Being a gentleman, according to ConfuciusPosted: January 24, 2010 | Author: Doug 陀愚 | Filed under: Buddhism, Confucius, Philosophy, Religion | 8 Comments »
Something I found in the Analects of Confucius while researching another post. The ideal person in Confucian thought is the gentleman, a kind of gentleman-scholar, faithful to others, sincere in deeds, and never giving up in his efforts of self-cultivation. Earthly gains have little place here.
This is reflected in the Analects of Confucius, where he states:
[3:7] Confucius said: “The Gentleman has nothing to compete for. But if he must compete, he does it in an archery match, wherein he ascends to his position, bowing in deference. Descending, he drinks the ritual cup. This is the competition of the Gentleman.” (trans. Prof. A.C. Muller)
Or later in the same book 3:
[3:16] Confucius said: “In archery it is not important to pierce through the leather covering of the target, since not all men have the same strength. This is the Way of the ancients.”
The points made in both statements is that for the true Confucian gentleman, the importance is not to strive and make earthly gains such as prizes or medals, but to be composed at all times and a good sport. In other words, a man of principle, not a man of petty gains.
The reason why I brought this up is a recent experience I had with my wife. We had a friend of mine from college come over recently for Christmas, who continues to do Kendo. My wife also did kendo for quite a while too both in Japan and briefly in the US, so they talked together for a bit. My friend was telling us a story about a match where a high-ranking person was unexpectedly defeated by a lower-ranking person, and how the person seemed pretty confused and distraught after the match. My wife commented that in Japan, such an obvious look of defeat would never occur, even after the match.
I was struck by this comment because I never thought that showing emotion in defeat like that to be anything wrong. To her, doing something like that would reflect poorly on the person who lost, as a sign of weakness or lack of self-control. I forgot about this conversation until I stumbled upon the quotations in the Analects above (again, looking for something else) a few days later, and I kind of made a connection.
Japan, like much of East Asia, is deeply influenced by Confucian ethics and conduct, so when you read the quotations above, you can see that the ideal behavior is to be a gentleman at all times, and not to be so obvious in your striving with others, or to be a sore loser. The path of the gentleman is certainly difficult, as Confucius frequently alludes to in the Analects (i.e. no one seems able to put it into practice in his era), and it runs against the grain of what one wants to do, but no one gains respect by being self-centered or selfish, when you think about it. Self-control and self-cultivation, difficult as they are, are more praiseworthy. How many famous, respectable people do we know in history who were praised for their selfishness?
This notion also reflects in Buddhism as well, when the Buddha speaks of the moral precepts and the benefits of adhering to them. One is praised by the wise, and gains self-respect, as well as a life of fewer complications.