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The ancient Confucian Analects (Lunyu) often has been interpreted as nothing more than the "pure" ethical teachings of a humanistic Chinese sage, "Confucius" (Kongzi or Kong Qiu). A careful and historically-sensitive interpretation of the Lunyu reveals that the text is capable of resisting this reading, providing clues to an altogether different Confucius - not the storied pedant who dispenses common-sense wisdom to office-seeking disciples, but a spiritual teacher who guides his pupils toward sagehood through a combination of ascetic and aesthetic disciplines. Key references in the text to material privation, music and dance, and the exemplary disciple Yan Hui reveal how one fifth-century BCE Confucian (Ru) sect sought to preserve and construct a memory of the "historical Confucius" as a Master who instructed his disciples in ascetic disciplines, linking them to aesthetic techniques of ecstasy, and celebrated one disciple in particular, Yan Hui, as the living embodiment of his esoteric Way. Instead of proposing either a traditional, harmonizing hermeneutic of the text, or a demythologization which might reveal the "real" or "historical" Confucius and his followers, this essay argues for the toleration of multiple, even mutually-contradicting voices in this classic of ancient Chinese spirituality. A primary goal for future research on the text should be the examination of conflicts of interpretation among early Confucian sects competing to safeguard the Master's legacy.

Affiliations: 1: Cultural & Historical Study of Religions The Graduate Theological Union 2451 Ridge Road Berkeley, CA 94709, USA


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