Chapter 7

Characteristics of Confucius--An Incident

by Confucius

I am a transmitter and not an originator. I believe in and loves the ancients. I compare myself with our old P’ang. I am a quiet brooder and memorizer; a student never satiated with learning; an unwearied monitor of others!

The things which weigh heavily upon my mind are these�failure to improve in the virtues, failure in discussion of what is learnt, inability to walk according to knowledge received as to what is right and just, inability also to reform what has been amiss." In his hours of recreation and refreshment the Master’s manner was easy and unconstrained, affable and winning.

Confucius Alas! I must be getting very feeble; ’tis long since I have had a repetition of the dreams in which I used to see the Duke of Chow. [17]

“Concentrate the mind on the Good Way.

Maintain firm hold upon Virtue. “Rely upon Philanthropy. “Find recreation in the Arts. [18] “I have never withheld instruction from any, even from those who have come for it with the smallest offering.

No subject do I broach, however, to those who have no eager desire to learn; no encouraging hint do I give to those who show no anxiety to speak out their ideas; nor have I anything more to say to those who, after I have made clear one corner of the subject, cannot from that give me the other three.” If the Master was taking a meal, and there were any in mourning beside him, he would not eat to the full. On one day on which he had wept, on that day he would not sing.

Addressing his favorite disciple:

Confucius Tsz-Lu, to you only and myself it has been given to duty to go when called to serve, and to go back into quiet retirement when released from office.
Tsz-Lu But if, sir, you had the handling of the army of one of the greater States*, whom would you have associated with you in that case?

*Three forces. Each force consisted of 12,500 men, and three of such forces were the equipment of a greater State.


Not the one ‘who’ll rouse the tiger,’ Not the one ‘who’ll wade the Ho;’ not the man who can die with no regret. He must be one who should watch over affairs with apprehensive caution, a man fond of strategy, and of perfect skill and effectiveness in it.

If wealth were an object that I could go in quest of, I should do so even if I had to take a whip and do grooms’ work. But seeing that it is not, I go after those objects for which I have a liking.

Among matters over which he exercised great caution were times of fasting, war, and sickness. When he was in the State of Ts’i, and had heard the ancient Shau music, he lost all perception of the taste of his meat.

Confucius I had no idea that music could have been brought to this pitch.
Yen-Yu Do you take the part of the Prince of Wei?
Tsz-Kung What sort of men were Peh-I and Shuh Ts’i?
Confucius They are worthies of the olden time.
Tsz-Kung Had they any feelings of resentment?
Confucius Their aim and object was that of doing the duty which every man owes to his fellows. They succeeded in doing it. What room further for feelings of resentment?

The questioner on coming out said, “The Master does not take his part.”


With a meal of coarse rice and with water to drink, and my bent arm for my pillow even thus I can find happiness. Riches and honors without righteousness are to me as fleeting clouds.

Give me several years more to live. After 50 years’ study of the ‘Book of Changes’ I might come to be free from serious error.

The Master’s regular subjects of discourse were the “Books of the Odes” and “History,” and the up-keeping of the Rules of Propriety. On all of these he regularly discoursed.

The Duke of Shih asked Tsz-Lu about Confucius, and the latter did not answer.

Confucius Why did you not say, He is a man with a mind so intent on his pursuits that he forgets his food, and finds such pleasure in them that he forgets his troubles, and does not know that old age is coming upon him?" “As I came not into life with any knowledge of it,” he said, “and as my likings are for what is old, I busy myself in seeking knowledge there.”

Strange occurrences, exploits of strength, deeds of lawlessness, references to spiritual beings�such-like matters the Master avoided in conversation.

Confucius Let there be 3 men walking together. From 3, I should be sure to find my instructors. For what is good in them I should choose out and follow, and what is not good I should modify.

Heaven begat Virtue in me; what can man do unto me?

Do you, my disciples, look upon me as keeping anything secret from you?

I hide nothing from you. I do nothing that is not manifest to your eyes, my disciples. That is so with me.

Four things there were which he kept in view in his teaching�scholarliness, conduct of life, honesty, faithfulness.

Confucius It is not given to me to meet with a sage; let me but behold a man of superior mind, and that will suffice. Neither is it given to me to meet with a good man; let me but see a man of constancy, and it will suffice. It is difficult for persons to have constancy, when they pretend to have that which they are destitute of, to be full when they are empty, to do things on a grand scale when their means are contracted!

When the Master fished with hook and line, he did not also use a net. When out with his bow, he would never shoot at game in cover.


Some there may be who do things in ignorance of what they do. I am not of these.

There is an alternative way of knowing things, namely to sift out the good from the many things one hears, and follow it; and to keep in memory the many things one sees."

Pupils from Hu-hiang were difficult to speak with. One youth came to interview the Master, and the disciples were in doubt whether he should have been seen.

Confucius Why so much ado at my merely permitting his approach, and not rather at my allowing him to draw back? If a man have cleansed himself in order to come and see me, I receive him as such; but I do not undertake for what he will do when he goes away." “Is the philanthropic spirit far to seek, indeed? I wish for it, and it is with me!

The Minister of Crime in the State of Ch’in asked Confucius whether Duke Ch’an, of Lu was acquainted with the Proprieties.

Confucius Yes, he knows them

When Confucius had withdrawn, the minister bowed to Wu-ma K’i, a disciple, and motioned to him to come forward:


I have heard that superior men show no partiality; are they, too, then, partial?

That prince took for his wife a lady of the Wu family, having the same surname as himself, and had her named ‘Lady Tsz of Wu, the elder,’ If he knows the Proprieties, then who does not?"

The disciple reported this to the Master, who thereupon remarked, “Well for me! If I err in any way, others are sure to know of it.” When the Master was in company with any one who sang well, he must needs have the song over again, and after that would join in it.


Although in letters I may have none to compare with me, yet in my personification of the ‘superior man’ I have not as yet been successful."

“‘A Sage and a Philanthropist?’ How should I have the ambition?

All that I can well be called is this. An insatiable student, an unwearied teacher;�this, and no more.

Kung-Si-Hwa Those are what we your disciples cannot by any learning manage to be.

Once when the Master was seriously ill, Tsz-Lu requested to be allowed to say prayers for him.

Confucius Are such available?
Tsz-Lu “Yes, and the Manual of Prayers says: ‘Pray to the spirits above and to those here below,’

My praying has been going on a long while. Lavish living renders men disorderly; miserliness makes them hard. Better, however, the hard than the disorderly.

The man of superior mind is placidly composed; the small-minded man is in a constant state of perturbation.

Confucius was gentle, yet could be severe; had an over-awing presence, yet was not violent; was deferential, yet easy.

[Footnote 16= In reference to his editing the six Classics of his time.]

[Footnote 17= This was one of his “beloved ancients,” famous for what he did in helping to found the dynasty of Chow, a man of great political wisdom, a scholar also, and poet. It was the “dream” of Confucius’s life to restore the country to the condition in which the Duke of Chow left it.]

[Footnote 18= These were six in number, viz.= Ceremonial, Music, Archery, Horsemanship, Language, and Calculation.]


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