The Analects of Confucius - Book 15

Reciprocity the Rule of Life

This is Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius.

Find the complete text of the Analects of Confucius.

Chinese Dragon Gods
Chinese Dragon Gods


Practical Wisdom — Reciprocity the Rule of Life

Duke Ling of Wei was consulting Confucius about army arrangements. His answer was, "Had you asked me about such things as temple requisites, I have learnt that business, but I have not yet studied military matters." And he followed up this reply by leaving on the following day.

After this, during his residence in the State of Ch'in, his followers, owing to a stoppage of food supply, became so weak and ill that not one of them could stand. Tsz-lu, with indignation pictured on his countenance, exclaimed, "And is a gentleman to suffer starvation?"

"A gentleman," replied the Master, "will endure it unmoved, but a common person breaks out into excesses under it."

Addressing Tsz-kung, the Master said, "You regard me as one who studies and stores up in his mind a multiplicity of things—do you not?"—"I do," he replied; "is it not so?"—"Not at all. I have one idea—one cord on which to string all."

To Tsz-lu he remarked, "They who know Virtue are rare."

"If you would know one who without effort ruled well, was not Shun such a one? What did he indeed do? He bore himself with reverent dignity and undeviatingly 'faced the south,' and that was all."

Tsz-chang was consulting him about making way in life. He answered, "Be true and honest in all you say, and seriously earnest in all you do, and then, even if your country be one inhabited by barbarians, South or North, you will make your way. If you do not show yourself thus in word and deed how should you succeed, even in your own district or neighborhood?—When you are afoot, let these two counsels be two companions preceding you, yourself viewing them from behind; when you drive, have them in view as on the yoke of your carriage. Then may you make your way."

Tsz-chang wrote them on the two ends of his cincture.

"Straight was the course of the Annalist Yu," said the Master—"aye, straight as an arrow flies; were the country well governed or ill governed, his was an arrow-like course.

"A man of masterly mind, too, is Kü Pih-yuh! When the land is being rightly governed he will serve; when it is under bad government he is apt to recoil, and brood."

"Not to speak to a man." said he, "to whom you ought to speak, is to lose your man; to speak to one to whom you ought not to speak is to lose your words. Those who are wise will not lose their man nor yet their words."

Again, "The scholar whose heart is in his work, and who is philanthropic, seeks not to gain a livelihood by any means that will do harm to his philanthropy. There have been men who have destroyed their own lives in the endeavor to bring that virtue in them to perfection."

Tsz-kung asked how to become philanthropic. The Master answered him thus: "A workman who wants to do his work well must first sharpen his tools. In whatever land you live, serve under some wise and good man among those in high office, and make friends with the more humane of its men of education."

Yen Yuen consulted him on the management of a country. He answered:—

"Go by the Hiá Calendar. Have the State carriages like those of the Yin princes. Wear the Chow cap. For your music let that of Shun be used for the posturers. Put away the songs of Ch'ing, and remove far from you men of artful speech: the Ch'ing songs are immodest, and artful talkers are dangerous."

Other sayings of the Master:—

"They who care not for the morrow will the sooner have their sorrow.

"Ah, 'tis hopeless! I have not yet met with the man who loves Virtue as he loves Beauty.

"Was not Tsang Wan like one who surreptitiously came by the post he held? He knew the worth of Hwúi of Liu-hiá, and could not stand in his presence.

"Be generous yourself, and exact little from others; then you banish complaints.

"With one who does not come to me inquiring 'What of this?' and 'What of that?' I never can ask 'What of this?' and give him up.

"If a number of students are all day together, and in their conversation never approach the subject of righteousness, but are fond merely of giving currency to smart little sayings, they are difficult indeed to manage.

"When the 'superior man' regards righteousness as the thing material, gives operation to it according to the Rules of Propriety, lets it issue in humility, and become complete in sincerity—there indeed is your superior man!

"The trouble of the superior man will be his own want of ability: it will be no trouble to him that others do not know him.

"Such a man thinks it hard to end his days and leave a name to be no longer named.

"The superior man is exacting of himself; the common man is exacting of others.

"A superior man has self-respect, and does not strive; is sociable, yet no party man.

"He does not promote a man because of his words, or pass over the words because of the man."

Tsz-kung put to him the question, "Is there one word upon which the whole life may proceed?"

The Master replied, "Is not Reciprocity such a word?—what you do not yourself desire, do not put before others."

"So far as I have to do with others, whom do I over-censure? whom do I over-praise? If there be something in them that looks very praiseworthy, that something I put to the test. I would have the men of the present day to walk in the straight path whereby those of the Three Dynasties have walked.

"I have arrived as it were at the annalist's blank page.—Once he who had a horse would lend it to another to mount; now, alas! it is not so.

"Artful speech is the confusion of Virtue. Impatience over little things introduces confusion into great schemes.

"What is disliked by the masses needs inquiring into; so also does that which they have a preference for.

"A man may give breadth to his principles: it is not principles (in themselves) that give breadth to the man.

"Not to retract after committing an error may itself be called error.

"If I have passed the whole day without food and the whole night without sleep, occupied with my thoughts, it profits me nothing: I were better engaged in learning.

"The superior man deliberates upon how he may walk in truth, not upon what he may eat. The farmer may plough, and be on the way to want: the student learns, and is on his way to emolument. To live a right life is the concern of men of nobler minds: poverty gives them none.

"Whatsoever the intellect may attain to, unless the humanity within is powerful enough to keep guard over it, is assuredly lost, even though it be gained.

"If there be intellectual attainments, and the humanity within is powerful enough to keep guard over them, yet, unless (in a ruler) there be dignity in his rule, the people will fail to show him respect.

"Again, given the intellectual attainments, and humanity sufficient to keep watch over them, and also dignity in ruling, yet if his movements be not in accordance with the Rules of Propriety, he is not yet fully qualified.

"The superior man may not be conversant with petty details, and yet may have important matters put into his hands. The inferior man may not be charged with important matters, yet may be conversant with the petty details.

"Good-fellowship is more to men than fire and water. I have seen men stepping into fire and into water, and meeting with death thereby; I have not yet seen a man die from planting his steps in the path of good-fellowship.

"Rely upon good nature. 'Twill not allow precedence even to a teacher.

"The superior man is inflexibly upright, and takes not things upon trust.

"In serving your prince, make your service the serious concern, and let salary be a secondary matter.

"Where instruction is to be given, there must be no distinction of persons.

"Where men's methods are not identical, there can be no planning by one on behalf of another.

"In speaking, perspicuity is all that is needed."

When the blind music-master Mien paid him a visit, on his approaching the steps the Master called out "Steps," and on his coming to the mat, said "Mat." When all in the room were seated, the Master told him "So-and-so is here, so-and-so is here."

When the music-master had left, Tsz-chang said to him, "Is that the way to speak to the music-master?" "Well," he replied, "it is certainly the way to assist him."

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