SAYINGS OF CONFUCIUS

Introductory

The original of the Chinese title of the “Lun Yu” is literally “Discourses and Dialogues.” By Legge and most British Chinese scholars this work is called “The Confucian Analects,” the word “analect” denoting things chosen, in the present case from the utterances of the master.


The “Lun Yu” is arranged in twenty chapters or books, and gives, ostensibly in his own words, the teaching of Confucius and that of his leading disciples. It is here that we learn nearly all that we know about Confucius.Since the work was composed, as we have it, within a century of the master’s death, there seems good reason for believing that we have here a bona-fide record of what he thought and said. We may compare with the “Lun Yu” the Christian Gospels which profess to give the doctrines and sayings of Jesus, and also the traditional utterances of Mohammed edited by Al-Bokhari, who died in 870 A.D. The utterances which follow are by the master (Confucius) himself, unless it is otherwise stated. Other speakers are generally disciples of Confucius.


General Maxims

I care little who makes a nation’s laws if I have the making of its ballads.

The young child ought to be obedient at home, modest from home, attentive, faithful, full of benevolence, spending spare time mostly upon poetry, music, and deportment.

A son ought to study his father’s wishes as long as the father lives; and after the father is dead he should study his life, and respect his memory.

A man who is fond of learning is not a glutton, nor is he indolent; he is earnest and sincere in what he says and does, seeks the company of the good, and profits by it.

At fifteen my whole mind was on study. At thirty I was able to stand alone. At forty my speculative doubts came to an end. At fifty I understood Heaven’s laws. At sixty my passions responded to higher instincts. At seventy my better nature ruled me altogether.

Mere study without thought is useless, but thought without study is dangerous.

Fine words and attractive appearances are seldom associated with true goodness.

If a man keeps cultivating his old knowledge and beever adding to it new, that man is fit to be a teacher of others.

The superior man is broad-minded, and no partisan. The mean man is biased and narrow.

Tze-chang studied with a view to official promotion. The master said, “This is wrong,” adding, “Thou shouldest listen much, keep silent when there is doubt, and guard thy tongue. See much, beware of dangers, and walk warily. Then shalt thou have little cause for repentance.”

I do not know how a man can get on without truth. It is easier for a waggon to go without a cross-pole, or a carriage to be drawn without harness.

Neither courtesy nor music avail a man if he has not virtue and love.

Worship the dead as though they stood alive before you. Sacrifice to the spirits as if they were in your immediate presence.

If I am not personally present when the sacrifice is being made, then I do not sacrifice. There can be no proxy in this matter.

Tze-kung wanted to do away with the offering of a sheep at the new moon. The master said, “Thou lovest the sheep, but I love the ceremony.”

These things are not to be tolerated: Rank without generosity, ritual without reverence, and mourning without genuine sorrow.

It is better to have virtue with want and ignominy, than wealth and honour without virtue.

If a man in the morning learns the right way of life he may die at night without regret.

A scholar’s mind should be set on the search for truth, and he should not be ashamed of poor clothes or of plain or even of insufficient food.

The superior man loves the good and pursues it; besides this, he has no likes or dislikes.

The good man considers what is right; the bad manwhat will pay.

As long as thy parents live thou must not go far from them. But if through necessity thou leavest them, let them know where thou art, and be ready to come to them when needed.

The man who governs himself, restraining his passions, seldom goes wrong.

The good man desires to be slow of speech, but active in conduct.

Virtue stands never alone. It will always make neighbours.

In my first dealings with men I listened to their words, and gave them credit for good conduct. Experience has taught me not to listen to their words but to watch their conduct. It was from Yu that I learned this lesson.

I have met no man of strong and unbending will; even Chang is passionate.

On being asked why Kung-wan was said to be cultured, the master replied, “Because he was quick to learn, fond of learning, and especially because he was not ashamed to ask questions of those below him.” Of Tze-chang the master said that he had four characteristics of the gentleman: he was humble in his own life, respectful towards seniors, generous in supplying the needs of the people, and just in all his demands of them.

Yen Yuan and Chi Lu were once sitting by the master, who turned to them and said, “Come, I want each of you to tell me his wishes.” Chi Lu said, “I should like to have carriages and horses and light fur robes to share with my friends that they, and I, may carelessly wear them out.” Yen Yuan said, “My wish is to make no boast of moral or intellectual excellence.” The master said, “My wish is this: to make the aged happy, to show sincerity towards friends, and to treat young people with tenderness and sympathy.”

