Although I haven’t finished reading the Analects of Confucius, I thought I should make a post about the general direction of my perspective on Confucius. There is no doubt that there are some common and various perspectives concerning the Analects, given the range of people who have at least heard of Confucius — from sinologists to perhaps elementary-school students, and all of whom in between. It’s possible that there are radical interpretations and there are common-sense ones, and mine might be towards the latter (as I’ve yet to intensively study Confucianism).
With that said, I have a little help for interpreting the Analects, coming by way of my memory of Arthur Waley’s introduction in Disputers of the Tao, the footnotes provided, and of course, the reliable and wholly not inaccurate Wikipedia, and as a caveat, I am not big on using many Chinese terms such as li, rem, etc., as I find these sufficient but not necessary.
My general understanding of Confucius’s philosophy consists of understanding the Tao and Te, the way and potency or virtue. The way is meant as proper course of human conduct, of a gentleman who abided by antiquity (the patterns of the Sage-kings, such as Emperor Yu, is what is meant by antiquity). Te as potency or viture is a universal civilizing force. And ruling through virtue, a leader’s goodness makes the people good. Throughout the Analects, Confucius mentions repeatedly the concept of being filial, not just to one’s father, but to the Sage-kings. I see being filial as the execution of the Confucian Tao, which contrasts very starkly to Zhuangzi’s (or Laozi’s) Tao. Music, tradition, essentially the ways of the Zhou, are the pinnacles of one’s conduct, as they are derived from the Sage-kings.
I found that Confucius’s philosophy rests on two relevant concepts. The first is the interrelationship, and perhaps nonphysical interdependence, between oneself and others, such that there can be no virtue in the absence of such relationships. The second is the derivation of virtue from an exemplar to Tao to oneself, rather than the very Zhuangzi concept of deriving virtue from the Tao to oneself, who becomes the Zhuangzi equivalent of the Confucian exemplar. The reason I say these are “relevant,” instead of, say, “important,” is because Zhuangzi finds himself supporting the notion that one’s virtue is dependent on oneself’s ’emptying of mind and spirit.’
As Zhuangzi wrote, (and Arthur Waley translated):
“Puny and small, [the sage] sticks with the rest of men. Massive and great, he perfects his Heaven alone.”