Zengzi said, “Tend to the recently deceased with great care, and continue venerating the long-departed. Doing this, the people will return to virtue.”
Lin Fang asked about the roots of ritual.
Confucius said, “Good question! In ritual, it’s better to error on the side of modesty than showy extravagance. In mourning, it’s better to error on the side of real grief than to fuss over all the formal details.”
Confucius said, “To lack tolerance when holding high office, to lack respect but perform ritual, to attend a funeral but not mourn–how could I stand to look at someone like that?”
When Confucius ate next to someone who was mourning, he never ate his fill.
If Confucius saw someone in mourning, or in full ceremonial dress, or a blind person— even if they were younger than him—he would arise. If he had to pass by them, he would do so quickly.
When Confucius became ill, Zilu told the other students to act as if they were Confucius’ “ministers.”
During a remission in his illness, Confucius said, “Ah, Zilu, you’ve been carrying on this charade for a long time now, haven’t you? You want to make believe that I have ‘ministers?’ Who are you fooling? Heaven?
I’d much rather die in the arms of my students than in the arms of ministers. Besides, even though I won’t get a grand state funeral, it’s not like I’m dying on the side of the road.”
Confucius said, “When out in the world, serving the rulers and ministers. When at home, serving my elders. Not slacking off during funerary rites and not getting drunk. These things aren’t a problem for me.”
When a friend died and had no relatives to take care of the funeral, Confucius would say, “I’ll have the funeral in my home.”
When Confucius saw a person wearing clothes of mourning, even if it was someone he saw every day, his face would express grief. When he saw someone wearing a court cap or a blind person, even if it was someone he saw every day, he would become solemn.
If Confucius was riding in his carriage and he came across someone in mourning, or someone carrying official documents, he would bow down and grasp the crossbar.
If he was served a rare delicacy at a banquet, he would rise and express his appreciation.
He would also change his expression at the clap of thunder or a strong gust of wind.
When Yan Hui died, his father asked Confucius for his carriage, so that he could sell it and buy an outer coffin.
Confucius replied, “Whether they’re gifted or not, all sons are loved by their parents. When my own son died, we had an inner coffin, but not an outer coffin. Since my rank is right below the grand officers’, it wouldn’t be proper for me to walk on foot.”
When Yan Hui died, Confucius wept uncontrollably. His students said, “You’re going too far!”
Confucius replied, “Am I? If I can’t cry for this man, then who could I cry for?”
When Yan Hui died, the other students wanted to give him a lavish funeral. Confucius said, “It’s not proper.” The students gave Yan Hui a lavish funeral anyway.
Confucius said, “Yan Hui looked on me as a father, but in this matter, I couldn’t look after him as a father should. This isn’t my fault, friends, but yours.”
Zizhang said, “The Book of History says, ‘Gaozong stayed in the mourning shed for three years without speaking.’ Why did he do this?”
Confucius replied, “There’s no need to single out Gazong this way. All the ancients did this. After the ruler died, all of the officials took orders from the Prime Minister for three years.”
Zai Wo questioned Confucius about the traditional three-year mourning period.
“One year is already too long. If a noble person gives up ritual for three years, the ritual will decay. If a noble person gives up music for three years, then music will fall apart. In the course of a year, as the old crop is eaten up, new crops grow for harvest. Four types of firewood—one for each season—have been used for kindling. A full year of mourning is quite enough.”
Confucius asked, “Would you be comfortable eating white rice and wearing silk after a year?”
“I would,” replied Zai Wo.
Confucius said, “If you’d feel comfortable, go right ahead then. When a noble person mourns, fine foods are not sweet, music brings no joy, and luxurious clothes bring no comfort, even around the house. These things don’t bring pleasure, so the noble person doesn’t indulge in them. But if you’d feel comfortable doing these things, go right ahead.”
After Zai Wo left, Confucius said, “He lacks humaneness. Children don’t leave their parents arms for three years after they’re born, so three years’ mourning is the custom throughout the world. Didn’t Zai Wo even have three years of love from his parents?”
Zizhang said, “A person is sufficient if they’re ready to lay down their lives to follow orders, keep fairness in mind when faced with opportunities for personal gain, conduct sacrifices with respect, and mourn with sorrow.”
Ziyou said, “When mourning, express grief and then come to a stop.”
Zengzi said, “Confucius told me, ‘Even if a person never gives their utmost, they might when mourning their parents.’”
Chen Ziqin said to Zigong, “Surely you’re just being reverent towards your teacher. How could Confucius be more worthy than you?”
“With just a single word, a person can reveal their wisdom, or expose their ignorance,” Zigong replied, “that’s why you have to choose your words carefully.”
Zigong continued, “Confucius can’t be matched, just like you can’t climb the sky! If he’d been put in charge of a state or a ruling family, he would have fulfilled the saying,
‘He raised them up, and they stood on their own.
He set the direction, and they forged ahead.
He put them at ease, and they flocked to him.
He set them in motion, and they worked in harmony.’
“In life he was honored and in death he was mourned. How can he be equaled?”
Yao said, “Oh, Shun! The regulation of Heaven’s calendar now falls to you. Hold to the middle way. If the people fall into distress, this gift of Heaven’s will be withdrawn forever.”
In turn, Shun charged Yu with these same words.
T’ang said, “I, Lü, am only a youth, but I dare to sacrifice this black ox and make this declaration to the Lord of Heaven. I don’t dare pardon the guilty. We can’t hide anything from the Lord of Heaven, since we’re his subjects, and guilt is known in the Lord’s heart.
“If I commit a crime, don’t make the people of the ten thousand regions suffer for it. But if the people of the ten thousand regions commit a crime, let the punishment fall to me alone.”
The Zhou was greatly rewarded because it had good people to serve it.
King Wu said, “Although I have all my kin, it’s better to employ people who have humaneness. If the people commit crimes, let it fall to me alone.”
Set standard weights and measures, align the laws and regulations, and restore offices that have been abolished. Revive the states that are about to fall and the lineages about to end. Find worthy people who have gone into hiding and raise them up into high offices. By doing this, the people will flock to you.
This is what’s important to the people: their food, their funerals, and their sacrifices.
Be generous, and you’ll win the hearts of the people. Be trustworthy, and you’ll gain the confidence of the people. If you’re industrious, you’ll get things done. If you’re just, the people will be pleased.