Confucius said that there are 3 methods to learn wisdom: by imitation, experience and reflection. Experience is clear, what about imitation and the most unclear - reflection?


“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” -- Confucius

People try to imitate the actions of people of knowledge, in hope to understand what the wise know. Reflection is for the most intelligent men. They hear the thoughts of wisdom and gain direct insight into the nature of things (which is a 1st class experience) from reflection. The other two men learn from repeated imitation or hard experience.

Reflection is defined as "thought occurring in consideration or meditation". Reflection is one of the qualities of consciousness. Consciousness is like a mirror that reflects reality as it is. To regain such ability, one must meditate and cleanse his awareness from all garbage of nescience. Then his consciousness is unspoiled and can reflect reality.

Noble people don't blindly imitate others or bash their heads against reality. They educate themselves and learn reality from reflection. Of course, they go through all kinds of experiences but never like a fool; they reflect and learn from their experience. They may even repeat the process of some wise men and reflect upon it.

It is important to understand the difference between reflection and reflexion. Reflection is of conceptual nature. When you reflect on your thoughts or memories, that act is called reflection. You can sit in your chair and reflect on the object of the sea or forest road - something that's separate from you.

Reflexion is a reflection of immediate experience - something that you're dealing with right here and now. It doesn't rely on thoughts or memories but arises from direct experience of something that you have in your space. In reflection, you don't think about the objects of consciousness but experience them directly.


R. G. de S. Wettimuny, The Buddha's Teaching and the Ambiguity of Existence

  • "Tell me and I forget, Show me and I remember, Involve me and I understand" - Xunzi – CriglCragl Aug 9 '20 at 0:46

Confucius discusses reflection a lot in the Analects especially as a means of self audit. More than anything its a tool to make sure you stay on the right path, keep improving in the right way, etc.

I cant find the exact location of this quote because the translations vary but the most powerful one i remember is this one:

“When we see men of worth, we should think of equaling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.”- https://sourcesofinsight.com/confucius-quotes/

So the first guy, you want to imitante which makes sense. For the second guy, whatever this guy is doing that you don’t like, you need to do an honest self assessment and make sure you’re not secretly also like him. That’s reflection and the way to help make sure you’re going down the good path. Maybe thats why its nobelest because it takes a constant and very honest effort.

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