Confucius disapproved of profit, but he approved of fate and goodness.
A man from Daxiang said: “What a great man Confucius is! Despite his vast learning, he has still not managed to make a name for himself in any particular field.” When Confucius heard of this, he said to his disciples: “Which skill should I master? Should I master charioteering? Should I master archery? I think I’ll master charioteering.”
Confucius said: “According to the rites, the ceremonial cap should be made of hemp; these days it is made of silk. This is more economical and I follow the general practice. According to the rites, you should make your bow at the bottom of the steps; nowadays people make their bow on top of the steps. This is excessive, and even though it goes against the general practice I make my bow at that bottom of the steps.”
Confucius was free of four faults: preconceptions, arbitrariness, stubbornness, and egoism.
When Confucius was trapped in Kuang, he said: “King Wen is dead, but the civilization he created lives on with me, doesn’t it? If Heaven wished civilization to be destroyed, why was it entrusted to me? If Heaven doesn’t wish civilization to be destroyed, what do I have to fear from the people of Kuang?”
The Grand Steward asked Zigong: “Your master is a true sage, isn’t he? He is skilled in so many things.” Zigong replied: “Heaven indeed made him a sage, but he also happens to have many different skills.” When he heard of this, Confucius said: “What does the Grand Steward know about me? In my youth, I was poor; so I had to learn a number of lowly skills. Does a leader need to have so many different skills? No, he does not.”
Lao stated: “Confucius said: ‘Since I was never tested in high public office I became skilled in the arts.’”
Confucius said: “Do I possess knowledge? No, I don’t. When a humble peasant asked me a question, my mind went blank; but I kept hammering at the two sides of the question until I worked out the answer.”
Confucius said: “The Phoenix does not come, the River issues no signs. It’s over for me!”
Whenever Confucius saw someone in mourning dress, or a grandee in ceremonial robes, or a blind person, even if they were younger than him he would always rise to his feet or quicken his step if he had to pass by them.
Yan Hui said with a heavy sigh: “The more I contemplate it, the higher it seems; the deeper I probe it, the harder it becomes; when I catch a glimpse of it in front of me, it is suddenly behind me. Our master knows how to lure people skillfully and methodically. He broadens my mind with literature and culture and restrains me with the rites. Even if I wanted to stop, I could not. Just as all my talents are exhausted, there seems to be something new towering above me. But although I long to follow it, I cannot find it.”
Confucius was seriously ill. Zilu had the disciples act as if they were retainers of a lord. When his illness went into remission, Confucius said: “Zilu, this deception has lasted long enough. Who do I deceive with these bogus retainers? Do I deceive Heaven? Rather than die among retainers, I would prefer to die in the arms of my disciples. I may not receive a grand funeral, but I shall not die by the side of the road.”
Zigong said: “If you had a precious piece of jade, would you hide it safely in a box, or would you try and sell it for a good price?” Confucius said: “I would sell it! I would sell it! All I am waiting for is the right offer.”
Confucius wanted to live among the nine barbarian tribes of the East. Someone said: “It’s wild there. How would you cope?” Confucius said: “How could it be wild once a leader goes to live there?”
Confucius said: “It was only after I returned to Lu from Wei that the music was reformed and the court songs and sacrificial hymns put in the proper order.”
Confucius said: “I have never found it difficult to serve my superiors abroad; show respect to my elders at home; mourn the dead with proper reverence; and not be overcome with wine.”
Confucius stood by a stream and said: “Thus it flows, never ceasing day and night.”
Confucius said: “I’ve never seen anyone who loves virtue as much as sensual pleasure.”
Confucius said: “Think of it like raising a mound: if I stop before piling on the last basket of earth, then I have stopped of my own accord. Think of it like filling a hole in the ground: if I have emptied the first basket of earth, I only need to keep on emptying more in order to make progress.”
Confucius said: “If anyone can listen to me without growing weary, who else can that be other than Yan Hui?”
Confucius said of Yan Hui: “What a tragedy! I watched him progress; I never saw him stop.”
Confucius said: “There are shoots that never come to flower, and there are flowers that never bear fruit.”
Confucius said: “We should treat the younger generation with awe: how do we know that the next generation will not equal the current one? But if a man reaches the age of forty or fifty and has not distinguished himself, he is no longer worthy of being treated with awe.”
Confucius said: “We are always ready to accept words of advice. But they only have any value if we act on them. We are always delighted to hear words of praise. But they only have any value if we understand their true purpose. People who are delighted but don’t understand and people who accept words of advice without acting on them – I have absolutely no idea what to do with them!”
Confucius said: “Hold loyalty and trustworthiness as your highest principles; don’t make friends with people who are not your equal; and when you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to correct yourself.”
Confucius said: “You may seize the commander-in-chief of an army, but you cannot remove free will from even the humblest person.”
Confucius said: “Only Zilu can stand in his shabby hemp gown next to people wearing fox and badger furs without feeling a trace of embarrassment: ‘free of envy, free of greed, he must be a good man.’” When Zilu continuously chanted these lines, Confucius said: “These two qualities cannot possibly be sufficient to reach the pinnacle of perfection.”
Confucius said: “It is only in the cold of winter that you realize that the pines and cypresses are the last to wither.”
Confucius said: “The wise are never perplexed; the good are never anxious; the brave are never afraid.”
Confucius said: “Just because someone is able to study with you doesn’t mean that they can follow the Way with you. Just because someone can follow the Way with you doesn’t mean that they can stand together with you. Just because someone can stand together with you doesn’t mean that they can join you in exercising moral discretion.”
The flowers of the cherry tree
Flutter and turn
How could it be that I do not long for you?
But your house is so far away!
Confucius said: “He does not really long for her. If he did, would he care about the distance?”