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1-Page Summary of The Analects

Overall Summary

Book 1

The Master enjoyed learning different philosophies and applying them to his daily life. He believed that it was important to have friends from all walks of life, and that a gentleman didn’t get offended when others failed to recognize his talents.

Yu believes that obedient sons are the best people to have in life. They do not rebel against their superiors and are always respectful. Gentlemen devote themselves to improving their character so they can be good men for others, which is the root of a person’s success.

Master Shun said that people who are always trying to please others are not usually kind. He also says that when you hold a position of power, be respectful and honorable with your words, don’t overspend money, and make the common people work only when necessary.

A master once said that the most important thing is to do good for others. That’s why it’s so essential to be trustworthy and not take on friends who aren’t as smart or moral as you are.

The Master teaches his students to observe a man’s behavior when his father is alive and after he dies. If the son follows in his father’s footsteps for three years after death, then the Master says that he will be considered a good son. Tzu-kung suggests that it might be better to advise people who are poor to find joy in the Way and those who are wealthy to continue their observance of rituals.

Book 2

The Master says that there are 300 Odes, but they can be summarized in a single phrase: “Swerving not from the right path.” The Master also said that being a good child to one’s parents means never failing to comply with their wishes. That is, when your parents are alive you should complete their tasks for them and after they die you should bury them properly and make sacrifices so that you live as they would want. Moreover, being a good child doesn’t mean causing stress on your parents other than illness.

The Master continues his discussion on what it means to be a good child and comments that in modern times, people think of a filial son as one who provides for his parents in their old age. However, the Master says even animals are provided with food. He adds that reverence is more important than providing material goods for one’s parents.

The Master says that a gentleman speaks after he’s done something. He also says that a gentleman doesn’t join cliques but instead joins associations, whereas the small man does the opposite.

The Master says that those who rely on others for their ideas are “bewildered.” On the other hand, those who come up with their own ideas but don’t learn from others will be in trouble.

The Master tells Yu what it is to know: It’s knowing when you know and knowing when you don’t. This, for the Master, is true knowledge.

A duke asks the Master how to get people to respect him. The Master tells the duke that he should reward those who are honest and punish those who aren’t.

When asked why he was not part of the government, Confucius quoted from the Book of History. He said that a man who is good to his friends and family can influence the government. For him, this is a way to be involved in politics.

Book 3

Confucius mentions that the Chi family had eight rows of dancers performing in their courtyard, an action that Confucius didn’t approve of. The Chi family also performed a sacrificial offering on Mount T’ai, which was against the rites.

Confucius had an interesting view of the rites. When he visited the Grand Temple, he asked a lot of questions about it. Some people said that Confucius didn’t know anything about rites and rituals—why would someone who knows nothing ask so many questions? Confucius responded by saying that asking questions is part of understanding the rites.

The Analects Book Summary, by Confucius