Confucius and Priorities

Something lately I wanted to share was this passage from the Analects of Confucius, Book 3:

[3:13] Wang Sunjia asked: “What do you think about the saying ‘It is better to sacrifice to the god of the stove than to the god of the family shrine.’ ?” Confucius said, “Not so. If you offend Heaven, there is no one you can pray to.” (trans. Prof. A.C. Muller)

I think this passage shows a good example of one’s priorities in life and Confucius’s advice on the subject. Another example of this is here:

[4:14] Confucius said: “I don’t worry about not having a good position; I worry about the means I use to gain position. I don’t worry about being unknown; I seek to be known in the right way.” (trans. Prof. A.C. Mullet)

Confucius lived during the famous Spring-Autumn Period in Chinese history when the Zhou Dynasty (pronounced like “Joe”) was weakening and powerful families were seizing power and paid no heed to the Emperor’s waning authority.1 Assassinations were commonplace and opportunists were everywhere.

More than anything, Confucius wanted to restore some principles to society such as loyalty, and mutual reciprocity and culture. Instead of ambition, he wanted to instill loyalty. Instead of getting “what’s your’s” he wanted people to benefit others not themselves. This is what would lead to Harmony in society.

Sadly, the Spring-Autumn Period gave way to the disastrous Warring States Period, but his ideal for a more ethical and principled life lives on.

1 – The Spring-Autumn Period is actually when all the major Chinese philosophies arose: Taoism, Confucianism, Mohism, Legalism. Many people at the time were concerned about the crumbling authority of the Zhou Dynasty and had their ideas on how to restore China to its glory days. Each of these philosophies represents one idea, one approach. Pretty interesting how it covers such a wide spectrum.

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