The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life by Michael Puett (Author), Christine Gross-Loh (Author)

For the first time an award-winning Harvard professor shares the lessons from his wildly popular course on classical Chinese philosophy, showing you how these ancient ideas can guide you on the path to a good life today.

The lessons taught by ancient Chinese philosophers surprisingly still apply, and they challenge our fundamental assumptions about how to lead a fulfilled, happy, and successful life. Self-discovery, it turns out, comes through looking outward, not inward. Power comes from holding back. Good relationships come from small gestures. Spontaneity comes from practice. And excellence comes from what you choose to do, not your “natural” abilities.

Counterintuitive. Countercultural. Even revolutionary. These powerful ideas have made Professor Michael Puett’s course the third most popular at Harvard University in recent years, with enrollment surging every year since it was first offered in 2006. It’s clear students are drawn by a bold promise Professor Puett makes on the first day of class: “These ideas will change your life.” Now he offers his course to the world.

Michael Puett is the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University. He is the recipient of a Harvard College Professorship for excellence in undergraduate teaching.

Christine Gross-Loh is a freelance journalist and author. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and the Huffington Post. She has a PhD from Harvard University in East Asian history.

Professor Michael Puett on Zhuangzi in Relation to Confucius

Professor Michael Puett on Zhuangzi in Relation to Confucius

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Sitting By a Friend: Confucius on Tragedy ~ Rodney L. Taylor, Ph.D.

In a selection from the Confucian Analects usually discussed as a description of Confucius’ personality and character, there stands a very short passage (Analects VII: 9) that tells us a good deal about his feelings for others in times of tragedy and how he expresses such feelings. What better response to the tragedy of Boston that engulfs us all.

“When the Master was eating by the side of a mourner, he never ate to the full” (R. L. Taylor, Confucius, the Analects, p. 9).

A simple passage and an equally simple message. Out of respect for the person who is experiencing tragedy and suffering in their life, Confucius demonstrates his sympathy with that person’s condition and situation by showing his own restraint in his conduct at a shared meal. To satiate himself with food and drink at such a time would merely demonstrate the degree to which he understood little of his fellow diner’s distress and illustrate all too well vey little feeling for his fellow diner.

While the circumstances of the passage call our attention to a very particular situation — that of mourning and of a meal with a person in mourning, by extension the passage suggests a foundation for a broad response to the suffering of others in situations too numerous to name or number.

The response suggested in this passage is merely one ramification of a broader feeling of Confucius for others that underlies all of his teachings. Let’s probe more deeply into the Analects to understand this broader context of feelings for others.

One of the most central passages of Confucius’ teachings that permits us to understand his feelings toward others and the centrality of this teaching to all of his teachings is Analects XV:23:

Tzu-kung asked, “Is there not one word that may serve as a rule of practice for all of one’s life?” The Master said, “Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” (R. L. Taylor, Confucius, the Analects, p. 109)

Several passages in the Analects speak to the question Confucius’ disciple Tzu-kung raises. The Master has many teachings. Is there not some quintessential teaching in the midst of the plethora of words and discussions?

The answer from Confucius is direct and to the point. Yes, there is, in fact, a single word that covers the breadth of all the teachings Confucius articulates. That word is “reciprocity,” the feelings and resulting actions toward others.

Let’s look more closely at this word “reciprocity,” shu. Chinese characters are more often than not composed of units, other characters, that when combined produce a meaning that approaches the translation we assign to the given character. In the case of the character shu, reciprocity, we have a character that is composed of two simpler characters and it is in their combination that we begin to understand something of this word we translate as reciprocity. The top of the character shu is a character pronounced ju, meaning “like” or “similar.” The bottom of the character shu is a character pronounced hsin, meaning “heart” or “mind.” Thus the character shu, reciprocity, is the combination of the characters “like” and “mind,” to use two of the definitions.

How do we get from our words for “like” and “mind” to the word and the translation of shu as “reciprocity”? Quite simply actually. Combining them together we get something like “like-mindedness.” Still, the word we are after is reciprocity, but it is now close. To be of “like-mind” means to be able to identify with another’s situation — to be able to share in and understand the other’s situation. If the other’s situation is good then there is in shared joy in that situation — joy for the sake of the other person.

If, on the other hand, the other’s situation is less than good and in fact is filled with suffering, then there is response on the basis of understanding the other’s plight and recognizing that one has a moral responsibility to respond to it. The like-mindedness is the capacity to put oneself in the situation of the other and thus understand completely and fully that situation of the other

Such response to the situation of the other, particularly the plight and suffering of the other is marked by the common translation of shu as reciprocity. The question that persists, however, is whether reciprocity is actually the best word to describe what is essentially a feeling of other’s pain and on the basis of that feeling, a reaching out to address their distress. One of the translations of shu that sometimes appears is “sympathy” the capacity to “sympathize” with the other’s distress. The problem with the word sympathy is that it often suggests a certain level of condescension in the relation of one to the other. There is, however, a word that truly expresses “like-mindedness” and its capacity for reaching and responding to the feelings of others – that word is empathy.

Shu as the quintessential teaching of Confucius is best understood as the expression of empathy for the feelings of others.

And how does one act on this empathy”? In a statement predating the biblical reference to the Golden Rule, Confucius articulates the most basic of ethical maxims — perhaps the true universal ethic. In his words: “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Here truly the feelings of others are addressed!

May we take these words to heart and in our own small ways practice the empathy, the true care for others, the world so desperately needs in this hour.

View Here on the book by Rodney L. Taylor PhD

Confucius, the Analects: The Path of the Sage–Selections Annotated & Explained ~ Rodney L. Taylor, PhD

Twenty-six centuries after their origination, the principles laid down in the Analects of Confucius still act as the foundation of Chinese philosophy, ethics, society and government, and play a formative role in the development of many Eastern philosophies. Confucius is revered as China’s greatest teacher and sage, and interest in his monumental teachings continues today.

In this intriguing look at the ethical and spiritual meaning of the Analects, Rodney L. Taylor, the foremost American researcher of Confucius as a religious and spiritual figure, explains why the Analects hold enduring and universal wisdom for our time. He shows how Confucius advocates learning and self-cultivation to follow “the path of the sage” or “way of Heaven”–a path that promises to promote reason, peace and understanding. Along with an updated version of the classic translation by sinologist James Legge, Taylor provides informative and accessible commentary that:
* Illuminates the meaning behind selected passages from the Analects as they relate to Chinese philosophy, ethical thought and religion/spirituality
* Explains common interpretations of the text and how they contribute to our current understanding of Chinese and Eastern philosophy, ethics and morality
* … and much more
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Rodney L. Taylor, PhD, the foremost American researcher of Confucius as a religious and spiritual figure, is author of The Religious Dimensions of Confucianism and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Confucianism, among other books. He is professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he also served as director of Asian studies and chair of the Department of Religious Studies.

His books include: The Religious Dimensions of Confucianism; The Way of Heaven; The Confucian Way of Contemplation; The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Confucianism; Confucianism (high school text); The Cultivation of Sagehood as a Religious Goal in Neo-Confucianism; They Shall Not Hurt: Human Suffering and Human Caring (with Dr. Jean Watson); The Holy Book in Comparative Perspective (with Dr. Frederick Denny) and his most recent volume, Confucius, the Analects: The Path of the Sage from Skylight Paths.

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