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Sayings of Confucius (K’ung-Fu-Tzu, Kongfuzi)

From The Great Learning

The ancients who wished to manifest their clear character to the world would first bring order to their states.
Those who wished to bring order to their states would first regulate their families.
Those who wished to regulate their families would first cultivate their personal lives.
Those who wished to cultivate their personal lives would first rectify their minds.
Those who wished to rectify their minds would first make their wills sincere.
Those who wished to make their wills sincere would first extend their knowledge.
The extension of knowledge consists in the investigation of things.
When things are investigated, knowledge is extended.
When knowledge is extended, the will becomes sincere.
When the will is sincere, the mind is rectified.
When the mind is rectified, the personal life is cultivated.
When the personal life is cultivated, the family will be regulated.
When the family is regulated, the state will be in order.
When the state is in order, there will be peace throughout the world.
From the Son of Heaven down to the common people,
all must regard cultivation of the personal life as the root or foundation.
There is never a case when the root is in disorder and yet the branches are in order.

When the ruler treats the elders with respect, then the people will be aroused toward filial piety.
When the ruler treats the aged with respect, then the people will be aroused toward brotherly respect.
When the ruler treats compassionately the young and the helpless, then the common people will not follow the opposite course.
Therefore the ruler has a principle with which, as with a measuring square, he may regulate his conduct.
What a man dislikes in his superiors, let him not show it in dealing with his inferiors.
What he dislikes in those in front of him, let him not show it in preceding those who are behind.
What he dislikes in those behind him, let him not show it in following those in front of him.
What he dislikes in those on the right, let him not apply it to those on the left.
What he dislikes in those on the left, let him not apply it to those on the right.
This is the principle of the measuring square.

From Doctrine of the Mean

The Tao [“way”] cannot be left for an instant.
If it could be left, it would not be the Tao.

The superior man treats people as human beings
and once they have corrected themselves, he lets them be.
Sincerity and reciprocity toward all: though this is different from the Tao, it is not far from it.
This means not doing to others what you don't want done to yourself.
There are four general ways that this can be characterized,
none of which I have been able to fully practice:
Treating my father as I expect my son to treat me.
Treating my ruler as I expect my ministers to treat me.
Treating my older brothers as I expect my younger brothers to treat me.
Treating my friends as I expect my friends to treat me.

How completely King Wu and the Duke of Chou actualized their filial piety!
Through filial piety, they correctly passed down the wills of their forefathers
and correctly transmitted their works.
In spring and autumn, they cleaned the ancestral temple
laid out the sacrificial vessels
dressed up in the ceremonial outfit
and prepared the seasonal foods.
Using the ritual of the ancestral temple, they ordered the ancestral lineages.
By rank, they distinguished high and low classes.
By works, they distinguished goodness.
By having the lower classes offer the toast to the upper classes, they kept the lower classes involved.
By hair color, they distinguished seniority.
Each taking their positions, they carried out the ritual
played the music
respected the venerable
loved their relatives.
They served the dead as if they were alive
and they served those not present as if they were there.
Herein they brought filial piety to its highest level.

The records of the governments of Wen and Wu are on the ancient tablets.
When they had the right people, the government functioned.
When they didn't have the right people, government failed.
When people are right, the government flourishes.
When the ground is right, plants flourish.
The governments of Wen and Wu flourished like fast-growing weeds.
Therefore, the skillful handling of government is contingent upon having the right people.
You attract the right people by your own character.
You cultivate your character through the Tao.
You manifest the Tao by means of humaneness.
Humaneness is what it is to be human
and its most obvious function is in love for relatives.
Justice means setting things right
and its most obvious function is in venerating the good.
The differing levels in loving relatives and venerating the good are expressed through propriety.

Thus, if your rank is low and you do not have the support of those in power
you cannot hope to have an influence on government.
Therefore the superior man cannot but cultivate his character.
Wanting to cultivate his character, he cannot do it without serving his parents.
Wanting to serve his parents, he cannot do it without understanding others.
Wanting to understand others, he cannot do it without understanding Heaven.

Loving study, you approach wisdom.
Loving energetic practice, you approach humaneness.
Understanding shame, you approach courage.
If you understand these three, you know how to polish your character.
Knowing how to polish your character, you know how to handle others.
Knowing how to handle others, you know how to govern a state or clan.

