Original Analects Supplement
LY 7

Passages: 17 22 35

Prefatory Note. LY 7 is an exceedingly strange chapter. The hubbub of the school disputes to which we have become accustomed in LY 5-6 is suddenly gone, and we have instead a quite different atmosphere, in which there are very few disciple voices. Filling that void, we find many ideas which have not appeared in earlier chapters. Some of them, like the sage concept, later become part of the standard school image of Confucius; others are never heard from again. For the first time it is not just the opinions of Confucius that are emphasized, but his persona, and the manner of his death.

7:17. We still agree with Dubs, who concluded that Confucius himself did not study the Yi or "Changes." This however does not rule out the possibility that by the time of LY 7 (c0450, about a generation after his death in 0479), and as described by the first school head, Dzvngdz, who had not himself known Confucius, it might have been thought that Confucius had studied the Yi. The prior question is whether there was an Yi there to have been studied, and whether that text, if it existed, was then regarded as a repository of esoteric wisdom. The earliest text that unambiguously shows knowledge of the Yi is the Dzwo Jwan. This was compiled over the course of the 04th century, or about a century after LY 7:17 was written. The earlier layers of the DJ show the Yi as merely used in practical divination; it is only in the later layers (toward the end of the 04c) that it is regarded as a wisdom text. This in itself does not support the idea that Confucius respected the Yi as an esoteric wisdom text. This leaves us with the solution in the TOA commentary as the best one we can presently come up with. But the matter is perhaps not entirely closed; see also 7:22

If Confucius is not here said to have studied the Yi, but simply to have studied, what exactly did he study? Exactly this question comes up in LY 9:6, where Confucius seems to be presented as a person without polite accomplishments, but only menial skills. A more resounding reply, obviously an attempt to revisit the question more adequately, is in LY 19:22. But both, in their way, indicate that Confucius learned from life rather than from whatever the curriculum of the teachers of his time might have been. That is exactly the point of 7:22 below, and we may take it as implied here also. One learns throughout one's whole adult life (from the maturity transition at age 20 until death, which in Confucius's case occurred at age 70, hence the "fifty years" of the text).

7:22. This "three men walking" passage is one of posterity's favorite "Confucius" quotes. It is also a place where we have taken note of a Lu text variant, namely the wo "I" pronoun that is present in this text; as noted in TOA, this tends to make the speaker one of the three, and discourages the implication that he is walking with three other people. Then there are two others besides the speaker. One of them is superior, the other is inferior, and he can learn from both of them. This Lu variant had long been reported in the commentary literature; we cited it from the Jing/Dyen Shr-wvn. It is also present in the Dingjou text. The "three men walking" phrase also occurs in the Yi, at Hexagram 41 "Loss" ("when three men walk together, they will lose one man; when one man walks alone, he will find a friend"). The meaning of the two is not close, but the identity of phrase is disturbing, in view of the perhaps not fully settled question of the possible Yi reference in 7:17. The core of the Yi, and thus the only form in which it could have been known in the period earlier than the Dzwo Jwan, may well have been a smaller text, composed of 32 pentagrams rather than 64 hexagrams, which was especially concerned with the hazards of travel. That proto-Yi text has been reconstructed. Obviously, it contains only half the present hexagrams and their names. Question: Are the two names here in question, "Great Mistake" and "Loss," present in that smaller set? Answer: the first No, but the second Yes. This suggests that Confucius after all did not know the later Yi (as that interpretation of 7:17 would require), but that he might have been familiar with the proto-Yi from which he borrows a phrase in 7:22, but without regarding it as anything esoteric in the wisdom line; rather, a practical handbook known at the time.

We have suggested that 4:17 is not only a precursor of 7:22, but the model for it. LY 4 as a whole will have been one of the sources Dzvngdz drew on in creating the LY 7 portrait of Confucius. The motif of "learning from everybody" is further developed in LY 9:6, with its revealing variant, 9:7. LY 7 was apparently the prime source on which LY 9 drew in creating its own portrait of Confucius.

7:35. This deathbed portrait of Confucius strikes a new note in the Analects. Compare our comment on LY 8:3, the deathbed scene of a later leader of the Confucian school. Confucius seems here to be saying (as does Dzvngdz in 8:3) that his death is not a fact of much importance, compared to his life. Against this is the opinion of his disciples, who are determined to make a decisive moment of his death (see also the Reflections, below). The last reappearance of this death topos is in 9:12.

Reflections. We would like to emphasize the point (TOA p45) that one of the traits possessed by "Confucius" in LY 7 was earlier seen as a trait of Yen Hwei. This migration of disciple characteristics to the Master, in successive chapters, is one recurring feature of the evolving Aanalects. In a larger sense, the attributing to Confucius of the new positions taken (in fact) by the authors of the later "Confucius" sayings is another form of this pattern of an attribution upward. It is at the same time an effacement of the later individual contributions. The idea that Chinese myths of antiquity were built up in reverse, discovered separately by Tswei Shu and Gu Jye-gang, is one of the sovereign insights of recent scholarship. As a corollary, we might suggest that some late layers in any typical school founder myth may have their origin in this same pattern: the self-effacement of the present, in the interest of revitalizing the past.


This Supplement is Copyright © 2001- by E Bruce and A Taeko Brooks

Back to Contents Chart

Comments to The Project / Exit to TOA Supplement Page