子曰：「禹吾無間然矣，菲飲食，而致孝乎鬼神，惡衣服，而致美乎黻冕，卑宮室，而盡力乎溝洫，禹吾無間然矣。」Confucius said: “I can find no flaw in Yu. He drank and ate simple fare, but showed complete devotion in his offerings to the ghosts and the spirits; he wore humble clothes, but his ritual vestments were magnificent; he lived in a modest palace, and he spent all his strength in draining floodwaters. I can find no flaw in Yu.”
Book 8 finishes with gushing praise for Yu the Great, the legendary emperor famous for controlling the floods threatening the plains surrounding the Yellow River by building (singlehandedly according to some accounts) irrigation systems to handle the waters.
舜有臣五人，而天下治。武王曰：「予有亂臣十人。」孔子曰：「才難，不其然乎，唐虞之際，於斯為盛，有婦人焉，九人而已。三分天下有其二，以服事殷，周之德，其可謂至德也已矣。」Shun ruled his empire with only five ministers. King Wu of Zhou said: “I have ten able ministers to keep everything in order.” Confucius said: “Talented people are hard to find: are they not? The times of Yao and Shun were said to be rich in talent, but King Wu was only able to find nine such men because one of his ministers was a woman. Although the Zhou controlled over two-thirds of the empire, it still served the Shang. You can truly say that the virtue of the Zhou was supreme.”
Ah, the power of unintended irony! Here we have Confucius complaining that talented people are hard to find while in virtually the same breath blithely discounting the female half of the population as a potential source of it. After all, what could the wife of King Wu (周武王) [the founder of the of the Zhou Dynasty and the elder brother of Confucius’s hero the Duke of Zhou (周公)] possibly know about managing an empire?
子曰：「大哉堯之為君也，巍巍乎，唯天為大，唯堯則之，蕩蕩乎，民無能名焉。巍巍乎，其有成功也，煥乎，其有文章。」Confucius said: “What a great ruler Yao was! Absolutely majestic! Only Heaven is great, and only Yao was able to emulate it. His virtue was so great that the people could find no words to describe it. How stunning were his achievements, and how marvelous the culture was that he created!”
Having extolled the virtues of Shun (舜) and Yu (禹), Confucius heaps even higher levels of praise on their predecessor Yao (堯), the first of the great sage kings. In addition to being renowned for his high moral virtue, Yao is credited with having laid the foundations of China’s feudal society by establishing a calendar system, making maps of the kingdom, and initiating flood control projects.
子曰：「巍巍乎，舜禹之有天下也，而不與焉。」Confucius said: “How majestic was the manner in which Shun and Yu ruled over the empire but treated none of it as their own.”
This passage has an echo of the theme of the first chapter of Book 8, in which Confucius praised Tai Bo, the eldest son of the founding ancestor of the Zhou Dynasty (周朝) [1046–256 BC], voluntarily left the kingdom of Zhou to enable his father to designate his youngest brother Jili (季歷), who was renowned for his great wisdom, as heir to the throne.
子曰：「學如不及，猶恐失之。」Confucius said: “Learning is like a chase in which you will never be able to reach your target but are afraid you’ll lose what you’ve already gained.”
You certainly can’t fault Confucius for his sense of urgency or realism. This was the commitment he demanded not just from his students but also himself.
子曰：「狂而不直，侗而不愿，悾悾而不信，吾不知之矣。」Confucius said: “Impulsive but insincere; ignorant but irresponsible; naïve yet unreliable: I don’t understand such people.”
Judging by his comment here, it’s no wonder that Confucius so spectacularly failed to achieve his goal of gaining a high-level government position. By its very nature politics attracts more than its fair share of, shall we say, colorful characters; even if Confucius didn’t “understand such people” he would have needed to hold his nose and figure out how to get along with them in order to be successful – not necessarily by compromising his principles but by finding common points of agreement with them.
Confucius said: “What rich and beautiful music fills my ears when Zhi, the master of music, is conducting - right from the opening passage through to the finale of the Ospreys!”
I have commented on Confucius’s love of music before. Master Zhi was a famous court musician of the state of Lu; the Ospreys is the first poem in the Book of Odes.
子曰：「不在其位，不謀其政。」Confucius said: “If you don’t occupy a particular position don’t get involved with the plans for the administration of its duties.”
Stick to your own knitting, as my grandmother used to say.
子曰：「篤信好學，守死善道。危邦不人，亂邦不居，天下有道則見，無道則隱。邦有道，貧且賤焉，恥也，邦無道，富且貴焉，恥也。」Confucius said: “Have sincere faith, love learning, and defend the good way with your life. Do not enter an unstable state or live in a country that is in chaos. When the way prevails in the world, appear; when it disappears hide away. In a country that has adopted the way, be ashamed if you remain poor and obscure; in a country that has lost the way, be ashamed if you become rich and achieve high rank.”
It’s not enough to follow the right ethical principles in life; it’s also vital to get your timing right and identify the best circumstances in which you have the best chance to achieve success. As Confucius points out here, you should make the most of it “when the way prevails in the world” but be prepared to melt into the background when the way disappears.
子曰：「三年學，不至於穀，不易得也。」Confucius said: “A man willing to study for three years without taking up an official position is hard to find.”
I’m not sure whether Confucius is complaining here that students only come to study with him for the purpose of securing a good job in the bureaucracy or is simply accepting it as a fact of life.
Page 1 of 16