YAO WANTED TO CEDE THE EMPIRE to Hsu Yu, but Hsu Yu refused to accept it.1 Then he tried to give it to Tzu‑chou Chih‑fu. Tzu‑chou Chih‑fu said, "Make me the Son of Heaven? ‑ that would be all right, I suppose. But I happen to have a deep‑seated and worrisome illness which I am just now trying to put in order. So I have no time to put the empire in order." The empire is a thing of supreme importance, yet he would not allow it to harm his life. How much less, then, any other thing! Only he who has no use for the empire is fit to be entrusted with it.

Shun wanted to cede the empire to Tzu‑chou Chih‑po, but Tzu‑chou Chih‑po said, "I happen to have a deep‑seated and worrisome illness which I am just now trying to put in order. So I have no time to put the empire in order." The empire is a great vessel, yet he would not exchange his life for it. This is how the possessor of the Way differs from the vulgar man.

Shun tried to cede the empire to Shan Ch'uan, but Shan Ch'uan said, "I stand in the midst of space and time. Winter days I dress in skins and furs, summer days, in vine‑cloth and hemp. In spring I plow and plant ‑ this gives my body the labor and exercise it needs; in fall I harvest and store away - this gives my form the leisure and sustenance it needs. When the sun comes up, I work; when the sun goes down, I rest. I wander free and easy between heaven and earth, and my mind has found all that it could wish for. What use would I have for the empire? What a pity that you don't understand me!" In the end he would not accept, but went away, entering deep into the mountains, and no one ever knew where he had gone.

Shun wanted to cede the empire to his friend, the farmer of Stone Door. The farmer of Stone Door said, "Such vigor and vitality you have, My Lord! You are a gentleman of perseverance and strength!" Then, surmising that Shun's virtue would hardly amount to very much, he lifted his wife upon his back, took his son by the hand, and disappeared among the islands of the sea, never to return to the end of his days.

When the Great King Tan‑fu was living in Pin, the Ti tribes attacked his territory.2 He offered them skins and silks, but they refused them; he offered them dogs and horses, but they refused them; he offered them pearls and jades, but they refused them. What the men of the Ti tribes were after was his land. The Great King Tan‑fu said, "To live among the older brothers and send the younger brothers to their death; to live among the fathers and send the sons to their death ‑ this I cannot bear! My people, be diligent and remain where you are. What difference does it make whether you are subjects of mine or of the men of Ti? I have heard it said, one must not injure that which he is nourishing for the sake of that by which he nourishes it." 3 Then, using his riding whip as a cane, he departed, but his people, leading one another, followed after him, and in time founded a new state at the foot of Mount Ch'i.

The Great King Tan‑fu may be said to have known how to respect life. He who knows how to respect life, though he may be rich and honored, will not allow the means of nourishing life to injure his person. Though he may be poor and humble, he will not allow concerns of profit to entangle his body. The men of the present age, if they occupy high office and are honored with titles, all think only of how serious a matter it would be to lose them. Eyes fixed on profit, they make light of the risk to their lives. Are they not deluded indeed?

The men of Yueh three times in succession assassinated their ruler. Prince Sou, fearful for his life, fled to the Cinnabar Cave, and the state of Yueh was left without a ruler. The men of Yueh, searching for Prince Sou and failing to find him, trailed him to the Cinnabar Cave, but he refused to come forth. They smoked him out with mugwort and placed him in the royal carriage. As Prince Sou took hold of the strap and pulled himself up into the carriage, he turned his face to heaven and cried, "To be a ruler! A ruler! Could I alone not have been spared this?" It was not that he hated to become their ruler; he hated the perils that go with being a ruler. Prince Sou, we may say, was the kind who would not allow the state to bring injury to his life. This, in fact, was precisely why the people of Yueh wanted to obtain him for their ruler.

The states of Han and Wei were fighting over a piece of territory. Master Hua Tzu went to see Marquis Chao‑hsi, the ruler of Han. Marquis Chao‑hsi had a worried look on his face. Master Hua Tzu said, "Suppose the men of the empire were to draw up a written agreement and place it before you, and the inscription read: `Seize this with your left hand and you will lose your right hand; seize it with your right hand and you will lose your left; yet he who seizes this will invariably gain possession of the empire.' Would you be willing to seize it?"

"I would not!" said Marquis Chao‑hsi.

