Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 9 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher, including his thoughts on how to observe ritual and his hopes for the younger generation.
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 still hasn’t managed to make a name for himself in any particular field.” When Confucius heard of this, he said to his followers: “Which skill should I master? Should I master charioteering? Should I master archery? I think I’ll master charioteering.”
Confucius said: “According to ritual, the ceremonial cap should be made of hemp; these days it’s made of silk. This is more economical and I follow the general practice. According to ritual, you should make your bow at the bottom of the steps; nowadays people make their bow at the top of the steps. This is arrogant, and even though it goes against the general practice I make my bow at that bottom of the steps.”
Confucius avoided four things: conjecture, arbitrariness, stubbornness, and egotism.
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’s a true sage, isn’t he? He’s 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 menial skills. Does a leader need to have so many different skills? No, they don’t.”
Lao stated: “Confucius said: ‘Since I was never appointed to high public office I mastered the arts.’”
Confucius said: “Am I knowledgeable? No, I’m not. When a humble farmer asked me for advice about a problem, my mind went blank; but I attacked the problem from both ends until I found the solution.”
Confucius said: “The phoenix doesn’t appear; the river doesn’t yield its diagram. It’s over for me!”
Whenever Confucius saw someone in mourning dress, a grandee in ceremonial robes, or a blind person, he would always rise to his feet even if they were younger than him and quicken his step when he passed 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’s suddenly behind me. Our master knows how to guide people skillfully and methodically. He broadens my mind with culture and restrains me with ritual. 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 can’t find a way to it.”
Confucius was seriously ill. Zilu had his followers 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 followers. I may not receive a grand funeral, but I’ll hardly die by the roadside.”
Zigong said: “If you had a precious piece of jade, would you hide it in a box for safekeeping or would you try and sell it for a good price?” Confucius said: “I would sell it! I would sell it! All I’m waiting for is the right price.”
Confucius wanted to live among the nine Yi tribes. Someone said: “It’s wild there. How would you cope?” Confucius replied: “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 I revised the Book of Music and put the Court Songs and Sacrificial Hymns in the proper order.”
Confucius said: “Serving the duke and his ministers at court; serving my elders at home; mourning the dead with proper reverence; not being troubled by drink: how could I find any of these things difficult?”
Standing on the bank of a stream, Confucius said: “Thus it flows, never ceasing day and night.”
Confucius said: “I’ve never seen anyone who loves virtue as much as physical beauty.”
Confucius said: “Let’s take piling up earth to build a mound as an example: even if I stop when I only need to pile on one last basket of earth, I have still stopped. Let’s take filling a hole in the ground as another example: if I have emptied the first basket of earth, I only need to keep on emptying more in order to continue to make progress.”
Confucius said: “If anyone could listen to me without growing weary, who else could it be than Yan Hui?”
Confucius said of Yan Hui: “What a tragedy! I watched him make progress; I never saw him stop improving.”
Confucius said: “There are some plants that grow but never blossom; there are others that blossom but never bear fruit.”
Confucius said: “We should hold young people in high esteem: how do we know that the next generation will not equal the current one? But those who reach the age of forty or fifty without distinguishing themselves are no longer worthy of being treated with esteem.”
Confucius said: “How can we turn a deaf ear to pertinent words of advice? But they only have any value if we act on them. How can fail to be delighted by words of praise. But they only have any value if we understand their true purpose. People who are delighted by praise but don’t understand the reason for it 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. 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 the sense of purpose of the humblest person.”
Confucius said: “Only Zilu can stand in his shabby hemp gown next to people wearing fox and badger furs without feeling embarrassed: ‘free of envy, free of greed, he must be a good man.’” When Zilu continuously chanted these lines, Confucius said: “You’re moving in the right direction, but is that a good reason to be so self-satisfied?”
Confucius said: “It’s 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: “Those who learn together won’t necessarily take the same path; those who take the same path won’t necessarily stand together; those who stand together won’t necessarily exercise their judgment in the same manner.”
“The flowers of the cherry tree,
Flutter and turn.
How could it be that I don’t long for you?
But your house is so far away!”
Confucius said: “He doesn’t really long for her. If he did, would he care about the distance?”