A Daoist insurgency

楚狂接輿,歌而過孔子曰:「鳳兮!鳳兮!何德之衰?往者不可諫,來者猶可追。已而!已而!今之從政者殆而!」孔子下,欲與之言。趨而辟之,不得與之言。
Jieyu, the Madman of Chu, walked past Confucius singing: “Phoenix, oh Phoenix! How your virtue has withered. The past is beyond repair, but the future is still worth pursuing. Give up! Give up! Those who serve in court are in peril.” Confucius stepped down from his chariot and wanted to speak with him, but he hurried away and disappeared. Confucius did not succeed in speaking with him.

This is the first of three allegorical tales of encounters between Confucius and Daoist hermits he supposedly happened to come across during his wanderings. Curiously, and probably deliberately, Confucius doesn’t actually speak directly with any of the hermits himself. He either fails to talk with them, as in this case, or his disciple Zilu acts as the intermediary.
Continue reading A Daoist insurgency

Bring on the dancing girls

齊人歸女樂,季桓子受之,三日不朝,孔子行。
The people of the state of Qi sent a troupe of singing and dancing girls as a gift to the state of Lu. Ji Huanzi accepted them and, for three days, he did not attend court. Confucius left.

This incident is said to have triggered Confucius’s decision to leave the state of Lu and go into exile in 497 BC. Confucius was allegedly so appalled that the head of the Ji family (and the de facto ruler of his home state of Lu) spent three days away from the serious business of government to cavort with the singing and dancing girls sent by the ruler of the neighboring state of Qi that he felt he had no choice but to resign from the position he then held at court. Continue reading Bring on the dancing girls

An awkward situation

齊景公待孔子曰:「若季氏則吾不能,以季、孟之間待之。」曰:「吾老矣。不能用也。」孔子行。
Duke Jing of Qi was preparing to receive Confucius and said: “I cannot accord him the same level treatment as the Ji family receives. I shall treat him at a level between the Ji family and the Meng family.” Then he said: “I am too old. I cannot employ him.” Confucius left.

Talk about an awkward situation! Although it would have been impolite of Duke Jing to directly refuse to meet with Confucius, he couldn’t risk upsetting the powerful Ji family from the neighboring state of Lu by according him the same level of welcome. He therefore places Confucius in a rank below them and adds insult to injury by saying that he is too old to employ the sage in any case. Continue reading An awkward situation

A man of principle

柳下惠為士師,三黜。人曰:「子未可以去乎?」曰:「直道而事人,焉往而不三黜!枉道而事人,何必去父母之邦!」
Liuxia Hui was dismissed three times as a magistrate. People said. “Why don’t you go elsewhere?” He replied: “If I stick to the principles of justice where would I not suffer the same fate? If I am to violate the principles of justice, why would I need to leave the land of my parents?”

First mentioned in Chapter XIII of Book 15 of the Analects, Liuxia Hui was a member of one of the great patrician families in Confucius’s home state of Lu. Just like the unfortunate Bi Gan in the previous chapter of the Analects, he held a fairly minor position in the bureaucracy – though happily he managed to avoid a similarly gruesome fate.

Three good men

微子去之,箕子為之奴,比干諫而死。孔子曰:「殷有三仁焉!」
The Lord of Wei fled from Zhouxin, the Lord of Ji became his slave, and Bi Gan was executed for remonstrating with him. Confucius said: “The Yin Dynasty had three good men.”

Zhouxin (紂辛) was the last king of the Shang/Ying Dynasty (1600 BC to 1046 BC), and by all accounts ruled with appalling brutality and depravity. The Lord of Wei was Zhouxin’s half-brother or son, and reportedly fled into exile in order to safeguard the royal family’s ancestral temple so that it would be preserved for future generations. Continue reading Three good men

If you reach the age of forty and….

子曰:「年四十而見惡焉,其終也已。」
Confucius said: “If you reach the age of forty and are still disdained by others it’s all over for you.”

This passage has a similar theme to Chapter XXIII of Book 9 of the Analects, in which Confucius points out that “if a man reaches the age of forty or fifty and has not made a name for himself, he is no longer worthy of reverence.” Continue reading If you reach the age of forty and….

Women and servants

子曰:「唯女子與小人為難養也!近之則不孫,遠之則怨。」
Confucius said: “Women and servants are difficult to deal with: if you get too close to them, they become disrespectful; if you get too distant, they resent it.”

There has been a lot of debate among commentators over whether Confucius is directing this comment at women in general or referring to the specific challenges of managing the female members of a large household. Continue reading Women and servants

Venting their spleen

子貢曰:「君子亦有惡乎?」子曰:「有惡。惡稱人之惡者,惡居下流而訕上者,惡勇而無禮者,惡果敢而窒者。」曰:「賜也亦有惡乎?」「惡徼以為知者,惡不孫以為勇者,惡訐以為直者。」
Zigong said: “Does a leader have things that he can’t stand?” Confucius said: “Yes. He can’t stand those who point out the evils in others. He can’t stand those in inferior positions who slander their superiors. He can’t stand those whose courage is not tempered by the rites. He can’t stand those who are impulsive and stubborn.” Confucius continued. “Do you have things that you can’t stand?” “I can’t stand those who pretend to be learned by plagiarizing. I can’t stand those who pretend to be brave by acting arrogant. I can’t stand those who pretend to be frank by being malicious.”

Confucius and Zigong certainly don’t hesitate to vent their spleen on people who act in a hypocritical fashion. They have no time for the backstabbers who stir the pot with their unwarranted criticism of others or the phonies who mask their ignorance and weakness by pretending to be what they are not. Continue reading Venting their spleen

Checks and balances

子路曰:「君子尚勇乎?」子曰:「君子義以為上。君子有勇而無義為亂,小人有勇而無義為盜。」
Zilu said: “Does a leader prize courage?” Confucius said: “A leader prizes rightness above all else. A leader who is courageous but lacking in rightness could create chaos; a petty person who is courageous but lacking in rightness could become a bandit.”

Your greatest strength often turns out to be your greatest weakness. Internal checks and balances are required. Continue reading Checks and balances