"Very good!" exclaimed Master Hua Tzu. "From this I can see that your two hands are more important to you than the empire. And of course your body as a whole is a great deal more important than your two hands, while the state of Han is a great deal less important than the empire as a whole. Moreover, this piece of territory that you are fighting over is a great deal less important than the state of Han as a whole. And yet you make yourself miserable and endanger your life, worrying and fretting because you can't get possession of it!"

"Excellent!" said Marquis Chao‑hsi. "Many men have given me advice, but I have never been privileged to hear words such as these!" Master Hua Tzu, we may say, understood the difference between important and unimportant things.

The ruler of Lu, having heard that Yen Ho was a man who had attained the Way, sent a messenger with gifts to open up relations with him. Yen Ho was in his humble, back‑alley home, wearing a robe of coarse hemp and feeding a cow, when the messenger from the ruler of Lu arrived, and he came to the door in person. "Is this the home of Yen Ho?" asked the messenger. "Yes, this is Ho's house," said Yen Ho. The messenger then presented his gifts, but Yen Ho said, "I'm afraid you must have gotten your instructions mixed up. You'll surely be blamed if you give these to the wrong person, so you'd better check once more." The messenger returned, checked his instructions, and then went looking for Yen Ho a second time, but he was never able to find him. Men like Yen Ho truly despise wealth and honor.

Hence it is said, The Truth of the Way lies in looking out for oneself; its fringes and leftovers consist in managing the state and its great families; its offal and weeds consist in governing the empire. The accomplishments of emperors and kings are superfluous affairs as far as the sage is concerned, not the means by which to keep the body whole and to care for life. Yet how many gentlemen of the vulgar world today endanger themselves and throw away their lives in the pursuit of mere things! How can you help pitying them? Whenever the sage makes a move, you may be certain that he has looked carefully to see where he is going and what he is about. Now suppose there were a man here who took the priceless pearl of the Marquis of Sui and used it as a pellet to shoot at a sparrow a thousand yards up in the air ‑ the world would certainly laugh at him. Why? Because that which he is using is of such great value, and that which he is trying to acquire is so trifling. And life ‑ surely it is of greater value than the pearl of the Marquis of Sui!

Master Lieh Tzu was living in poverty and his face had a hungry look. A visitor mentioned this to Tzu‑yang, the prime minister of Cheng, saying, "Lieh Yu‑k'ou appears to be a gentleman who has attained the Way. Here he is living in Your Excellency's state, and in utter poverty! It would almost seem that Your Excellency has no fondness for such gentlemen, does it not?"

Tzu‑yang immediately ordered his officials to dispatch a gift of grain. Master Lieh Tzu received the messenger, bowed twice, and refused the gift. When the messenger had left and Master Lieh Tzu had gone back into his house, his wife, filled with bitterness, beat her breast and said, "I have heard that the wives and children of men who have attained the Way all live in ease and happiness ‑ but here we are with our hungry looks! His Excellency, realizing his error, has sent the Master something to eat, but the Master refuses to accept it ‑ I suppose this is what they call Fate!"

Master Lieh Tzu laughed and said, "His Excellency does not know me personally ‑ he sent me the grain simply because of what someone had told him. And someday he could just as well condemn me to punishment, again simply because of what someone told him. That's why I refused to accept."

In the end, as it happened, rebellion broke out among the people of Cheng and Tzu‑yang was murdered.

When King Chao of Ch'u was driven from his state, the sheep butcher Yueh fled at the same time and followed King Chao into exile.4 When King Chao regained control of the state, he set about rewarding his followers, but when it came the turn of the sheep butcher Yueh, Yueh said, "His Majesty lost control of the state, and I lost my job as sheep butcher. Now His Majesty has regained the state, and I have also gotten back my sheep‑butchering job. So my `title and stipend' have already been restored to me. Why should there be any talk of a reward?"

"Force him to take it!" ordered the king.

But the sheep butcher Yueh said, "The fact that His Majesty lost the kingdom was no fault of mine ‑ therefore I would not venture to accept any punishment for it. And the fact that His Majesty has regained the kingdom is no accomplishment of mine ‑ therefore I would not venture to accept any reward for it."

"Bring him into my presence!" ordered the king.

But the sheep butcher Yueh said, "According to the laws of the state of Ch'u, a man must have received weighty awards and accomplished great deeds before he may be granted an audience with the ruler. Now I was not wise enough to save the state, nor brave enough to die in combat with the invaders. When the armies of Wu entered the city of Ying, I was afraid of the dangers ahead and so I ran away from the invaders. I did not purposely follow after His Majesty. Now His Majesty wishes to disregard the laws and break the precedents by granting me an audience. But, in view of the facts, that would not win me any kind of reputation in the world!"

