Reflections on Analects 12.1–Translations and Commentary

Analects (first part): 顏淵問仁。子曰﹕克己復禮為仁。一日克己復仁﹐天下歸仁焉。為仁由己﹐而由人乎哉?

English Commentarial Translations

(McLeod trans.) Yan Yuan asked about ren. The master said: “conforming oneself to and thus returning to ritual creates ren. If for one day one could conform oneself to and thereby return to ritual, the whole world would then return to ren. One creates ren oneself–can others possibly do it?”

(Slingerland trans.) Yan Hui asked about Goodness. The Master said, “Restraining yourself and returning to the rites constitutes Goodness. If for one day you managed to restrain yourself and return to the rites, in this way you could lead the entire world back to Goodness. The key to achieving Goodness lies within yourself–how could it come from others?”

Slingerland is doing two interesting things here. First–He reads the wei as constitutive, which disagrees with Zhu Xi’s reading (below) and leaves Analects 9.1 unclear, and also seems to broaden ren, because of the many other wei ren formulations. However, then the internal/external definition problem becomes pressing, if one wants to maintain that ren lies on either of these sides, rather than containing both, as I claim.
Second, he takes ke as “restraint”, likening it to yue (in 4.23). I think this is correct. However, this can also lend support to Kong Anguo’s reading as “can of oneself”, where ‘restraint’ is thought of in terms of discipline, self-control. The discipline here is surely meant as connected to ritual, which is why I translate as “conforming oneself to [ritual]”. It is not just the ke ji that creates (or is) ren, it is the ke ji with ritual. Focusing on the ke ji without its ritual connection neglects the external factor clearly at work here. Slingerland claims precedent, saying his reading “follows early commentators such as Ma Rong and Huang Kan”, but what about Kong Anguo, in the He Yan commentary, which is earlier than either?
Also, Xing Bing (and Daniel Gardner, following him) holds, as I do, that the two senses, Ma Rong’s and Kong Anguo’s are compatible in the way suggested above, that restraint is thought of in the sense of turning of one’s own volition to ritual. (Gardner, p. 83): “for He Yan, Kong’s remark, ‘if the self is able to return to ritual’ is not basically at odds with Ma’s understanding of the line ‘to restrain the self and return to ritual.'” It appears to me that the best way to explain the sense of the unification of the two is through the notion of conforming oneself to ritual–which suggests both restraint, and self imposition, as well as the necessary connection to ritual itself.

(Ames and Rosemont trans.) Yan Hui inquired about authoritative conduct. The Master replied, “Through self-discipline and observing ritual propriety one becomes authoritative in one’s conduct. If for the space of a day one were able to accomplish this, the whole empire would defer to this authoritative model. Becoming authoritative in one’s conduct is self-originating–how could it originate with others?”

This is closer to my own reading, in that ke is taken as disciplining combined with ritual, rather than focus on the restraint which allows one to return to ritual, though Slingerland does a better job at retaining some of the neutrality of the text–which neither Ames and Rosemont nor my own translation here attempts.

(Chan trans.) follows Zhu Xi explicitly. Note claiming that Zhu Xi’s reading of ke ji was “to master oneself”, and Chan follows this.

(Fingarette) “self-disciplined and ever turning to li.”

This is much closer to my own rendering. Benjamin Schwartz says that Fingarette is concerned with tying in the bit about the self and its control to ritual, seeing these two as “sides of the same coin”–one formulation. I completely agree. (Schwartz. p. 77) “One simply notes that Fingarette’s version very much stresses the absolute simultaneity and inseparability of the two halves of the statement, implying that the self-discipline and the performance of li are two sides of the same coin. the first translation (“curb your ego and submit to li”), supported by a majority of Chinese commentators, suggests that the correct performance of the li presupposes a sustained inner effort to overcome those evil impulses which prevent the performance of li in the spirit appropriate to li.”
Schwartz, I think, is wrong here, both about the reading and about the commentators. By “the majority of Chinese commentators,” he must mean post Cheng/Zhu commentators. Certainly Ma Rong and Kong Anguo, the commentators mentioned in the much earlier He Yan commentary, do not hold this view. And if we can offer an explanation of why the later commentators went wrong, this further undermines Schwartz’ offered support for his reading, which echoes Zhu Xi in key ways, taking the internal half of the formulation as central, and the latter external half as secondary.

Chinese Commentary

He Yan: 馬曰克己約身﹐孔曰復反也身能反禮則為仁矣。Ma (Rong) said: ke ji is “to restrain the self” (yue shen). Kong (Anguo) said: fu is “to return” (fan). If one can return one self (shen) to ritual then there is ren.” 行善在己不在人也。 “The practice of being good depends on oneself not on others.”

Zhu Xi (Gardner trans.): “True goodness [ren] is the virtue of the original mind-and-heart [xin] in its wholeness. Ke [to subdue] is sheng, ‘to overcome or subdue.’ Ji [the self] refers to the selfish desires of the self [shen zhi si yu]. Fu [to return] is fan, “to return”… ‘The practice of true goodness’ [wei ren] is the means of preserving whole the virtue of the mind-and-heart. Now, the virtue of the mind-and-heart in its wholeness is nothing but heavenly principle and thus can only be harmed by human desire. Consequently, to practice true goodness, one must have the wherewithal to subdue selfish desires and thereby return to ritual.” [note the focus on subduing of desires as the operative condition, and return to ritual as the result of this subduing.]

Ren is mysterious for Zhu Xi because it underlies all the workings of ren. It is the virtue of the original heart-and-mind (ben (?) xin). Thus all the wei ren formulations are explained as giving us a description of the practice of ren. If this is true, however, then Confucius never said anything about ren, which makes sense of one passage [9.1], but leaves us with trouble explaining all the formulations of ren practice which involve other than the mind.

One response to “Reflections on Analects 12.1–Translations and Commentary

  1. Alexus,

    John Kieschnick has a great article on 12.1, called “Analects 12.1 and the Commentarial Tradition” in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 112, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 1992), pp. 567-576.

    If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a look. Easily accessed from JSTOR.

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