. People have been inspired by the Analects from ancient times until the present day and they have become a source of wisdom for the multitudes, but why?

I believe it is because people feel deeply that in despite the uncertainties of any era, they want to live resilient and happy lives and not be at the mercy of the times. To do that, we need to build a foundation of inner strength, and the Analects can teach us how to build that foundation.

Now, let's look at one passage in the Analects. It goes like this:
"The Master said, 'It is the person who is able to broaden the way (dao 道), not the way that broadens the person.' "

"The way" referred to in the Analects is the morals that should be followed for living in the real world. It is a model for people. It is not that the morals pre-exist and that people must act in accordance with those morals. The passage means that it is we who create morals by acting based on what we think is right.

We often have a tendency to think that morals are something imposed from outside and that we must follow. But in fact, individuals create morals by thinking and acting, based on the perception that "this is how I believe humans should act." Confucius talks about "the path" in various situations, but it is not like a prescription that must be followed as some preordained thing. I think that people have the capacity to broaden a path that has no prescribed form, and Confucius expects us to demonstrate that capacity.

Isn't it astounding that 2,500 years ago Confucius believed people would naturally do the right thing? I find that very inspiring, and will continue examining the Analects in future articles.