Confucius said, “Zilu, do you want to know about knowledge? To realize when you know something and to realize when you don’t know something. That’s knowledge.”
Confucius said, “If the Way isn’t put into practice, I’ll just head out to sea on a small raft. I bet Zilu would go with me.”
Zilu was happy to hear this.
Confucius said, “Zilu loves daring more than I do, but he lacks judgment.”
Meng Wubo asked Confucius whether Zilu was humane.
Confucius replied, “I don’t know.”
Meng Wubo asked again.
Confucius replied, “Zilu could oversee the collection of military taxes in a large state. But I don’t know if he is humane.”
Meng asked, “What about Ran Qiu?”
Confucius answered, “Ran Qiu could be the steward of a city of a thousand families or a clan with a hundred chariots, but I don’t know if he is humane.”
Meng asked, “What about Gongxi Hua?”
Confucius said, “If he was dressed properly with his sash and placed in the middle of the court, he could make conversation with the guests. But I don’t know if he is humane.”
When Zilu heard a teaching, but was not yet able to apply it, he was afraid of hearing something new.
Yan Hui and Zilu were with Confucius, and he asked them, “How about each of you tell me what you’d like to accomplish?”
Zilu replied, “I’d like to have wagons, horses, and fur coats to give to my friends, and not to get angry if they got damaged.”
Yan Hui replied, “I’d like not to be proud of my good points and not to brag about what I’ve done for other people.”
Zilu asked Confucius, “What would you like to accomplish?”
Confucius replied, “I’d like to comfort the elderly, have the trust of my friends, and nurture the young.”
Ji Kangzi asked whether Zilu was capable of serving in the government.
Confucius replied, “Zilu is determined. What problem would he have in handling government work?”
Jikang Zi then asked, “What about Zigong?”
Confucius said, “Zigong has a piercing intellect. What problem would he have in handling government work?”
Jikang Zi asked, “And how about Ran Qiu?”
Confucius replied, “Ran Qiu is has many talents. What problem would he have in handling government work?”
Confucius visited Nanzi and Zilu was not happy about it.
Confucius swore an oath, “If I have done wrong, may Heaven punish me! May Heaven punish me!”
Confucius said to Yan Hui, “Acting when called upon to act and retiring when not needed. Only you and I are like this.”
Zilu asked, “If you were leading an army, who would you take as a lieutenant?”
Confucius replied, “Not the kind of person who likes to wrestle tigers or rush across a river on foot. Not someone who rushes headlong toward death without a second thought. I’d like someone who approaches the work with caution, someone who plans, and someone who sees the thing through to completion.”
The Governor of She asked Zilu about Confucius, but Zilu didn’t answer him.
When Confucius heard about this, he said, “Why didn’t you just tell him, ‘He’s the sort of man who goes after learning so eagerly that he forgets to eat, and in his joy forgets his worries and doesn’t notice old age creeping up on him?’”
Confucius became very sick and Zilu asked permission to offer a prayer for him.
Confucius asked, “Is there a precedent for that?”
Zilu replied, “Yes. There is a passage in the Eulogies, ‘We pray to the spirits above and the spirits below for you.’”
Confucius replied, “Then I have already been praying for a long time.”
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, “Wearing only tattered work clothes while standing among gentlemen in their fineries, yet feeling no embarrassment. That’s Zilu, isn’t it?
‘Free of resentment, free of craving,
How could he do wrong?’”
On hearing this praise, Zilu took to repeating these lines over and over again.
Confucius said, “Is this really enough to be considered good?”
Startled by their arrival, a bird took off and circled several times before perching on a branch.
“‘The hen pheasant by the mountain ridge,
It knows the right moment!
It knows the right moment!’”
Zilu saluted the bird. It flapped its wings three times and flew away.
The virtuous were Yan Hui, Min Ziqian, Ran Boniu, and Zhonggong. The well-spoken were Zai Wo and Zigong. The skillful administrators were Ran Qiu and Zilu. Ziyou and Zixia excelled in scholarship.