Nature preponderating over art begets coarseness; art preponderating over nature begets pedantry; art andnature united make a proper gentleman.

To men whose talents are above mediocrity we speak of superior things. To men whose talents are below the common we must speak things suited to their culture.

On being asked, “What is wisdom,” the master replied, “To promote right thoughts and feelings among men; to honour the spirits of the dead.” In reply to the question, “What is love?” the master answered, “Making most of self-sacrificing efforts but of success only in a subordinate degree.”

Perfect virtue consists in keeping to the Golden Mean. He who has offended against Heaven has no one to whom he can pray.

Men should not murmur against Heaven, for all that Heaven does is good.

The master paid great attention to three things–piety, peace, and health.

If I have coarse rice to eat and pure water to drink, and my bent arm for a pillow, I am content and happy. But ill-gotten riches and honour are to me as a floating cloud.

If my life could be lengthened out by a few years, I would devote at least fifty years to the study of the “Yi King” [Book of Changes], then might I be purified from my sin.


On Poetry, History, and Propriety

The master constantly talked about poetry, history, and the rules of propriety.

Tze-lu, on being asked about Confucius, gave no answer. The master asked about being present, said, “Why didst thou not say to him, ‘Confucius is a man so eager in the pursuit of knowledge that he forgets his food, so jubilant in its attainment that he forgets his grief and grows old without knowing it’?”

I was not born in the possession of knowledge, but Iam fond of the past and study it closely, and hence knowledge is coming to me.

My pupils, do not think that I hide anything from you. Whatever I think and do I tell you frankly and truly. I keep no secrets from my disciples.

The master used to teach four things: culture, morals, and manners, piety, and faithfulness.

In knowledge and in culture I am perhaps the equal of other men. I have not yet attained to perfection, nor are my knowledge and living consistent.

The master once being very ill, Tze-lu asked permission to pray for him. The master asked, “Is that customary?” “It is,” replied the disciple, “for the memorials have it, ‘Pray to the spirits in heaven above and on earth below.'” The master replied, “I have for long prayed for myself, and that is best.”

The master was dignified, yet gentle. He was majestic, but inspired no fear. He was gentlemanly, but always at ease.

Poetry rouses the mind, the rules of propriety establish the character, music crowns a man’s education.

It would be hard to meet a man who has studied for three years without learning something good.

Learn as though you felt you could never learn enough, and as though you feared you could not learn in your short life what is needful for conduct.

A man from a certain village once said, “Confucius is, no doubt, a very learned man, but he has not made himself a name in any special thing.” When the master heard this, he said to his disciples, “What shall I undertake: charioteering, archery, or what? I think I shall become a charioteer, and thus get me a name.”

A high officer asked Tze-kung, “May we not say that the master is a sage because he can do so many things?” To which Tze-kung replied, “Heaven has indeed highly endowed him, and he is almost a sage; and he is verymany-sided.”

On hearing this the master said, “Does the officer know me? Being of lowly birth when I was young, I learnt many a trade, but there was nothing great in that. The superior man may excel in one thing only, and not in many things.”

Wishing to go and live among the nine wild tribes of the East, one of his friends remonstrated with the master and said, “They are low. How can you go and live among them?” To which he gave for answer, “Nothing that is low can survive where the virtuous and the good-mannered man is.”

After I returned from Wei to Lu I found the music had been reformed, and that each song was given its proper place.

The master said, “To serve ministers and nobles when abroad, fathers and elder brothers when at home, to avoid neglect in offerings of the dead, and to be no slave to wine: to which of these have I attained?”


Confucius at Home and at Court

In his own village Confucius looked homely and sincere, as if he had no word to say; but in the ancestral temple and in the court he was full of words, though careful in using them.

When waiting at court he talked with the lower officers frankly, but to the higher officers more blandly and precisely. When the sovereign was present he used to be respectful but easy, solemn yet self-possessed. When the sovereign bade him receive visitors his countenance changed, and his legs appeared to bend. Bowing to those beside him, he straightened his robes in front and behind, hastening forward with his elbows extended like a bird’s wings. When the guest had retired he used to report to the prince, saying, “The guest does not any more look back.” When he entered the palace gatehe seemed to stoop as though it were not high enough for him. Ascending the dais, lifting up his robes with both hands, he held his breath as if he would cease breathing. As he came down his face relaxed after the first step, and looked more at ease. At the bottom of the steps he would hurry on, spreading out his elbows like wings, and on gaining his seat he would sit intent as previously.