When you polish your character, you set up your own Tao.
When you venerate the good, you are not deluded.
When you care for your relatives, your fathers, elder and younger brothers will not resent you.
When you respect the high ministers, you will not make foolish mistakes.
When you make the lower ministers feel like participants, they regard propriety with seriousness.
When you treat the common people as your children, they will work hard.
When you make the artisans feel welcome, there will be plenty of commerce.
When you are gentle to guests from afar, people will flock to you from all directions.
When you embrace the nobility, the people will have a healthy fear of them.

Fasting in ceremonial dress, not acting against the norms of propriety:
this is how you polish your character.
Letting go of slander, freeing yourself from lust, disregarding wealth and prizing virtue:
this is how you promote goodness.
Respecting their rank, paying them well, going along with their likes and dislikes:
this is the way to take care of your relatives.
Giving them enough officers to dole out their responsibilities:
this is the way to encourage the high ministers.
To reward well trustworthiness and loyalty:
this is the way to encourage the lower officers.
Employing the people around their own farming schedules and taxing them lightly:
this is the way to encourage the people.
Daily and monthly examining their works and giving merit where due:
this is the way to encourage the artisans.
Sending out envoys to meet foreign visitors and bestowing kindness and pity on the handicapped:
this is the way to be gentle to visitors from afar.
To renew their broken lineages, restore their vanquished states, quell their rebellions and protect them from danger; giving them rich presents and expecting little in return:
this is how you embrace the nobles.

Again, if you are in a position of low rank, and you have no influence above,
you will have no way of governing people.
Even though there is a way of influencing superiors, if your friends don't trust you,
you won't be able to influence superiors.
Even though there is a way of gaining the trust of your friends, if you have discord with your relatives,
you will not be trusted by your friends.
Even though there is a way of having harmony with your relatives, if your character is not sincere,
you will have discord with your relatives.
Even though there is a way to make your character sincere, if you have not awakened to your goodness,
you will not be able to make your character sincere.
Sincerity is the Tao of Heaven.
Making oneself sincere is the Tao of Man.
If you can be perfectly sincere without effort
without a mindfulness to its attainment
and walk embracing the Middle Way [tao]
you are a sage.

If you are working at making yourself sincere, you must find your goodness and hold fast to it.
You must study it broadly
investigate it in detail
deliberate on it carefully
discern it clearly
and practice it universally.
Where there is a lack in your understanding
or your study has not yet reached the point where it is effective
don't just leave it.
When there is something you have not investigated
or have investigated but not understood
don't just leave it.
When there is something that you have not yet discerned
or have discerned but not yet clarified
don't just leave it.
When there is something you have not yet practiced
or have practiced, but not yet universally
don't just leave it.

If someone else gets it in one try, I will try one hundred times.
If someone else gets it in ten tries, I will try one thousand times.
If you are able to follow this Tao, then even if you are stupid, you will become enlightened.
Even if you are weak, you will become strong.

How great is the Tao of the sage!
Superabundant, it develops all things, extending up to Heaven.
How excellent it is!
It embraces the three hundred rules of ceremony, and the three thousand rules of conduct.
It waits for the right person and then functions.
Hence it is said: If you do not perfect your virtue, the perfect Tao cannot be actualized.
Therefore the superior man esteems his virtuous natureand follows the path of inquiry
extending himself in breadth and greatness
penetrating all subtleties
penetrating its height and brilliance
following the course of the actualization of the Mean.
He reviews the old and learns the new
thickening his character through the valorization of propriety.

If you are not the emperor
you cannot determine the rules of propriety
set weights and measures
or create ideographs.
In the present realm, carriages have the same axle-widths
documents are written with the same characters
and people follow the same norms of conduct.
But even if you are emperor, if you lack virtue
you cannot presume to create ritual or music.
And even if you possess sufficient virtue, but you are not in the position of emperor,
you cannot presume to create ritual or music.

From Analects

There are few who have developed themselves filially and fraternally who enjoy offending their superiors.
Those who do not enjoy offending superiors are never troublemakers.
The superior man concerns himself with the fundamentals.
Once the fundamentals are established, the proper Tao appears.
Are not filial piety and obedience to elders fundamental to the enactment of humaneness?

Tzu Kung asked: What do you think of a poor man who doesn't grovel or a rich man who isn't proud?
Confucius said: They are good, but not as good as a poor man who is satisfied and a rich man who loves propriety.
Tzu Kung said: The Book of Odes says:

Is this what you are talking about?
Confucius said: Ah, now I can begin to discuss the Book of Odes with Tz'u. I give him a hint and he gets the whole point.