The king said to Tzu‑ch'i, his minister of war, "The sheep butcher Yueh is a man of mean and humble position, and yet his pronouncements on righteousness are lofty indeed! I want you to promote him to one of the `three banner' offices." 5

When told of this, the sheep butcher Yueh said, "I am fully aware that the `three banner' rank is a far more exalted place than a sheep butcher's stall, and that a stipend of ten thousand chung is more wealth than I will ever acquire slaughtering sheep. But how could I, merely out of greed for title and stipend, allow my ruler to gain a reputation for irresponsibly handing out such favors? I dare not accept. Please let me go back to my sheep butcher's stall." And in the end he refused to accept the position.

Yuan Hsien lived in the state of Lu, in a tiny house that was hardly more than four walls. It was thatched with growing weeds, had a broken door made of woven brambles and branches of mulberry for the doorposts; jars with the bottoms out, hung with pieces of coarse cloth for protection from the weather, served as windows for its two rooms.6 The roof leaked and the floor was damp, but Yuan Hsien sat up in dignified manner, played his lute, and sang. Tzu‑kung, wearing an inner robe of royal blue and an outer one of white, and riding in a grand carriage whose top was too tall to get through the entrance to the lane, came to call on Yuan Hsien. Yuan Hsien, wearing a bark cap and slippers with no heels, and carrying a goosefoot staff, came to the gate to greet him.

"Goodness!" exclaimed Tzu‑kung. "What distress you are in, Sir!"

Yuan Hsien replied, "I have heard that if one lacks wealth, that is called poverty; and if one studies but cannot put into practice what he has learned, that is called distress. I am poor, but I am not in distress!"

Tzu‑kung backed off a few paces with a look of embarrassment. Yuan Hsien laughed and said, "To act out of worldly ambition, to band with others in cliquish friendships, to study in order to show off to others, to teach in order to please one's own pride, to mask one's evil deeds behind benevolence and righteousness, to deck oneself out with carriages and horses - I could never bear to do such things!"

Tseng Tzu7 lived in the state of Wei, wearing a robe of quilted hemp with the outside worn through, his face blotchy and swollen, his hands and feet hard and callused. He would go three days without lighting a fire, ten years without making himself a new suit of clothes. If he tried to straighten his cap, the chin strap would break; if he pulled together his lapels, his elbows poked through the sleeves; if he stepped into his shoes, his heels broke out at the back. Yet, shuffling along, he would sing the sacrificial hymns of Shang in a voice that filled heaven and earth, as though it issued from a bell or a chiming stone. The Son of Heaven could not get him for his minister; the feudal lords could not get him for their friend. Hence he who nourishes his will forgets about his bodily form; he who nourishes his bodily form forgets about questions of gain; and he who arrives at the Way forgets about his mind.

Confucius said to Yen Hui, "Come here, Hui. Your family is poor and your position very lowly. Why don't you become an official?"

Yen Hui replied, "I have no desire to become an official. I have fifty mou of farmland outside the outer wall," which is enough to provide me with porridge and gruel, and I have ten mou of farmland inside the outer wall, which is enough to keep me in silk and hemp. Playing my lute gives me enjoyment enough, studying the Way of the Master gives me happiness enough. I have no desire to become an official."

Confucius' face took on a sheepish expression and he said, "Excellent, Hui ‑ this determination of yours! I have heard that he who knows what is enough will not let himself be entangled by thoughts of gain; that he who really understands how to find satisfaction will not be afraid of other kinds of loss; and that he who practices the cultivation of what is within him will not be ashamed because he holds no position in society. I have been preaching these ideas for a long time, but now for the first time I see them realized in you, Hui. This is what 1 have gained."

Prince Mou of Wei, who was living in Chung‑shan, said to Chan Tzu, "My body is here beside these rivers and seas, but my mind is still back there beside the palace towers of Wei. What should I do about it?" 9

"Attach more importance to life!" said Chan Tzu. "He who regards life as important will think lightly of material gain."

"I know that's what I should do," said Prince Mou. "But I can't overcome my inclinations."

"If you can't overcome your inclinations, then follow them!" said Chan Tzu.

"But won't that do harm to the spirit?"

"If you can't overcome your inclinations and yet you try to force yourself not to follow them, this is to do a double injury to yourself. Men who do such double injury to themselves are never found in the ranks of the long‑lived!"