He was never arrayed in deep purple or in puce-coloured garments. Even at home he wore nothing of a red or reddish colour. In hot weather he used to wear a single garment of fine texture, but always over an inner garment. Over lambs’ fur he wore a garment of black, over fawns’ fur one of white, and over foxes’ fur one of yellow. His sleeping-dress was half as long again as his body. On the first day of the month he always went to court in court robes. On fast days he wore pale-hued garments, changed his food, and made a change in his apartment.

He liked to have his rice carefully cleaned and his minced meat chopped small. He did not eat rice that had been injured by heat or damp or that had turned sour, nor could he eat fish or meat which had gone. He did not eat anything that was discoloured or that had a bad flavour, or that was not in season. He would not eat meat badly cut, or that was served with the wrong sauce. No choice of meats could induce him to eat more than he thought right.

After sacrificing at the ancestral temple he would never keep the meat there overnight, nor would he keep it more than three days at home. If by any mishap it were kept longer, it was not eaten.

He never talked at meals, nor would he speak a word in bed. Though there were on the table nothing but coarse rice and vegetable soup, he would always reverently offer some of it to his ancestors. If his mat was not straight he would not sit on it.


On Learning and Virtue

Chung-kung asked about virtue. The master said: “It consists in these things: To treat those outside thine own home as if thou wert welcoming a great guest; to treat the people as if thou wert assisting at a high sacrifice; not to do to others what thou wouldest not have them do to thee; to encourage no wrongs in the state nor any in the home.”

The master being once asked “Who is the virtuous man?” answered, “One that has neither anxiety nor fear, for he finds no evil in his heart. What, then, is there to cause anxiety or fear?”

The master, on being once asked by one of his disciples “On what does the art of government depend?” answered, “Sufficient food, troops, and a loyal people.” “If, however,” the same disciple asked, “one of them had to be dispensed with, which of the three could we best spare?” “Troops,” said the master. “And which,” the disciple then asked, “of the other two could be better spared?” “Food,” said the master.

Tze-chang asked the master, “When may a scholar or an officer be called eminent?” The master asked, “What dost thou mean by being eminent?” To which the other answered, “To be famous throughout the state and throughout his clan.” “But that,” said the master, “is fame, not eminence. The truly eminent man is genuine and straightforward; he loves righteousness, weighs people’s words, and looks at their countenances. He humbles himself to others, and is sincerely desirous of helping all. That is the, eminent man, though he may not be a famous one.”

If a ruler can govern himself, he is likely to be able to govern his people. But how can a man who has not control of himself keep his people in subjection?

Tze-kung asked, “Is it proper that a man should be liked by all his neighbours?” “Certainly not,” said themaster. “Is it then proper,” asked the same, “that a man should be hated by all his neighbours?” “Decidedly not,” said the master. “The good man is loved by his good neighbours, and hated by his bad ones.”

The virtuous man is hard to satisfy, but easy to serve. Nothing that thou doest to please him satisfies him unless it is strictly according to right. But in all his demands upon his servants he expects according to capacity, and is satisfied if the servant does his best, though it be little. The bad man is easy to satisfy, but hard to serve. He is satisfied with whatever pleases him, though it be not right; and he demands of his servants whatever he requires, making no allowance for capacity.

A scholar whose mind is set upon comfort is not worthy of the name.

“Where there’s a will,” said the master, “there’s a way.”

To refrain from speaking to a man who is disposed to hear is to wrong the man; to speak to a man not disposed to listen is to waste words.

“How can one in brief express man’s whole duty?”

“Is not reciprocity such a word?” said the master; “that is, what thou dost not want others to do to thee, do thou not to others.”

There are three things which the virtuous man has to guard against. In youth, lust; in full manhood, strife; and in old age, covetousness.

The highest class of men are those who are born wise; the next those who become wise by study; next and third, those who learn much, without having much natural ability. The lowest class of people are those who have neither natural ability nor perseverance. Men are very similar at birth; it is afterwards the great differences arise.

It is only the wisest and the silliest of men who never alter their opinions.

“My children,” said the master once to his disciples,”Why do you not study the Book of Poetry [the Shih King]? It would stimulate your mind, encourage introspection, teach you to love your fellows, and to forbear with all. It would show you your duty to your fathers and your king; and you would also learn from it the names of many birds and beasts and plants and trees.”

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