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Analects | Book 19 | Summary

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Summary

Although the Master is referenced a few times, mostly by the title Zhongni (Chung-ni), Book 19 consists mostly of the words of his followers, in which their differing focuses and views can be seen. As before, Master Zeng focuses on filial piety in Chapters 17 and 18, specifically here on the difficulty of practicing it to its fullest ideal.

Zixia (Tsze-hsia) makes the most pronouncements in this section, widely covering many of the Master's main ideas of humaneness, the gentleman, and fondness for learning. They range from more outward advice in Chapter 9, such as the "three transformations [in the manner] of a gentleman," to the relatively profound instruction in Chapter 5, related to fondness of learning, to be aware of your own shortcomings daily, and recognize your own abilities at least monthly. Zigong (Tsze-kung) likes metaphors and analogies, particularly celestial ones, and uses them in Chapters 22 through 25 to show the Master and his understanding as unreachably superior compared to himself or anyone else.

Zizhang's (Tsze-chang) statements seem perhaps the closest to the depth and nuance of the Master's original teachings, including focusing on the essential, unselfish goal in various situations and being forgiving of others' failings in relationships since everyone fails. However, other original followers say in Chapter 15 he lacks humaneness and, in Chapter 16, is difficult to collaborate with. Some of the Master's followers had followers of their own—the text definitely shows this of Zixia, who in Chapter 12 is criticized by another follower for teaching the form without the underlying principles.

Analysis

In many ways the language and ideas in Book 19 are more similar to many of earlier books in The Analects than the surrounding books. There are occasional instances of the later, more formal structures, such as the "three transformations of a gentleman," but Zixia also uses the Master's phrase "fondness" for learning rather than "love" of it. Such similarities suggest this book might have been compiled nearer the time of the earlier books and was possibly the original last book of the collection.

An interesting exchange between Zizhang and one of Zixia's students in Chapter 3 demonstrates the significant differences in understanding between the Master's followers: The student says Zixia's instruction on relationships is to associate only with those who are acceptable. This reflects a part of the Master's teaching; he did encourage his students to choose friends who lived up to their own standards. But it also encourages an exclusiveness that violates the Master's deeper principles of reciprocity and consideration. Zizhang's interpretation follows much better the Master's Silver Rule of not doing to others what a person doesn't want done to them.

Zigong's praises mostly reflect a more legendary view of the Master's greatness rather than the reality of his life. However, the first of these chapters also contains a pretty good summary of how the Master is believed to have formulated his philosophy. Zigong says he learned from the great kings of the past, but where a small man follows their lesser principles, the Master drew from their higher principles. Zigong adds a touch of the legendary by saying this means the Master had no teacher, but as a paean (statement of praise) it is relatively accurate. However, he gets a bit overblown in later chapters, such as in Chapters 24 and 25, saying the master "cannot be slandered" and twice that he is as unreachable as the heavens.

That the Master is consistently called Zhongni in Zigong's chapters of praise suggests to scholars they all originated from one school of Confucianism, perhaps at a consistent time.

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