The price of perfection?

子曰:「回也其庶乎!屢空,賜不受命,而貨殖焉;億則屢中。」
Confucius said: “Yan Hui nearly reached perfection, but he constantly lived in poverty. Zigong refuses to accept his fate and indulges in business speculation, and is frequently correct in his conjectures.”

I have no idea what point Confucius is trying to make in this admittedly rather ambiguous passage.

According to the contemporary sources, the saintly Yan Hui was more than willing to pay the price of poverty for his pursuit of perfection – even if it’s quite possible that his poor diet and poor living conditions may have contributed to his early death.

Zigong, on the other hand, was already a wealthy man when he became a disciple of Confucius and certainly didn’t let his riches hold back his search for wisdom and enlightenment. Indeed, he was the only disciple who spent six years living by Confucius’s tomb to mourn him – twice as long as any of the other others.

Perhaps Confucius is trying to say that we shouldn’t put all our trust in fate and take charge of our own destiny. Or perhaps, given his affection for Yan Hui, he is saying that the price of perfection is too high. Or perhaps his original meaning has just been lost in the sands of time.

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