While traveling with Confucius, Zilu fell behind and met an old man carrying a basket on his staff.
Zilu asked him, “Sir, have you seen my teacher?”
The old man replied, “You look like someone who hasn’t worked with his four limbs and can’t tell between the different kinds of grain. Who can your teacher be?”
The old man then planted his staff in the ground and started weeding.
Zilu watched him respectfully.
The old man took Zilu in for the night. He killed a chicken, and cooked the chicken and millet for his guest. He then introduced Zilu to his two sons.
Zilu caught up with Confucius the next day and reported what had happened. Confucius said, “He is a recluse,” and has Zilu take him back to see the old man. When they got there, however, the old man had gone.
Zilu said, “It’s not right to withdraw from public life. If a person knows not to abandon the obligations of the young to the old, how can he abandon the obligations of the subject to the ruler? He tries to keep himself pure, but brings chaos to a basic human relationship. A noble person serves the state, even if it’s obvious that the Way can’t prevail.”