Getting Older, Some Confucian Advice

I am in my 30’s now, but I know I am getting older, so I sometimes think about how to avoid some of the problems of getting older. By this, I mean how to avoid both health problems, but also how to live a good life as I get older.

Confucius had some good advice about getting older, and what to do, and what to avoid. I wanted to share some good quotes from the Analects, translated by Prof. Charles A. Muller. This first quite is only of Confucius’s most famous and I’ve quoted before:

[2:4] Confucius said: “At fifteen my heart was set on learning; at thirty I stood firm; at forty I had no more doubts; at fifty I knew the mandate of heaven; at sixty my ear was obedient; at seventy I could follow my heart’s desire without transgressing the norm.”

This is another one I found interesting:

[9:23] Confucius said: “We should be in awe of the younger generation. How can we know that they will not be equal to us? But if a man reaches the age of forty or fifty and has still not been heard from, then he is no one to be in awe of.”

It helps to remember that people had shorter average life-spans back then. Here’s one that I often remind myself of:

[16:7] Confucius said: “The noble man is on guard against three things:”
(1) When he is a young man and his physical energies are not yet settled, he is on guard against lust.
(2) When he is mature and his physical energy is solid, he is on guard against being drawn into a fight.
(3) When he is old, and his physical power is weakened, he is on guard not to cling to his attainments.

For 3), an alternative translation is “acquisitiveness”. In other words, elderly people should avoid hoarding, or lingering on past accomplishments.

Lastly, here’s an important warning from Confucius:

[17:26] Confucius said: “One who has reached the age of forty and is disliked, will be disliked to the end.”

It’s important to remember that one’s conduct now makes a big difference later.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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