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Analects | Book 7 | Summary

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Summary

Book 7 provides the most authentic portrait of the Master as a teacher and a learner, mostly from his own words. The famous beginning of Chapter 1, "I transmit but do not create," expresses his philosophy of continuing the best traditions of the past. Unusually for his time, the Master also believed in teaching anyone who was interested in learning. He says in Chapter 7 he doesn't turn anyone away for poverty and in Chapter 8 that he will not make an extra effort to teach those who do not listen or ask questions. He also declines in Chapter 29 to reject a student for what he does when he is not learning. As a learner the Master says in Chapter 22 he copies the best of what others do and tries to avoid what they do badly.

The Master also offers a number of enlightening statements about himself more generally. In Chapter 19 the duke of She (Sheh) asks Zilu to describe Confucius, but Zilu is unable to answer. The Master suggests that an appropriate answer would have been for Zilu to describe him this way: He gets so excited he forgets to eat, is so happy he forgets anxieties, and "is not aware that old age will come." This may be a bit of a facetious answer, but the Master clearly isn't interested in portraying himself as an effortlessly dignified wise man. He also denies in Chapters 33 and 34 that he has ever achieved humaneness or the level of a gentleman, although he never tires of trying. If the Master cannot attain these ideals, it is doubtful they are achievable for anyone, but the effort seems to be the important part.

This book also focuses more than others on the principle of moderation, starting with examples of the Master eating and showing emotions moderately in Chapters 9 and 10. Later he warns against both spending too much and being too frugal in Chapter 36, then contrasts the gentleman, who is calm and peaceful, with the small man, who is emotional in Chapter 37.

Analysis

Experts consider Books 3–9 and 11–15 the most authentic in The Analects, meaning they were likely recorded closest to the Master's lifetime and provide the most accurate portrait of his attitudes and teachings. This makes Book 7, with its many quotations from the Master about himself and his teaching philosophy, perhaps the best opportunity to understand the man himself. Other books in the collection were likely written considerably later and depict the Master less as a real person and more as a legend.

In addition to being one of the most famous lines in The Analects, the Master's statement "I transmit but do not create," which opens Book 7, is one of the most controversial. The preference for tradition over new thinking has been criticized as too inflexible, particularly in the modern world. Some think the influence of this philosophy limited China, maybe even continues to limit it, placing it at a disadvantage against Western societies that place more value on new ideas.

However, the Master's teachings wouldn't have been influential if he didn't offer something different from what came before. He likely drew on the best from tradition and rejected the bad, as he says he learns from others in Chapter 22, creating a philosophy distinct enough to attract followers and hold influence for more than 2,000 years.

His teachings perhaps weren't for everyone, though. Chapter 24 suggests some people found him "secretive." The early books of The Analects do show a habit of teaching by suggestion, and his lessons are sometimes hard to pin down. He was also teaching while he was still on his own journey, and his thinking might have changed from one day to another. There are no hard-and-fast answers; instead he shares "every step he takes," presenting many different situations that create nuance and sometimes contradictions.

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