A Conversation with Confucius

This poem is an imaginary dialogue between Kongzi (Confucius) and Mozi, two ancient Chinese philosophers. It was written using couplets.

The goal that my teachings have planned
Is social order throughout the land.

How will you achieve this noble aim
And make for yourself a name?

I will teach people to follow ren,
Which is love for the other one.

And how will you teach
People this ideal to reach?

I will teach people to follow rites,
So that each in good habits delights;
In this way, people will find the good
And become superior, as they should;
And when people have attained this goal,
Society will be orderly and whole.

What are the habits people should heed,
So that your noble plan will succeed?

People should follow what is right,
So their futures will be bright;
People should follow traditions
And their elders’ admonitions;
Children should love and respect
Their parents, as is correct;
Leaders should be obeyed,
And the city’s taxes paid.

Sometimes traditions are a waste,
And should not be blindly embraced;
Sometimes the people’s need
Does away from habit lead.

For the most part, though,
Habit is the way to go;
For order to be maintained,
Traditions should be retained.

Should children also give protection
To others’ parents and show affection?
Should people love the stranger,
Or does this invite certain danger?

Practical is my teaching
And never overreaching
In what man can achieve
And give also receive;
To love strangers is not right,
For we can only be polite
To those that we don’t know,
And then on our own way go.

But if people are partial,
And they cannot marshal
Love that is unselfish,
Then we can only wish
For inner social order
And peace on our border;
For partiality is a fire
That continues to burn higher;
When selfishness is the rule,
All our actions become cruel.

People must know their place,
And not your ideas chase;
When people follow the rules,
They don’t descend to be fools.

But if the world changes for us,
Then we are forced to discuss
Whether our current actions
Keep for us their attractions.

People must keep tradition,
Change is an imposition;
Fate cannot be changed,
For all is prearranged.

Rituals are a heavy load
That causes virtue to erode;
People are always free
With heaven to agree,
Or they can deny its will
And feel the ego’s chill;
The will of heaven above
Is truly universal love;
We cannot choose to hate
One, and lovingly relate
To one that is near,
For heaven is clear
In that to truly love one
We must love everyone.

Impractical is your thought,
Not something to be taught;
People can only love those near,
For all cannot be a peer.

I cannot change your mind;
I can only gently remind
That if people do not follow
Heaven, they will swallow
Some easy to learn teaching
Or some familiar preaching;
If people are self-seeking,
They will always be critiquing
Those who are different
Even to the extent
Of ruining social accord,
A result to be abhorred;
But if people see their interest
Shared with others, this will arrest
Selfishness of all variety,
As peace comes to society.

(written c. January 2013)

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