The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life

The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life

Michael Puett, Christine Gross-Loh

Language: English

Pages: 224

ISBN: 1476777837

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

For the first time an award-winning Harvard professor shares his wildly popular course on classical Chinese philosophy, showing you how these ancient ideas can guide you on the path to a good life today.

Why is a course on ancient Chinese philosophers one of the most popular at Harvard?

It’s because the course challenges all our modern assumptions about what it takes to flourish. This is why Professor Michael Puett says to his students, “The encounter with these ideas will change your life.” As one of them told his collaborator, author Christine Gross-Loh, “You can open yourself up to possibilities you never imagined were even possible.”

These astonishing teachings emerged two thousand years ago through the work of a succession of Chinese scholars exploring how humans can improve themselves and their society. And what are these counterintuitive ideas? Good relationships come not from being sincere and authentic, but from the rituals we perform within them. Influence comes not from wielding power but from holding back. Excellence comes from what we choose to do, not our natural abilities. A good life emerges not from planning it out, but through training ourselves to respond well to small moments. Transformation comes not from looking within for a true self, but from creating conditions that produce new possibilities.

In other words, The Path upends everything we are told about how to lead a good life. Above all, unlike most books on the subject, its most radical idea is that there is no path to follow in the first place—just a journey we create anew at every moment by seeing and doing things differently.

Sometimes voices from the past can offer possibilities for thinking afresh about the future.

A note from the publisher:
To read relevant passages from the original works of Chinese philosophy, see our free ebook Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Xunzi: Selected Passages, available on Kindle, Nook, and the iBook Store and at




















act according to where we are stuck in the moment, or will we act in a way that opens up a constellation of possibilities? There is no one true self to uncover—in ourselves or in others. The psychologist and philosopher William James (1842–1910) once wrote, “A man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him”—a surprisingly Confucian sentiment. Each of us has myriad roles that often conflict, and there is no norm that can tell us how to navigate them. Only the practice of

other ways to address her desire for interaction? Or maybe she keeps checking in when she’s feeling uncertain and insecure; addressing the nervousness itself is where you might begin. Here’s another situation: let’s say that someone treats you with anger. Maybe a long-simmering resentment between you and your brother has finally exploded into the open. A refined response would be not to automatically respond with anger of your own—tempting though it might be. Nor would it be to placate him, numb

acknowledge immediately the possibility of its opposite existing in the world as well. This sort of thinking leads us away from the Way, a state in which everything is interrelated, with no distinctions. We even tend to read the Laozi itself in a disconnected, differentiated way. It is hugely popular, one of the most widely translated works in the world, and yet people almost invariably read it many different ways: as a great text of mystical philosophy, or a political strategy text teaching the

everything is flowing into everything else. None of this is prescriptive. Zhuangzi doesn’t tell us what we should do after we gain this different perspective; what comes from that is up to us. The key is the break of perspective itself. True imagination and creativity don’t come from thinking outside the box or letting ourselves go wild, just as true spontaneity does not come from dancing on a table on the weekend while you remain in your tedious job. They don’t come out of great disruptive

we will leave the traditional world and truly become cosmopolitan. How We Became Traditional Why were these ideas lost to us in the first place? We learned about the Axial Age, a period during which religious and political experimentation flourished throughout the continent of Eurasia following a radical break from an aristocratic past. But then the religious and political experiments ended, at least in some parts of Eurasia. In the western portion of Eurasia, when the Roman Empire fell,

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