Zilu asked Confucius about serving the spirits. Confucius replied, “If you can’t yet serve the living, how can you be able to serve the spirits?”
Zilu then said, “May I ask about death?”
Confucius replied, “You don’t yet understand life. What could you understand about death?”
When attending on Confucius, Min Ziqian was upright, Zilu was poised for action, and Ran You and Zigong were happy and at ease. Confucius was pleased, but said, “People like Zilu can’t die of old age.”
Confucius said, “Why do I hear Zilu playing his zither at my door?” After this, the other students began disrespecting Zilu.
Confucius corrected them, saying, “Zilu may not have entered the inner chambers, but he has ascended the stairs.”
Zigao was simple-minded. Zengzi was slow. Zizhang was given to excess. Zilu was reckless.
Zilu asked if it was a good idea to put a teaching into practice immediately after he first heard it.
Confucius replied, “While your father and older brother are still alive, how can you put teaching into practice immediately?”
When Ran You asked the same question, however, Confucius replied, “Oh yes, put it into practice right away.”
Gongxi Hua asked, “When Zilu asked you, you told him he shouldn’t be in such a hurry because his father and older brother are still alive. But when Ran You asked you the same thing, you told him to practice immediately. Can I ask why?”
Confucius said, “Ran You tends to hold back, so I push him forward. Zilu has the energy of two people, so I hold him back.”
Ji Ziran asked, “Could Zilu and Ran Qiu be called great ministers?”
Confucius replied, “Oh, I thought you were going to ask about something else. You want to know about Zilu and Ran Qiu?
“Great minister serves their ruler by means of the Way, and if they can’t, they’ll quit. Zilu and Ran Qiu are what we could call ordinary ‘team players.’”
Ji Zaran asked, “So they’ll always follow orders?”
Confucius replied, “No, not if they were ordered to kill their fathers or their rulers.”
Zilu got Zigao appointed as Prefect of Bi.
Confucius said, “You’re harming someone’s son!
Zilu said, “There are people to govern there and altars to look after. Why should it be necessary to read books to be regarded as learned?
Confucius replied, “This is why I don’t like glib people.”
Zilu, Zeng Xi, Ran Qiu, and Gongxi Hua were sitting with Confucius, when said, “Although I am older than you, forget about it that for now. You are all always saying, ‘The word doesn’t recognize my talents.’ But suppose your talents were fully acknowledged. What would you do then?”
Zilu rushed to respond first, “In a state of a thousand war chariots, wedged between two much larger states, under siege by invading armies, drought, and famine. Put me in charge for three years, and I would bring the people courage and direction.”
Confucius smiled at him.
He then asked Ran Qiu, “How about you?”
Ran Qiu replied, “In a territory of sixty to seventy li, or maybe fifty to sixty li, put me in charge for three years, and the people would have their material needs met. As for ritual and music, that would have to be handled by a nobleman.”
Confucius then asked, “And what about you, Gongxi Hua?”
Gongxi Hua replied, “I can’t say that I can do this for sure, but I’d really like to try. In services at the Great Ancestral Hall or in audience with the ruler, I’d like to play the part of a minor assistant, dressed in ceremonial cap and gown.”
Confucius asked, “Zeng Xi, how about you?”
Zeng Xi, who had been playing the zither, set it down, the last chord still ringing out. He stood up.
“What I’d like to do,” Zeng Xi said, “is very different from these three.”
“No harm in that,” Confucius replied. “We’re all just sharing our personal aspirations.”
Zeng Xi said, “In the late spring, after the clothes have been made, I’d like to go with five or six companions and six or seven youngsters and take a swim in the Yi River. We’d enjoy the breeze at the Rain-Dance Altar, and then return home singing.”
Confucius sighed and said, “I am with Zeng Xi.”
The three others left, but Zeng Xi hung back and asked Confucius, “What did you think about what the other three said?”
Confucius replied, “They each just shared their own wishes.”
Zeng Xi asked, “Why did you smile at Zilu?”
Confucius said, “To govern a state requires ritual, and Zilu’s words showed no deference. That’s why I smiled.”
