Book VI continues with the discussion of the disciples and public figures. In particular, Confucius laments the passing of Yen Hui, a disciple who died and whom Confucius evidently held in high regard. To discuss the specifics of Confucian ideology, Book VI draws on specific examples, which are recounted by Confucius to illustrate when something was done correctly or incorrectly. The Analects presents much of Confucius's teachings in this manner. At other times, Confucius is merely quoted as plainly stating the attributes of a gentleman or observance of propriety.
Book VI continues in much the same vein, discussing public figures and disciples, as Book V did. Of the disciples that Confucius discusses in the text, he speaks highly of one in particular, Yen Hui. Confucius mourns the death of this disciple here. Later, however, Yen Hui is demonstrated as being alive.
Book VI also gives us a glimpse of the political situation in the region at the time. In Chapter 7, Min Tzu-chien expresses his loyalty to the Duke of Lu. When informed that the Chi family wishes to place him in the position of governor of Pi, he asks that a polite excuse be made for him to avoid such responsibility. He threatens to leave and "install himself on the far side of the Wen", in the neighboring land of Ch'i, to avoid the request of the Chi family.
Chapter 23 presents further commentary on this matter. Confucius describes a horn-gourd that is "neither horn nor gourd". Most scholars agree that this passage is a metaphor for the state of China, a country ruled by an Emperor who had no power and local sovereigns and lords whose rights had been taken by ministers. Some scholars interpret this passage literally and see it as a criticism of some improper use of vessels in a ritual setting. However, the majority seem to concur that Confucius is stating that one who does not truly rule should not be called a ruler, echoing the rectification of names doctrine presented later in the text.
Chapter 24 is a passage of interest to scholars as it demonstrates some tension between Confucius and the disciple Tsai Yu. Tsai Yu playfully or sarcastically questions the concept of the gentleman. Tsai Yu asks if a good man, upon hearing that another good man was at the bottom of a well, wouldn't jump in to join him. He implies not only that a good man could be blinded by allegiance to Confucian dogma and could therefore place himself in a disadvantageous position, but that a good man's desire to surround himself with other good men may in fact be a foolish idea. Confucius dismisses Tsai Yu's question as nonsense without any of the playfulness or criticism that some scholars see in Tsai Yu's demeanor. Confucius quotes a maxim about the true gentleman, solely for the reference in it to hsien, a word which means "throw down" into a pit, but can also mean "to dent" or "to pit".
Chapter 28 mentions the Divine Sage. Tzu-kung asks whether, if a ruler not only bestowed good fortune and benefits upon his people, but also brought salvation to the State, he would not be considered good? Confucius answers that such a person is not only good, but could be considered a Divine Sage, or Sheng.
Book VII begins with an important passage in which Confucius states that he has not taught anything that he himself did not absorb from others before him, namely the Ancients, the ancient kings of China. In this regard, the gentleman is seen as a vessel that carries knowledge and transmits it to others and not as a wise sage who has developed an ideology on his own. Confucius mentions that in this behavior he may even have excelled "Old Peng". There is not consensus as to who Old Peng may be. Some scholars believe Confucius may have been referring to Peng-zu, a figure of Chinese legend. Nonetheless, Book VII presents a portrait of Confucius himself, either through his words or those of his disciples.
Confucius again addresses the issue of political strife in the kingdom of Lu in Chapter 5 when he mentions the Duke of Chou. This figure was of some importance to Confucius and it is apparent that Confucius held him in high regard. The Duke of Chou was famed for saving the dynasty through his wisdom. The passage likely reflects Confucius's regret that he has not seen one like the Duke of Chou rise to a position of power in a very long time.
Chapter 7 finds Confucius discussing his policy on teaching anyone who is interested in learning, no matter how poor they may be. Even those students who bring only a "dried bundle of flesh", he says, will receive instruction. There is some ambiguity over the interpretation of this passage amongst scholars. Some feel that the sentence should be read literally. However, some point to the term as a common expression in China for the payment of school fees. In the context, it appears to be meant literally although there is no way of being sure. Likewise, we cannot confirm Confucius's claim of accepting even the very poor as his students.
Chapter 10 speaks to Confucius's preference for a "middle way" to solving problems and approaching life. Confucius viewed extremes as fraught with recklessness or inaction and spoke in appreciative tones of a path in the middle, which would consider all approaches and rely on strategy for success. The maxim he quotes to Yen Hui could be interpreted as his experience when dealing with rulers and how they have treated him. Some scholars feel that Confucius could also be discussing the Tao, interpreting the maxim as meaning, "When the Tao is put to use, one should act; when it is discarded, one should hide." Both interpretations can be seen as valid and it seems equally likely that Confucius was using a maxim about the Tao as an analogy for dealing with rulers. In other words, if a ruler asks you to do something in concord with Tao, do so. If they ask you to do something which conflicts with the Tao, it is best not to have anything to do with such a ruler.
