子路從而後，遇丈人，以杖荷蓧，子路問曰：「子見夫子乎？」丈人曰：「四體不勤，五穀不分，孰為夫子！」植其杖而芸。子路拱而立。止子路宿，殺雞為黍而食之，見其二子焉。明日，子路行以告。子曰：「隱者也。」使子路反見之。至，則行矣。子路曰：「不士無義，長幼之節，不可廢也。君臣之義，如之何其廢之？欲潔其身，而亂大倫。君子之仕也，行其義也，道之不行，已知之矣！」 Zilu fell behind while traveling with Confucius. He met an old man who was carrying a basket hanging from his staff over his shoulder. Zilu asked him: “Have you seen my master?” The old man said: “You don’t toil with your four limbs, and you can’t even distinguish between the five types of grain. Who is your master?” He planted his staff in the ground and started weeding. Zilu stood respectfully, his hands clasped in front of him. The old man invited him to stay with him overnight, killed a chicken and cooked some millet for him to eat, and introduced his two sons to him. The next day, Zilu resumed his journey and reported to Confucius. Confucius said: “The man you met is a hermit.” He sent Zilu back to see the old man, but when he reached his place Zilu found that the old man had gone. Zilu said: “It is wrong to withdraw from public life. The codes that govern the rightful relationship between the old and young cannot be discarded. How can the rightful relationship between ruler and subject be discarded? You cannot disrupt the most basic human relationships just to preserve your purity. A leader takes office and performs his rightful duties even if he already knows that the Way will not prevail.”
This final allegorical tale warms up nicely with its lyrical opening scene – only to end on a false note in the final section. Zilu’s closing comments are way too harsh to ring true and have only the most tenuous of connections with the rest of the story. Indeed, it’s not even clear who Zilu is meant to be talking to at the end because in the previous section the old man had already disappeared. Continue reading A false note→
長沮、桀溺耦而耕，孔子過之，使子路問津焉。長沮曰：「夫執輿者為誰？」子路曰：「為孔丘。」曰：「是魯孔丘與？」曰：「是也。」曰：「是知津矣。」問於桀溺，桀溺曰：「子為誰？」曰：「為仲由。」曰：「是魯孔丘之徒與？」對曰：「然。」曰：「滔滔者天下皆是也，而誰以易之？且而與其從辟人之士也，豈若從辟世之士哉？」耰而不輟。子路行以告。夫子憮然曰：「鳥獸不可與同群，吾非斯人之徒與而誰與？天下有道，丘不與易也。」 Changju and Jieni were plowing the fields together. Confucius passed by and sent Zilu to ask where the ford was. Changju said: “Who is in the chariot?” Zilu said: “Confucius.” “Confucius from Lu?” “Yes.” “Then he already knows where the ford is.” Zilu then asked Jieni the same question. He replied: “Who are you?” “I am Zilu.” “The disciple of Confucius from Lu?” “Yes.” “The whole world is inundated by the same flood. Who can reverse its flow? Instead of following someone who keeps fleeing from one man to the next, wouldn’t you be better off following a man who has forsaken the world?” All the while he kept on harrowing the field without stopping. Zilu went back and reported the incident to Confucius. With a furrowed brow, Confucius sighed: “I can’t associate with the birds and beasts. If I can’t associate with men, who can I associate with? If the world were following the Way, I would not have to try to reform it.”
A well-aimed barb from Jieni, one of the two Daoist hermits that Zilu encounters on his wanderings: why is he hanging on to Confucius’s coat tails as he conducts his fruitless quest to find an employer? Wouldn’t Zilu, and by extension Confucius, be better off giving up their worldly cares and retiring to the countryside? Continue reading The birds and the beasts→
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→
I am beginning to see why the Daodejing appeals to so many people in the west seeking spiritual inspiration. Passages like this one in Chapter 14 do a masterful job of evoking the myriad mysteries of the Dao, which stretches back to the very “beginnings of antiquity”. The richness and ambiguity of the text, no matter whether it’s in Chinese or English, certainly send the brain cells spinning in multiple directions! Continue reading Daodejing: the unbroken thread→
Know when enough is enough. Stay humble no matter how successful you are. Pride comes before the fall.
「持而盈之，不如其已；揣而銳之，不可長保；金玉滿堂，莫之能守；富貴而驕，自遺其咎。功成身退，天之道」 Holding a cup while filling it to the brim, Is not as good as stopping in time; Hammering a blade until it is sharp, Will not preserve its edge for long. When your hall is stuffed with gold and jade, Nobody will be able to protect it. When riches and honors lead to arrogance; Disaster will inevitably follow; Retire when you have accomplished your goal; This is the way of heaven.
There is not much I can add to this: the way is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent if only you choose to acknowledge and follow it.
「道沖而用之，或不盈。淵兮似萬物之宗；挫其銳、解其紛、和其光、同其塵，湛兮似或存。吾不知誰之子，象帝之先。」 The way is an empty vessel; But as much as it is drawn from, it never fills up. It’s so deep that it is like the origin of all things. Blunt the sharpness; Untangle the knot; Soften the glare; Let your wheels move along old ruts; Invisible and formless, it always seems to be present. I have no idea who gave birth to it. It seems to have existed before the Lord did.
The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way;
The name that can be named is not the constant name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth;
The named is the mother of the myriad things.
Therefore, by always remaining free of desire you can observe its secrets;
While by always remaining full of desire, you can observe its manifestations.
The two emerge from the same source,
But they have different names;
Call them both mysteries;
Mystery upon mystery;
The gateway to all secrets.
It’s no big surprise that the Daodejing (道德經) holds a much stronger grasp over Western imaginations than the Analects. Mystical ambiguities are a lot more fun to mull over than the moral absolutes that Confucius espoused.