Zeng Xi then asked, “And Ran Qui, he was asking for a state, wasn’t he?”
Confucius said, “Of course. Have you ever seen a territory of sixty to seventy li, or fifty to sixty li, that wasn’t a state?”
Zeng Xi asked, “And Gongxi Hua, was he also talking about a state?”
Confucius replied, “Ceremonies in the Great Ancestral Hall and audiences with the ruler—what are these but affairs of state? And if Gongxi Hua was there playing a minor role, who would be playing the major role?”
Confucius said, “If there’s anyone who can decide a case only by listening to one side, it’s Zilu.”
Zilu also never went to sleep with a promise unfulfilled.
Zilu asked Confucius how to govern.
Confucius said, “Set a good example for the people and then encourage them.”
When Zilu asked for more explanation, Confucius replied, “Don’t let up.”
Zilu asked, “If the ruler of Wei put you in charge of governing, what would be your top priority?”
Confucius replied, “The rectification of names. Without a doubt.”
Zilu said, “Oh, you’re way off! What’s so important about that?”
Confucius replied, “What a rube you are, Zilu. When a noble person doesn’t understand something, they keep their mouth shut.
“If names are not rectified, then words don’t align with reality. If words don’t align with reality, work can’t be accomplished. If work can’t be accomplished, ritual and music can’t be developed. If ritual and music can’t be developed, punishments won’t fit the crime. If punishments don’t fit the crime, people won’t even know where to put their hands and feet.
“The rectification of names allows the noble person to speak, and what a noble person says can be acted upon. For this reason, a noble person is never careless in speech.”
Zilu asked, “What must a person be like to deserve to serve in government?”
“People who are critical and demanding, but also kind, are worthy to serve in government,” Confucius replied. “Critical and demanding of friends, and kind toward brothers.”
Zilu asked about becoming a complete person.
Confucius said, “The wisdom of Zang Wuzhong, the desirelessness of Meng Gongchuo, the courage of Zhuangzi of Bian, and the abilities of Ran Qiu, all refined through ritual and music.
But if you want to be a complete person today, why do you need all of that? If you see a chance for profit and think of right conduct, if you’re ready to give your life when facing danger, and if you can endure long hardships without forgetting your principles—then you, also, may be considered a complete person.”
Zilu said, “When Huan Gong assassinated Gongzi Jiu, his tutor Zhao Hu chose to die with him, but Guan Zhong didn’t. He fell short of humaneness, didn’t he?”
Confucius replied, “When Huan Gong brought the nine rulers together in council, it wasn’t through military might, but through the influence of Guan Zhong. Such humaneness! Such humaneness!”
Zilu asked Confucius how to serve a ruler.
Confucius said, “Don’t be deceptive, but be ready to admonish him by taking a stand directly.”
Gongbo Liao slandered Zilu to the Jisun family.
Zifu Jingbo told Confucius about it, saying, “The Jisuns have been led astray by Gongbo Liao, but I have the power to drag his corpse out into the marketplace.”
Confucius replied, “It’s up to fate if the Way prevails or is cast aside. What can Gongbo Liao do about fate?”
Zilu spent the night at the Stone Gate.
The gatekeeper asked, “Where are you from?”
Zilu replied, “From Confucius’ household.”
The gatekeeper said, “Oh, isn’t he the one who keeps trying the impossible?”
Zilu asked Confucius how to be a noble person.
Confucius replied, “Cultivate yourself, to develop a respectful attentiveness.”
Zilu asked, “That’s it?”
Confucius answered, “Cultivate yourself so that you can bring comfort to others.”
Zilu again asked, “That’s all?”
Confucius replied, “Cultivate yourself so that you can bring comfort to the people. Even the sage kings Yao and Shun found this hard.”
In the state of Chen, they ran out of food, and the students became so exhausted they could no longer stand.
Resentfully, Zilu asked, “Must a noble person suffer through such a mess?”
Confucius replied, “Yes, a noble person may find themselves in circumstances like this, but it’s only the small person that can’t withstand it.”
