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Expat's Eye
UPDATED: August 18, 2014 NO. 34 AUGUST 21, 2014
Sage Advice
By Aaron A. Vessup

WISDOM FOR ALL SEASONS: A statue of Confucius is unveiled in Wenshang County, Shandong Province, in September 2013 (XINHUA)

Living in an age when world leadership seems to increasingly operate with an absence of conscience, the wisdom of the wise sage, Confucius, provides a foundation of values that is well worth the study. The book, Confucius From the Heart, written by Professor Yu Dan and published in 2009 by Zhonghua Book Co., is a remarkable presentation of how the words of the ancient sage can serve as a buoy for those lost at sea in a world of tumultuous decision-making.

The practical format helps make this an enjoyable read. Organized in six parts, Confucius From the Heart presents excerpts that address individual issues as well as answers to universal concerns utilizing a mix of Chinese idioms and commonly known adages.

In part one, The Way of Heaven and Earth, the reader is focused on how to get to the heart of the three realms of heaven, Earth, and humanity. Through this discourse we can see the wisdom of Confucius transcending dogmas and cultural barriers.

In the second part, "The Way of the Heart and Soul," amidst the call for spiritual awakening, the author cautions against habit-forming behaviors that result from environmental stimuli and information overload. Tips are provided on how to become more in tune with the changing environments that surround us. From this section we can understand that life is like many seas with many different islands, yet a cognitive "brotherhood" connects us all.

Following that, in The Way of the World, Yu notes that the mind of the junzi (a person who has reached an advanced level of spiritual awareness) is "contented and composed because he or she is in a state of peaceful ease without selfishness and can be with others in a friendly way." This state of mind is helpful in avoiding the distractions arising from "pettiness."

According to Confucius, there are three kinds of beneficial friendships: true, loyal, and informed. Part four, "The Way of Friendship," focuses on these typologies. The author charts practical methods derived from Confucius' teachings for choosing "good" over "bad" relationships, and the consequences of perceptual sensitivity or lack thereof.

In The Way of Ambition, part five, the author says one of the key tenets for achieving success and reaching one's goals is embodied in "finding things that are closest to your heart." Among several crucial elements presented is that of being ready and willing to learn.

Finally, in part six, The Way of Being, the author imparts advice on how Confucius combined the learning from years of experience to obtain "freedom from doubt," and the value of "letting go of the things that are not what the soul really needs." Succinctly emphasized is the value of simplicity as a sure route to happiness.

Key themes that repeatedly resurface include consideration of individual interests and ambitions, positive thinking and critical points for personal analysis that leads to self-understanding. One example is the relationship between goals and actions. The author writes, "The key to how far a kite can fly is in the string in your hands, and this string is the aspirations of your inner heart."

Professor Yu's treatment and interpretations of the Confucian way focus on how we can cultivate ourselves to better serve society, saying that Confucius was a proponent of helping people understand the rites of "courtesy," "integrity," and "self-control," exhorting citizens to realize their responsibility to be useful to society. We should also be committed to working for the good of humanity.

From a universal perspective, many cross-cultural applications can be gained from Professor Yu's interpretive discourse. One example is the notion of "attuning" the ear and thereby developing an understanding and tolerance for all people of the world. The Chinese saying, "Two clouds can only come together to produce rain when they meet at the same height," is an example of the simplicity in which thematic messages and major points are presented to enable clarity for readers.

Confucius From the Heart is a timely book containing ancient wisdom clearly applicable for world conditions today, with prescriptions for leadership and recipes for the common man's success in becoming more spiritually awakened. This knowledge can help us all work toward ensuring harmonious interpersonal relations while building lasting bridges for world peace.

The writer is an American professor working in China. He is the author of Making Cultural Adjustments: Dialogue to Harmony and Cultural Fusions: Passions and Creativity Converging

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