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An Essay on Confucius and Zhuangzi

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The​ ​differences​ ​between​ ​Confucius​ ​and​ ​Zhuangzi​ ​are​ ​numerous.​ ​As​ ​Professor​ ​Ashmore stated​ ​in​ ​lecture,​ ​Confucius​ ​as​ ​a​ ​traditionalist​ ​(Ru)​ ​focuses​ ​on​ ​ritual​ ​and​ ​sacrifice​ ​whereas Zhuangzi​ ​emphasizes​ ​the​ ​intricacies​ ​and​ ​nuances​ ​of​ ​language.​ ​Nevertheless,​ ​and​ ​despite​ ​how often​ ​the​ ​two​ ​scholars​ ​contradict​ ​and​ ​conflict​ ​with​ ​one​ ​another,​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​powerful​ ​shared​ ​space between​ ​the​ ​two​ ​and​ ​their​ ​underlying​ ​beliefs​ ​on​ ​wisdom​ ​and​ ​sagehood.​ ​Ultimately,​ ​both Confucius​ ​in​ ​​The​ ​Analects​,​ ​particularly​ ​in​ ​1:15​ ​of​ ​Chapter​ ​1,​ ​and​ ​Zhuangzi​ ​in​ ​his​ ​“The​ ​Way​ ​of Heaven,”​ ​agree​ ​that​ ​knowledge​ ​is​ ​self-taught​ ​and​ ​absolute​ ​truths​ ​can​ ​not​ ​be​ ​transmitted​ ​but instead​ ​must​ ​be​ ​earned​ ​by​ ​self-actualization​ ​and​ ​exploration.

For​ ​instance,​ ​in​ ​1:15​ ​of​ ​​The​ ​Analects​,​ ​Zigong​ ​and​ ​Confucius​ ​are​ ​engaging​ ​in​ ​discourse​ ​on how​ ​an​ ​individual​ ​can​ ​embody​ ​seemingly​ ​contradictory​ ​aspects.​ ​Indeed,​ ​Zigong​ ​ponders​ ​how​ ​a man​ ​could​ ​be​ ​“poor​ ​without​ ​servility,​ ​[and]​ ​rich​ ​without​ ​arrogance”​ ​(​The​ ​Analects​,​ ​pg.​ ​5).​ ​When Confucius​ ​corrects​ ​his​ ​student​ ​by​ ​modifying​ ​the​ ​original​ ​question,​ ​Zigong​ ​immediate​ ​relates​ ​his master’s​ ​instructions​ ​with​ ​a​ ​story​ ​in​ ​the​ ​​Poems​.​ ​Confucius,​ ​delighted​ ​to​ ​see​ ​how​ ​Zigong​ ​quickly applied​ ​the​ ​Poems​ ​to​ ​his​ ​own​ ​journey​ ​of​ ​learning​ ​and​ ​enlightenment,​ ​beams​ ​“I​ ​tell​ ​you​ ​one​ ​thing, and​ ​you​ ​can​ ​figure​ ​out​ ​the​ ​rest”​ ​(1:15,​ ​5).​ ​This​ ​thematic​ ​statement​ ​highlights​ ​Confucius’s​ ​belief that​ ​excellence​ ​can​ ​not​ ​be​ ​transmitted​ ​or​ ​taught;​ ​it​ ​must​ ​be​ ​earned​ ​by​ ​one’s​ ​own​ ​self-exploration and​ ​journey.​ ​Confucius​ ​can​ ​not​ ​force​ ​his​ ​students​ ​to​ ​become​ ​enlightened,​ ​nor​ ​can​ ​he​ ​force​ ​them to​ ​choose​ ​the​ ​right​ ​path​ ​or​ ​steps.​ ​The​ ​destination​ ​to​ ​the​ ​road​ ​of​ ​wisdom​ ​and​ ​sagehood​ ​is​ ​a​ ​road with​ ​no​ ​easy​ ​shortcuts​ ​and​ ​detours.​ ​Consequently,​ ​Confucius​ ​aims​ ​to​ ​help​ ​his​ ​students​ ​walk​ ​such a​ ​road,​ ​to​ ​“tell”​ ​them​ ​one​ ​thing​ ​and​ ​have​ ​them​ ​“figure​ ​out​ ​the​ ​rest.”