Confucius said, “Zilu, those who understand virtue are few and far between.”
The Jisun family was about to attack Zhuanyu, so Ran Qiu and Zilu went to see Confucius, saying, “The Jisun family is getting ready to move against Zhuanyu.”
Confucius said, “Ran Qiu, isn’t this your fault? Since ancient times the former kings have maintained Zhuanyu as the site of the sacrifice at Dong Meng mountain. Also, it’s located within our own state, and is subject to our national altars to the soil and grain. Why attack it?”
Ran Qiu replied, “It’s our lord who wants to do this, not the two of us as ministers.”
Confucius said, “Ran Qiu, the historian Zhou Ren said, ‘The one who displays his power is the one who gets the position; those who are not capable give up.’
“What sort of an assistant can’t steady his master when he totters or hold him up when he falls?
“Also, what you are saying is wrong. Who’s to blame when a tiger or a rhino escapes from its cage, or when a tortoise shell or jade is smashed in its case?”
Ran Qiu said, “But Zhuanyu is well-fortified and is located right next to the Ji family stronghold. If they don’t take it now, it will be a menace to their descendants.”
Confucius replied, “Ran Qiu! A noble person despises those who make excuses instead of just coming right out and saying what they want!
“I’ve heard it said that the heads of states or hereditary families don’t worry about poverty, but worry about inequality of distribution. They don’t worry about having too few people, but worry about unrest. When there’s fairness in distribution of wealth, there won’t be poverty. When there’s harmony in society, there won’t be a lack of people. When people are content, there’s no threat of unrest.
“So if people at a distance aren’t open to your rule, improve your ways and cultivate virtue to attract them. Once you’ve attracted them, see to it that they enjoy peace.
“But now, with the two of you as ministers, your lord can’t attract people from a distance, his land is falling apart, and he can’t hold onto it—and now he wants to wage war on one of his own provinces!
“For Lord Jisun, the real danger isn’t coming from Zhuanyu, but lies within his own walls.”
Bi Xi called for Confucius, and Confucius was tempted to go.
Zilu said, “I remember you saying, ‘A noble person won’t associate with someone who is committing evil.’ Now Bi Xi is about to use his stronghold in Zhong Mou to start a rebellion. How can you even consider joining him?”
Confucius replied, “Yes, I did say that. But what resists grinding is truly strong and what resists black dye is truly white. Should I be like a bitter gourd, hanging on a string as decoration but not fit to eat?”
Confucius said, “Zilu, have you heard about the six noble tendencies and their perversions?”
Zilu replied that he hadn’t.
“Sit down, then, and I’ll tell you,” Confucius said. “To love humaneness without loving learning leads to foolishness. To love intelligence without loving learning leads to being scattered. To love forthrightness without the love of learning leads to harm. To love bravery without loving learning leads to brutality. To love force without the love of learning leads to wildness.”
Zilu asked, “Does a noble person value courage?”
Confucius replied, “A noble person values righteousness above all. If a noble person has courage without righteousness, chaos reigns. If a small person has courage without righteousness, they become a bandit.”
Chang Ju and Jie Ni were yoked together, plowing the fields. Confucius, who was passing by, sent Zilu to ask where the river crossing was.
Chang Ju asked, “Who’s that holding the carriage reigns?”
“Confucius,” replied Zilu.
“Confucius from Lu?”
“Then he already knows where the river crossing is.”
Zilu then asked Jie Ni the same question.
“And who are you?” asked Jie Ni.
“Zilu, the student of Confucius from Lu?”
“The water keeps moving forward, all over the world. Who can change it? Why do you bother following someone who keeps running from one ruler to another? Wouldn’t it be better to follow someone who’s given up this world altogether?”
The two of them went back to their work.
Zilu reported this conversation to Confucius, who furrowed his brow and said, “I can’t flock with birds and beasts! Who am I supposed to keep company with, if not other human beings? If the Way prevailed in the world, I wouldn’t have to reform it!”
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’s a recluse,” and asked 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.”