Skip to content

Confucius, the man

Un homme sensible, lui

Confucius was mourning Zilu’s death at the courtyard of the house. A person arrived to show respect to the dead. Confucius greeted him. After the mourning (ceremonial wailing) was finished, Confucius asked what happened. The person answered, “They pickled his body.” Having heard this, Confucius ordered the servant to throw away pickles. (Liji, Tan Gong I, 7)
孔子哭子路於中庭。有人吊者,而夫子拜之。既哭,進使者而問故。使者曰:「醢(해)之矣。」 遂命覆醢 (예기, 단궁 상)

Yan Yuan died. The Master said, ‘O! Heaven is forsaking me! Heaven is forsaking me!’ (Lunyu, 11.9)
顏淵死。子曰:「噫!天喪予!天喪予!」 (논어, 선진 11.9)

Yan Yuan died. The Master wailed in great grief. The attendants said, ‘Sir, you grieve greatly.’ ‘Do I?’ said the Master. ‘If his loss does not cause grief, what will?’ (Lunyu 11.10)
顏淵死,子哭之慟。從者曰:「子慟矣。」 曰:「有慟乎?非夫人之為慟而誰為!」 (선진, 11.10)

After circling around, the bird came down, perched on a tree. The Master said, “Nice pheasant! The right season, indeed. The right season!” Zilu served him the bird. Three times he sniffed the dish, then he rose.
色斯舉矣,翔而後集。曰:「山梁雌雉,時哉!時哉!」子路共之,三嗅而作。(논어, 향당 10.18)

[In preparing ceremonial offerings] The dishes are not fully cooked, the elaborately piled meat is not to be tasted. They are to be sniffed three times and not eaten. (Xun Zi, Li Lun)
利爵之不醮(=盡)也,成事之俎不嘗也,三臭之不食也,一也。(순자, 예론)

Under-privileged, progressive

Confucius lost his father when he was young. Confucius did not know where his father’s grave is located. [When Confucius’s mother died] he had (his mother's) body coffined in the street of Wu-fu. Those who saw it all thought that it was to be interred there. It was prepared very carefully but it was (only) the coffining. By inquiring of the mother of Man-fu of Chu, Confucius managed to bury his mother in the same grave (with his father) at Fang. (Liji, Tan Gong I, 10)
孔子少孤,不知其墓。殯(=초“빈”)於五父之衢。人之見之者,皆以為葬也。其慎也,蓋殯也。問於郰曼父之母,然後得合葬於防。(예기, 단궁 상) (공자= 郰人之子)

A high ranking official asked Zi Gong, ‘Is it true that your teacher is a Saint? How come he has so many talents?’ Zi Gong said, ‘The Heaven originally ordained him as a Great Saint. He has many talents as well.’ The Master heard this and said, ‘The high ranking official surely knows me. When I was young, I was lowly. That’s why I am good at many mundane jobs. Is a noble man good at many things? No, he is not.’ (Lunyu, 9.6)
大宰問於子貢曰:「夫子聖者與?何其多能也?」子貢曰:「固天縱之將聖,又多能也。」子聞之,曰:「大宰知我乎!吾少也賤,故多能鄙事。君子多乎哉?不多也。」 (자한, 9.6)

The Master said, ‘The progressive ones in matters of Li and music are those from the countryside. The less progressive ones in matters of Lˇ and music are from the nobility. In using Li and music, I am in the train of the progressive ones.’ (Lunyu, 11.1)
子曰:「先進於禮樂,野人也;後進於禮樂,君子也。如用之,則吾從先進。」 (논어, 선진 11.1)

The Master wanted to live among the nine barbarian tribes. Someone said, ‘Squalid out there, wouldn’t it?’ The Master said, ‘Where a noble man dwells, how can there be anything squalid?’ (Lunyu, 9.14)
子欲居九夷。或曰:「陋,如之何!」子曰:「君子居之,何陋之有?」 (자한, 9.14)

“Wide” circle of friends

A friend of Confucius died. But the deceased had been homeless (no one claimed the body). He said, ‘Bring the corpse in my house for a funeral.’ (Lunyu, 10.15)
朋友死,無所歸。曰:「於我殯。」 (논어, 향당 10.15)

“Noblesse oblige, n’est-ce pas?”

Over a dark costume, he would wear a black lamb skin coat; over a white costume, he would wear a deer skin coat; over a brown costume, he would wear a fox skin coat. (Lunyu, 10.6)
緇(치=black)衣羔裘(고구=흑염소털옷),素衣麑裘(흰사슴털옷),黃衣狐裘(여우털옷) (향당, 10.6)

He would prefer finely milled rice and thinly sliced meat. ... When the color was bad, he would not eat. When the smell was bad, he would not eat. When the dish is over-cooked, he would not eat. When it is not the right time, he would not eat. When it was not neatly cut, he would not eat. When it was not properly seasoned, he would not eat. (Lunyu, 10.8)
食不厭精,膾不厭細 … 色惡,不食。臭惡,不食。失飪(=over-cooked),不食。不時,不食。割不正,不食。不得其醬,不食 (향당, 10.8)

If the seating is not properly arranged, he would not sit. (Lunyu 10.9)

Even when there is plenty of meat, he would not let his appetite win over him. He drank like a whale. But he would not go out of control.

Yan Yuan died. Yan Lu inquired whether the Master could sell his carriage to pay for the outer coffin. The Master said, ‘This is not about money. It is about one’s son. When Li died, he was buried in a coffin without an outer coffin. I did not go on foot in order to have the outer coffin. As I am in the train of dignataries, I could not go on foot.’ (Lunyu, 11.8)
顏淵死,顏路請子之車以為之椁。子曰:「才不才,亦各言其子也。鯉也死,有棺而無椁。吾不徒行以為之椁。以吾從大夫之後,不可徒行也。」 (선진, 11.8)

Me too?

The Master had an audience with Nan Zi (南子). Zi Lu was not pleased. Conficius went pale and said, "If I did something inappropriate, Heaven will loathe it. Heaven will loathe it!'
子見南子,子路不說。夫子矢之曰:「予所否者,天厭之!天厭之!」 (雍也, 6.28)

Knows what really matters

The stable was burnt down. He came home from the court. He said, ‘Was anybody hurt?’ He did not ask about the horse. (Lunyu, 10.12)
廄(구)焚。子退朝,曰:「傷人乎?」 不問馬。


The Master said, ‘Sayings of the proper law – can you ignore them? Reforming them, however, is more precious. Sayings offered by way of a praise – can you not feel happy? Sift through them, however, is more precious. To be happy without sifting through the praise, to conform without reforming – I don’t know how one can do that.’ (Lunyu, 9.24)
子曰:「法語之言,能無從乎?改之為貴。巽與之言,能無說乎?繹之為貴。說而不繹,從而不改,吾末如之何也已矣。」 (자한, 9.24)

Supreme being

The Master was severed from four things: sensibles did not grip him, imperatives did not bind him, rigidness did not trap him and he had no notion of self. (Lunyu, 9.4)
子絕四:毋意,毋必,毋固,毋我。(자한, 9.4)

Published on Categories ACLP