Lun Yu 1.4 and 1.5

the Dao cybernetic

Lun Yu 1.4 and 1.5

Chapter 1

Saying 4


Zeng Shen (曾参), here called Master Zeng (曾子). One of the ‘four sages’.

Words to know:

子: Zi - Master.

吾: Wu - I.

曰: Yue - to say

日: Ri - to ask

忠: Zhong - to be loyal

友交: Pengyou - friends, friendship.


Who is this young Zeng Shen (曾参) before us? Well, as said in the speakers section, he is one of the founders of ‘mainline’ “Confucianism” by this chain: Kongzi was the teacher of Zengzi, who was the teacher of Zisi (子思), who was the teacher of Mengzi (孟子). He is almost 50 years younger than Confucius, making him the youngest major disciple. When Yan Hui (顏回), The Master’s favorite disciple died, Zeng Shen was still an uncapped young man.

Moving on to the three part process, Zengzi’s three questions become socially narrower as they climb. First right action for others, then for friends and finally for one’s self.

There is something of an irony that though this saying is about action for the general good, the first word is I (吾). Perhaps these reasons are why we will see that in the inner books - 8.7 for instance - Zengzi had difficulty walking the path.

Saying 5


Kongzi (孔子), i.e. Confucius

Words to know:

子: Zi - Master.

曰: Yue - to say, to call, to mention

道: Dao - Literally, a large path, but philosophically…

千: Qian - thousand.

国: Guo - state, country.


The path? Yes, we have finally come to it, the three magic words: “子曰、道”, “Zi Yue, Dao”, “The Master said: Dao”. Legge translates this as “to rule”, but “to lead” is better. In my native Sprongfeldian dialect we say “to en-path-en”.

What better time to talk about my personal interpretation of dao (道)? The word seems to have ‘originally’ meant something like highway, large flat major road. We will see how several analecta play on every aspect of this image.  The character is made up of two radicals: an outer semantic radical 辶 and an inner phonetic radical 首.

The semantic radical is itself composed of two parts, the upper from an oracle bone era pictogram of a street intersection and a lower from an oracle bone era pictogram of a foot. These were combined into the character 辵 which is squished into the aforementioned radical. The total character therefore means something like ‘to walk somewhere along a street and then stop there.’

The phonetic radical 首 means simply “head”. It is an abstract image of an animal: the upper part is hair and the lower part a face. In ancient Chinese the word for path and head were apparently homophonic. The oracle bone script pictogram this descends from is simply a drawing of an animal.

For me, the core of the image of the dao (道) comes in the fact that the dao (道) is a footpath. Footpaths are created and regulated by the fact that people and other animals walk along them. The sheer weight of numbers flattens the land and removes obstacles.

The dao (道) is cybernetic in the sense of nonlinear control theory: the road is made safe by the users and the safety of the road draws users. Unlike the roads from the Knight-Pigou controversy, the dao (道) is not simply given (it is not an ‘endowment’, to use the jargon), it is produced. If a poorly graded footpath is allowed to be inexpensive, that footpath becomes a well graded road: social virtue is progressive rather than static.

But there is enough in this saying that we don’t need to get off topic - not yet. Confucius’s style guide is as always the Yi Jing (易經). To give a literally random example of how the Yi Jing (易經) uses dao (道), let’s look at Jian (漸), Gradual Advance. The unbroken line or yang (陽) in the third place says:

“ 夫征不復,離群醜也。婦孕不育,失其道也。利用御寇,順相保也。”

which Legge translates “'A husband goes and does not return:' - he separates himself from his comrades. 'A wife is pregnant, but will not nourish her child:' - she has failed in her (proper) course. 'It might be advantageous in resisting plunderers:' - by acting as here indicated men would preserve one another.”.

Dao is translated by Legge “her (proper) course”. Wang Bi’s explanation of this Yi Ching image is well worth a detour.

The third unbroken line is yang (陽) and so male. The line above the third yang is broken and so yin and female. The fourth yin is a wife (婦) but not the third yang’s. To quote Richard John Lynn’s translation:

“Third Yang is originally part of the [upper] Gen … trigram, but here it abandons its fellows and takes up with Fourth Yin. This results not only in this one not returning but also goes so far as to cause the … [Fourth Yin] to get with child and then not raise it. To be so taken with personal advantage that one forgets moral principles and to be so greedy for advance that one forgets one’s old responsibilities, such is the dao of misfortune.”

All this is still not enough for this one word, but we will see more on dao throughout the Lun Yu.

Slingerland’s commentary mentions controversy over exactly how large a “state of a myriad chariots” (千乘之国) is. All that really matters is that it is bigger than a village hamlet and smaller than All-Of-China. We will come back to Confucius’s interest in the role of middle manager later. Let us analyze the words themselves for now.

The term “state of a myriad chariots” (千乘之国)  must have been originally military. We will come back to see how Sun Tzu uses the concept of a myriad chariots in the proper time and place - namely book 5 saying 8. Instead, let’s look at a sentence from the Way Power Classic, the Dao De Jing (道德经).

At the time the Lun Yu was compiled the Dao De Jing (道德经) would have been referred to by the name of its author, Laozi (老子). If he was a historical person, Laozi had the birth name Li Er (李耳) but was generally referred to as Laodan (老聃) - “Old long ears” or less accurately but more flavorfully “Ol’ wrinkly”.

Laozi (老子) Chapter 26, On Heaviness (重), has the statement


Which Legge translates “How should the lord of a myriad chariots carry himself lightly before the kingdom?”, though in more modern English “could” would be better here than “should”.

The similarities between Lin Yu 1.5 and Dao De Jung 26 are brought out by Wang Bi’s commentary. Paul J Lin translates them as follows:

“Heaviness is [the Sage’s] base, therefore one never leaves it. … To lose lordliness is to lose a lord’s position.”

Both Laozi and Kongzi agree that it takes the repeated application of heaviness to smooth the footpath. But is heaviness an attribute which the sage could but does not shed or something logically deeper?

The difference between Laozi and Kongzi is simply the difference between a positive and negative approach. For Laozi, heaviness is a positive attribute of the sage; Kongzi does not give the sage positive attributes but describes the sage’s actions. Thus we see how his logical conceptions lead to an action and implementation orientation in Confucius.

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