If you govern the people legalistically and control them by punishment
they will avoid crime but have no personal sense of shame.
If you govern them by means of virtue and control them with propriety
they will gain their own sense of shame and thus correct themselves.

Nowadays filial piety means being able to feed your parents.
But everyone does this for even horses and dogs.
Without respect, what's the difference?

Tzu Hsia quoted the following: and asked its meaning.
Confucius said: A painting is done on plain white paper.
Tzu Hsia said: Then are rituals a secondary thing?
Confucius said: Ah, Shang, you uplift me. Now we can really begin to discuss the Book of Odes.

The people of the Chou were able to observe the prior two dynasties and thus their culture flourished.
I now follow the Chou.

Tzu Kung wanted to do away with the sacrifice of the sheep on the first of the month.
Confucius said: Tz'u, you love the sheep; I love the ceremony.

Riches and honors are what all men desire.
But if they cannot be attained in accordance with the Tao they should not be kept.
Poverty and low status are what all men hate.
But if they cannot avoided in while staying in accordance with the Tao, you should not avoid them.
If a superior man departs from humaneness, how can he be worthy of that name?
A superior man never leaves humaneness for even the time of a single meal.
In moments of haste he acts according to it.
In times of difficulty or confusion he acts according to it.

I don't worry abut not having a good position.
I worry about the means I use to gain position.
I don't worry about being unknown.
I seek to be known in the right way.

When you serve your mother and father it is okay to try to correct them once in a while.
But if you see that they are not going to listen to you, keep your respect for them and don't distance yourself from them.
Work without complaining.

Tzu Kung said: What I don't want done to me, I don't want to do to others.
Confucius said: Tz'u, you have not yet gotten to this level.

Tzu Chan has four characteristics of the Superior Man:
In his private conduct he was courteous.
In serving superiors he was respectful.
In providing for the people he was kind.
In dealing with the people he was just.

I am a transmitter, rather than an original thinker.
I trust and enjoy the teachings of the ancients.

The superior man is always at ease with himself.
The inferior man is always anxious.

The linen cap is prescribed by the rules of propriety, but nowadays they use a silk one.
It is economical, and I will go along with the consensus.
Bowing below the hall is prescribed by the rules of propriety, but nowadays they bow above it.
Yet that is presumptuous, so even if I differ from the consensus, I will bow below the hall.

Tzu Kung asked who was the most worthy between Shih and Shang.
Confucius said: Shih goes too far, Shang does not go far enough.
Then is Shih superior?
Confucius said: Going too far is the same as not going far enough.

Tzu Lu asked if it was a good idea to immediately put a teaching into practice when he first heard it.
Confucius said: You have a father and an older brother to consult. Why do you need to be so quick to practice it?
Zan Yu asked the same question.
Confucius said: You should practice it immediately.
Kung Hsi Hua said: When Yu asked you, you told him he should consult his father and elder brother first.
When Ch'iu (Zan Yu) asked you, you told him to practice it immediately.
May I ask why?
Confucius said: Ch'iu has a tendency to give up easily, so I push him.
Yu (Tzu Lu) has a tendency to jump the gun, so I restrain him.

Yen Yüan asked about the meaning of humaneness.
Confucius said: To completely overcome selfishness and keep to propriety is humaneness.
If for a full day you can overcome selfishness and keep to propriety, everyone in the world will return to humaneness.
Does humaneness come from oneself, or from others?
Yen Yüan asked: May I ask in further detail how this is to be brought about?
Confucius said: Do not watch what is improper.
Do not listen to what is improper.
Do not speak improperly.
Do not act improperly.

Duke Ching of Ch'i asked Confucius about government.
Confucius replied: Let the ruler be a ruler, minister be a minister, father be a father, son be a son.
The Duke said: Excellent! Indeed, if the ruler is not a ruler, the ministers not ministers, fathers not fathers and sons not sons, even if I have food, how can I eat it?

Chi K'ang Tzu asked Confucius about government saying: Suppose I were to kill the unjust, in order to advance the just.
Would that be all right?
Confucius replied: In doing government, what is the need of killing?
If you desire good, the people will be good.
The nature of the superior man is like the wind.
The nature of the inferior man is like the grass.
When the wind blows over the grass, it always bends.

