Doctrine of the Mean


The Doctrine of the Mean (中庸; pinyin: Zhōng yōng) is both a doctrine of Confucianism and also the title of one of the Four Books of Confucian philosophy.

The text is attributed to Zisi (子思, also known as Kong Ji 孔伋; c. 481–402 BCE), the only grandson of Confucius. It was published as a chapter in the Classic of Rites.

The Doctrine of the Mean is a text rich with symbolism and guidance to perfecting oneself. Zhong means bent neither one way or another, and yong represents unchanging.

The person who follows the mean is on a path of duty and must never leave it. A superior person is cautious, a gentle teacher and shows no contempt for his or her inferiors. S/he always does what is natural according to her or his status in the world. Even common men and women can carry the mean into their practices, as long as they do not exceed their natural order.

Doctrine of the Mean instructed three guidelines—Self-watchfulness, Leniency and Sincerity—on how to pursue Doctrine of the Mean, and those who follow these guidelines can be called superior man.

This guideline requires self-education, self-questioning and self-discipline during the process of self-cultivation.

The phrase Doctrine of the Mean (zhōng yōng) first occurs in Book VI, verse 29 of the Analects of Confucius:

The Master [Confucius] said, The virtue embodied in the doctrine of the Mean is of the highest order. But it has long been rare among people— Analects, 6:29 (Burton Watson tr.)

Analects never expands on what this term means, but Zisi’s text, Doctrine of the Mean, explores its meaning in detail, as well as how to apply it to one’s life. The text was adopted into the canon of the Neo-Confucian movement, as compiled by Zhu Xi.

Although Burton Watson translated zhōng yōng as Doctrine of the Mean, other English-language translators have rendered it differently. James Legge called it Constant Mean. Pierre Ryckmans (aka Simon Leys) Middle Way, while Arthur Waley chose Middle Use. Ezra Pound’s attempts include Unswerving Pivot, and Unwobbling Pivot. Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall titled their 2001 translation Focusing the Familiar.

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Edited from Wikipedia


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