Every word and action of Confucius were full of such meaning to his admiring followers that they have enabled us to trace him into the retirement of private life.
our selection from Confucianism and Taouism by Robert K. Douglas published in 1889. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in twelve easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Confucius.
Time: 551 BC – 479 BC
Again Tsze-loo interfered, and expostulated with him on his inconsistency. “Master,” said he, “I have heard you say that when a man is guilty of personal wrong-doing, a superior man will not associate with him. If you accept the invitation of this Pih Hih, who is in open rebellion against his chief, what will people say?” But Confucius, with a dexterity which had now become common with him, replied: “It is true I have said so. But is it not also true that if a thing be really hard, it may be ground without being made thin; and if it be really white, it may be steeped in a black fluid without becoming black? Am I a bitter gourd? Am I to be hung up out of the way of being eaten?” But nevertheless Tsze-loo’s remonstrances prevailed, and he did not go.
His relations with the duke did not improve, and so dissatisfied was he with his patron that he retired from the court. As at this time Confucius was not in the receipt of any official income, it is probable that he again provided for his wants by imparting to his disciples some of the treasures out of the rich stores of learning which he had collected by means of diligent study and of a wide experience. Every word and action of Confucius were full of such meaning to his admiring followers that they have enabled us to trace him into the retirement of private life. In his dress, we are told, he was careful to wear only the “correct” colors, viz., azure, yellow, carnation, white and black, and he scrupulously avoided red as being the color usually affected by women and girls. At the table he was moderate in his appetite but particular as to the nature of his food and the manner in which it was set before him. Nothing would induce him to touch any meat that was “high” or rice that was musty, nor would he eat anything that was not properly cut up or accompanied with the proper sauce. He allowed himself only a certain quantity of meat and rice, and though no such limit was fixed to the amount of wine with which he accompanied his frugal fare, we are assured that he never allowed himself to be confused by it. When out driving, he never turned his head quite round, and in his actions as well as in his words he avoided all appearance of haste.
Such details are interesting in the case of a man like Confucius, who has exercised so powerful an influence over so large a proportion of the world’s inhabitants, and whose instructions, far from being confined to the courts of kings, found their loudest utterances in intimate communing with his disciples, and in the example he set by the exact performance of his daily duties.
The only accomplishment which Confucius possessed was a love of music, and this he studied less as an accomplishment than as a necessary part of education. “It is by the odes that the mind is aroused,” said he. “It is by the rules of propriety that the character is established. And it is music which completes the edifice.”
But having tasted the sweets of official life, Confucius was not inclined to resign all hope of future employment, and the duke of Wei still remaining deaf to his advice, he determined to visit the state of Tsin, in the hope of finding in Chaou Keen-tsze, one of the three chieftains who virtually governed that state, a more hopeful pupil. With this intention he started westward, but had got no farther than the Yellow River when the news reached him of the execution of Tuh Ming and Tuh Shun-hwa, two men of note in Tsin. The disorder which this indicated put a stop to his journey; for had not he himself said “that a superior man will not enter a tottering state.” His disappointment and grief were great, and looking at the yellow waters as they flowed at his feet, he sighed and muttered to himself: “Oh how beautiful were they; this river is not more majestic than they were! and I was not there to avert their fate!”
So saying he returned to Wei, only to find the duke as little inclined to listen to his lectures, as he was deeply engaged in warlike preparations. When Confucius presented himself at court, the duke refused to talk on any other subject but military tactics, and forgetting, possibly on purpose, that Confucius was essentially a man of peace, pressed him for information on the art of maneuvering an army. “If you should wish to know how to arrange sacrificial vessels,” said the Sage, “I will answer you, but about warfare I know nothing.”
Confucius was now sixty years old, and the condition of the states composing the empire was even more unfavorable for the reception of his doctrines than ever. But though depressed by fortune, he never lost that steady confidence in himself and his mission, which was a leading characteristic of his career, and when he found the duke of Wei deaf to his advice, he removed to Ch’in, in the hope of there finding a ruler who would appreciate his wisdom.