Tzu Lu said: The ruler of Wei is anticipating your assistance in the administration of his state.
What will be your top priority?
Confucius said: There must be a correction of terminology.
Tzu Lu said: Are you serious? Why is this so important?
Confucius said: You are really simple, aren't you?
A superior man is cautious about jumping to conclusions about that which he does not know.
If terminology is not corrected, then what is said cannot be followed.
If what is said cannot be followed, then work cannot be accomplished.
If work cannot be accomplished, then ritual and music cannot be developed.
If ritual and music cannot be developed, then criminal punishments will not be appropriate.
If criminal punishments are not appropriate, the people cannot make a move.
Therefore, the superior man needs to have his terminology applicable to real language
and his speech must accord with his actions.
The speech of the superior man cannot be indefinite.

The Duke of Sheh told Confucius: In my land, there are just men.
If a father steals a sheep, the son will testify against him.
Confucius said: The just men in my land are different from this.
The father conceals the wrongs of his son, and the son conceals the wrongs of his father.
This is justice.

Someone said: What do you think of the saying: 'Repay hatred with kindness’?
Confucius replied: Then how will you repay kindness?
Repay hatred with justice and repay kindness with kindness.

Tzu Kung asked: Is there a single concept that we can take as a guide for the actions of our whole life?
Confucius said: What about reciprocity? What you don't like done to yourself, don't do to others.

There are three common mistakes made by those who are of rank:
To speak when there is nothing to be said:
this is imprudence.
To be silent when there is something to be said:
this is deception.
To speak without paying attention to the expression on the person's face:
this is called blindness.

The superior man stands in awe of three things:
He is in awe of the decree of Heaven.
He is in awe of great men.
He is in awe of the words of the sages.
The inferior man does not know the decree of Heaven
takes great men lightly
and laughs at the words of the sages.

Those who are born knowing it are the best.
Those who study to know it are next.
Those who are limited and yet study are next.
Those who are limited and do not even study are considered to be the lowest level of people.

There are nine patterns which are awarenesses of the superior man.
In seeing, he is aware of clarity.
In listening, he is aware of sharpness.
In faces, is aware of warmth.
With behavior he is aware of courtesy.
In speech, sincerity.
In service, reverence.
In doubt, he is inclined to question.
When angry, he is aware of the inherent difficulties.
When he sees an opportunity for gain, he thinks of what would be just.

Confucius said: Yu, have you heard the six virtues and the six distortions?
Yu answered that he hadn't.
Confucius said: Then stay a moment, and I will tell you.
If you love humaneness, but don't love learning, then you will be led astray by foolishness.
If you love wisdom, but don't love learning, then you will be led astray by fruitless speculation.
If you love sincerity, but don't love learning, then you will be led astray by harmful candor.
If you love justice, but don't love learning, you will be led astray by violent severity.
If you love boldness, but don't love learning, you will be led astray by your own lack of control.
If you love persistence, but don't love learning, you will led astray by your own adamancy.

Tsai Wo, asking about the three years’ mourning [for parents], suggested that one year was long enough.
He said: If a well-bred man goes three years without exercising his manners
his manners will certainly degenerate.
And if for three years he makes no use of music
his music will certainly go to ruin.
In one year the previous year’s grain is consumed and the new grain has been harvested.
The seasonal friction-sticks have made their varying fires.
A year should be enough.
Confucius said: Would you then feel at ease in eating good rice and wearing fine clothes?
Yes, I would.
If you would feel at ease, then do so.
But a well-bred man, when mourning, does not relish good food when he eats it.
He does not enjoy music when he hears it.
He does not feel at ease when in a comfortable dwelling.
Therefore he avoids these things.
But now you would feel at ease, so go and do them.
When Tsai had gone out, Confucius said: The unfeelingness of Tsai Yu!
Only when a child is three years old does it leave its mother’s arms.
The three years’ mourning is the universal mourning everywhere.
And Yu -- was he not the object of his parents’ affection for three years?

What can be done with a man who stuffs his face with food all day, without exercising his mind?
He could at least play cards or chess or something.
It would be better than nothing.

Tzu Lu said: Does the superior man esteem bravery?
Confucius said: The superior man puts justice first.
If the superior man is brave without justice, he will be rebellious.
If the inferior man is brave without justice, he will become an outlaw.

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