Yan Hui dies

顏淵死,顏路請子之車以為之 。子曰:「才不才,亦各言其子也。鯉也死,有棺而無 ;吾不徒行,以為之 ,以吾從大夫之後,不可徒行也。」
When Yan Hui died, his father, Yan Lu, asked if he could use the wood from Confucius’s carriage so that he could make an outer coffin for his son. Confucius said: “Talented or not, everyone speaks highly of their own son. When my own son Li died, he was buried in an inner coffin only but there was no outer coffin. I did not walk on foot in order to provide an outer coffin. Because I am following right behind the grandees, it is not proper that I should go on foot.”

Compare and contrast Confucius’s public behavior and private grief in Chapter VIII to Chapter XI of Book 11 of the Analects, which cover the sage’s reaction to the death of Yan Hui.

Even if he had personally wanted to agree to the request of Yan Hui’s father to give him his carriage, Confucius had no choice but to refuse it because walking behind the grandees would represent a serious – and very public – violation of the rites governing the funeral procession. How could he have possibly allowed himself to be seen breaking the very rules and customs that he so vociferously espoused?

When he is at home, however, Confucius loses control of himself, grieving so heavily that his own disciples are shocked into telling him that he has gone way beyond the accepted bounds – only to receive a resounding rebuke for their intervention because Confucius has somehow managed to find himself a get-out clause.

When Yan Hui died, Confucius cried: “Alas! Heaven is destroying me! Heaven is destroying me!”

When Yan Hui died, Confucius dissolved into paroxysms of grief. His followers said: “Master, such grief is excessive.” Confucius said: “Is it excessive? If I don’t grieve for this man, who else should I grieve for?”

Unfortunately, Confucius doesn’t show a similar level of tolerance to his disciples when they go ahead and arrange a “grand burial” for Yan Hui . As a public event this would of course have contravened the rites, so it was unacceptable in his eyes no matter how deeply he grieved personally for the disciple he dearly loved but, in his own words, had never the chance to treat as his son.

When Yan Hui died, the disciples wanted to give him a grand burial. Confucius said: “This is not right.” When the disciples gave him a grand burial, Confucius said: “Yan Hui looked upon me as his father, but I was not given the chance to treat him as my son. This is not my fault, but yours, my friends.”

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