Fan Chi was strolling with Confucius around the Rain Dance Terrace. He said: “May I ask how you can accumulate virtue, correct evil thoughts, and resolve confusion?” Confucius said: “An excellent question! Always put service before reward: isn’t this the way to accumulate virtue? Attack the evil in yourself rather than the evil in other people: isn’t this the way to correct evil thoughts? Forget yourself in a moment of anger and bring ruin upon yourself and your family: isn’t this is a case of confusion?”
It only takes a brief moment of anger for years of hard work and selfless dedication to go down the drain. The path to self-cultivation requires learning to control your emotions so that you’re not affected by externalities. Whenever you feel the mist begin to rise, stand up and take a deep breath. Focus on what you can control — not what you can’t.
This article features a translation of Chapter 21 of Book 12 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 12 here.
(1) The question that the follower Fan Chi poses to Confucius is similar to that of Zizhang’s in 12.10. As is his wont, Confucius tailors his response to address what he sees as Fan Chi’s major weaknesses rather than give a stock answer. He uses the first part of his response to remind Fan Chi of the dangers of acquisitiveness that he first pointed out to him in 6.22: “A good person is first in line to confront difficulties and last in line to collect rewards.” By warning his follower against forgetting himself in a moment of anger in the third and final part, Confucius is probably also suggesting that he should learn to control his temper better by not allowing his emotions to cloud his judgment.
(2) Some commentators suggest that the phrase “accumulate virtue … recognize confusion” (崇德 … 辨惑。) that appears in 12.10 and 12.21 may have been used during the Rain Dance ceremony. This could be the reason why Fan Chi mentions it during his stroll with Confucius around the Rain Dance Terrace.