Moreover,​ ​the​ ​chaotically​ ​unstructured​ ​order​ ​of​ ​​The​ ​Analects​​ ​further​ ​underscores Confucius’s​ ​ideals​ ​on​ ​wisdom​ ​as​ ​a​ ​process​ ​of​ ​self-actualization.​ ​Confucius​ ​sees​ ​no​ ​simple​ ​or universal​ ​answer​ ​to​ ​life’s​ ​riddles​ ​and​ ​questions.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​no​ ​collective​ ​answer​ ​or​ ​notion,​ ​and instead​ ​everything​ ​must​ ​be​ ​weighed​ ​on​ ​a​ ​case​ ​by​ ​case​ ​basis.​ ​The​ ​readers​ ​of​ ​​The​ ​Analects​,​ ​then, must​ ​not​ ​blindly​ ​follow​ ​and​ ​parrot​ ​Confucius​ ​and​ ​his​ ​ideals.​ ​Instead,​ ​they​ ​must​ ​study​ ​​how​ ​​he thinks,​ ​not​ ​necessarily​ ​what​ ​he​ ​thinks,​ ​and​ ​apply​ ​concepts​ ​espoused​ ​in​ ​​The​ ​Analects​ ​​to​ ​their​ ​own experiences​ ​and​ ​lives.​ ​While​ ​Confucius​ ​makes​ ​such​ ​a​ ​notion​ ​clear​ ​in​ ​​The​ ​Analects​,​ ​he​ ​furthers​ ​it through​ ​the​ ​very​ ​unstructured​ ​ordering​ ​of​ ​his​ ​works.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​up​ ​to​ ​the​ ​reader​ ​to​ ​apply​ ​his​ ​or​ ​her​ ​own critical​ ​thinking​ ​skills​ ​to​ ​piece​ ​Confucius’s​ ​lessons​ ​together.​ ​Confucius​ ​additionally​ ​reinforces this​ ​notion​ ​with​ ​intricate​ ​metaphors​ ​and​ ​analogies​ ​that​ ​force​ ​the​ ​reader​ ​to​ ​actively​ ​read​ ​to​ ​make sense​ ​of​ ​his​ ​reasoning.​ ​Confucius’s​ ​modifying​ ​analogy,​ ​“poor,​ ​yet​ ​cheerful;​ ​rich,​ ​yet considerate”​ ​(​The​ ​Analect​s,​ ​pg.​ ​5),​ ​administers​ ​a​ ​tone​ ​of​ ​uncertainty​ ​in​ ​the​ ​reader.​ ​The​ ​reader immediately​ ​attempts​ ​to​ ​rationalize​ ​the​ ​analogy​ ​in​ ​the​ ​context​ ​of​ ​Confucius’s​ ​ultimate​ ​argument. Through​ ​such​ ​active​ ​reading,​ ​the​ ​individual​ ​is​ ​able​ ​to​ ​better​ ​understand​ ​the​ ​purpose​ ​of​ ​the dialogue​ ​in​ ​this​ ​particular​ ​context.​ ​For​ ​instance,​ ​once​ ​the​ ​reader​ ​understands​ ​that​ ​Confucius’s analogy​ ​essentially​ ​argues​ ​that​ ​an​ ​ideal​ ​attitude,​ ​regardless​ ​of​ ​socioeconomic​ ​status,​ ​would​ ​be​ ​to embody​ ​empathy​ ​and​ ​kindness,​ ​Zigong’s​ ​next​ ​argument​ ​becomes​ ​clearer.​ ​Likening​ ​his​ ​master’s analogy​ ​to​ ​a​ ​certain​ ​story​ ​in​ ​the​ ​​Poems​,​ ​where​ ​carving​ ​horn​ ​is​ ​“like​ ​sculpting​ ​ivory”​ ​(​The Analects​,​ ​pg.​ ​5),​ ​Zigong​ ​essentially​ ​embodies​ ​the​ ​learning​ ​process​ ​Confucius​ ​is​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​convey to​ ​his​ ​readers.​ ​Likewise,​ ​the​ ​readers​ ​of​ ​​The​ ​Analects​​



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