Such an interpretation the Tao can be seen as the middle path itself. When asked by Tzu-lu what type of person Confucius would want with him if he had control of the army (the "Three Hosts" in the text, speaking of the three divisions), Confucius specifically cites the reckless or daring individual as one he would not want with him. Instead, he chooses the careful person who relies on careful planning.
Chapter 14 illustrates the concept of goodness, specifically the characteristics of truthfulness and loyalty. Jan Ch'iu asks if Confucius supports the Prince of Wei. Confucius brings up the story of Po I and Shu Ch'i. Po I and Shu Ch'i were brothers of legend who refused to take up arms against their sovereign, the last Yin ruler, when he was removed from power by the Chou. Though the Yin ruler was considered unjust, they did not bear any ill feelings toward him and remained loyal. The Prince of Wei initially waived his rights to the throne when the Duke of Ling, his father, passed. The throne instead went to the Duke's grandson. However, shortly thereafter the son went back on his word and attempted to oust the grandson from power. Confucius's story indicates the importance of placing a great weight on the sanctity of one's word.
Chapter 15 seems to mirror the common expression that money cannot buy happiness. Confucius argues that one can find happiness in a simple, uncluttered, even destitute lifestyle. What is of importance in this passage is not the outright rejection of status or wealth, but the means by which one attains them. Confucius rejects the acquisition of either through means which are not wholesome. He seems to argue that such ill-gotten gains spoil any enjoyment they might bring as they are not based in goodness but in greed.
The assumption might be that Confucius must have seen himself as an example of the good man or gentleman, but in Chapter 33 he refutes this. He states that he cannot make any such claim but that he has demonstrated a love of learning and a patience to teach others. This mirrors similar statements at the beginning of Book VII. Herein lies a possible lesson that Confucius may have wished to impart to his disciples: that the gentleman never thinks of himself as such, because to do so gives way to a sense of superiority. Deciding that oneself is inherently better than others based on the belief that one is a gentleman negates the belief itself. Kung-hsi Hua laments that the disciples cannot seem to grasp this seeming contradiction.
The similarities between Books V and VI indicates a likelihood that these two books were recorded at around the same time. Their style is also similar whereas later books are strikingly different from the rest of the text.
It is not clear why Yen Hui is described as having died prematurely, yet later seems to be alive; some scholars feel this change was added later to existing texts. In Chapter 3, for example, Confucius tells the Duke Ai that Yen Hui had a great love of learning, and that there are none whom he has met who matched Yen Hui's love. In Chapter 5 of Book VI, Confucius states that Hui was capable of occupying his mind with thoughts of goodness for three months on end. It is unclear if this statement took place before or after Yen Hui's premature death. Some scholars add that the Taoists claimed Yen Hui as an exponent of tso-wang or "sitting with a blank mind", the Chinese equivalent of yoga. In Chapter 9, Confucius praises Hui again, stating that his natural cheerfulness allowed him to endure what others would have found depressing. Such devotion to a disciple gives us a glimpse into Confucius as a person, rather than the sage-like visage we generally are exposed to. He was clearly moved by Yen Hui's death and saddened by the fact that he would not be able to converse with his student again.
Much of The Analects deals with Confucius's dismay over the grasp for power by regional lords and ministers as the position of kings became gradually weaker. Consider how this might have influenced Confucius's teachings during his lifetime. Much of The Analects does not simply state the principles of what a life of goodness would be, but also appears to be a reaction to unjust or improper events that Confucius witnessed in his lifetime.
Sheng were mythological figures, believed to be rulers of human dynasties, but still endowed with divine characteristics and powers. The Sheng rules not by force by wu-wei, or non-activity, using his divine essence to assure the security of his land and the fertility of the soil. This is a familiar concept in Chinese mythology where a divine force is used to lead or rule. Consider the concept of te, or moral force, here. The Sheng seems to rely upon this type of force to establish goodness.
Book VII, Chapter 7 is important because of the ideological aspersion of Confucius's claim to take on students regardless of their ability to pay him. At various points in the text when discussing the gentleman, or Chun-tzu, Confucius makes a distinction between the gentleman and common people. This can be read to infer a class-based difference between the two groups, but Confucius's statement here indicates that this was not the case. His belief that knowledge and learning could allow even the poor to elevate themselves to a higher moral stature illustrates that he did not see a person's background as an indication of their future. Confucius himself came from a poor family and at various points in the text comments on how his outsider status caused some to view him with suspicion.