Wei Mou was a prince of a state of ten thousand chariots, and it was more difficult for him to retire and live among the cliffs and caves than for an ordinary person. Although he did not attain the Way, we may say that he had the will to do so.

Confucius was in distress between Ch'en and Ts'ai. For seven days he ate no properly cooked food, but only a soup of greens without any grain in it. His face became drawn with fatigue, but he sat in his room playing the lute and singing. Yen Hui was outside picking vegetables, and Tzu‑lu and Tzu‑kung were talking with him. "Our Master was twice driven out of Lu," they said. "They wiped out his footprints in Wei, chopped down a tree on him in Sung, made trouble for him in Shang and Chou, and are now besieging him here at Ch'en and Ts'ai. Anyone who kills him will be pardoned of all guilt, and anyone who wishes to abuse him is free to do so. Yet he keeps playing and singing, strumming the lute without ever letting the sound die away. Can a gentleman really be as shameless as all this?"

Yen Hui, having no answer, went in and reported what they had said to Confucius. Confucius pushed aside his lute, heaved a great sigh, and said, "Those two are picayune men! Call them in here ‑ I'll talk to them."

When Tzu‑lu and Tzu‑kung had entered the room, Tzu‑lu said, "I guess you could say that all of us are really blocked in this time." 10

Confucius said, "What kind of talk is that! When the gentleman gets through to the Way, this is called `getting through.' When he is blocked off from the Way, this is called `being blocked.' Now I embrace the way of benevolence and righteousness, and with it encounter the perils of an age of disorder. Where is there any `being blocked' about this? So I examine what is within me and am never blocked off from the Way. I face the difficulties ahead and do not lose its Virtue. When the cold days come and the frost and snow have fallen, then I understand how the pine and the cypress flourish.11 These perils here in Ch'en and Ts'ai are a blessing to me!" Confucius then turned complacently back to his lute and began to play and sing again. Tzu‑lu excitedly snatched up a shield and began to dance, while Tzu‑kung said, "I did not realize that Heaven is so far above, earth so far below!"

The men of ancient times who had attained the Way were happy if they were blocked in, and happy if they could get through. It was not the fact that they were blocked or not that made them happy. As long as you have really gotten hold of the Way,12 then being blocked or getting through are no more than the orderly alternation of cold and heat, of wind and rain. Therefore Hsu Yu enjoyed himself on the sunny side of the Ying River, and Kung Po found what he wanted on top of a hill.13

Shun wanted to cede the empire to his friend, a man from the north named Wu‑tse. Wu‑tse said, "What a peculiar man this ruler of ours is! First he lived among the fields and ditches, then he went wandering about the gate of Yao. Not content to let it rest at that, he now wants to take his disgraceful doings and dump them all over me. I would be ashamed even to see him!" Thereupon he threw himself into the deeps at Ch'ingling.

When T'ang was about to attack Chieh, he went to Pien Sui for help in plotting the strategy.14 "It's nothing I'd know anything about!" said Pien Sui.

"Who would be good?" asked T'ang.

"I don't know."

T'ang then went to Wu Kuang and asked for help. "It's nothing I'd know anything about!" said Wu Kuang.

"Who would be good?" asked T'ang.

"I don't know."

"How about Yi Yin?" asked T'ang.

"A man of violence and force, willing to put up with disgrace ‑ I know nothing else about him."

In the end T'ang went to Yi Yin and together they plotted the attack. Having overthrown Chieh, T'ang then offered to cede the throne to Pien Sui, Pien Sui refused, saying, "When you were plotting to attack Chieh, you came to me for advice ‑ so you must have thought I was capable of treason. Now you have defeated Chieh and want to cede the throne to me ‑ so you must think I am avaricious. I was born into this world of disorder, and now a man with no understanding of the Way twice comes and tries to slop his disgraceful doings all over me! I can't bear to go on listening to such proposals again and again!" Thereupon he threw himself into the Ch'ou River and drowned.

T'ang tried to cede the throne to Wu Kuang, saying, "The wise man does the plotting, the military man the seizing, and the benevolent man the occupying ‑ such was the way of antiquity. Now why will you not accept the position?"

But Wu Kuang refused, saying, "To depose your sovereign is no act of righteousness; to slaughter the people is no act of benevolence; to inflict trouble on other men and enjoy the benefits yourself is no act of integrity. I have heard it said, If the man is without righteousness, do not take his money; if the world is without the Way, do not tread its soil. And you expect me to accept such a position of honor? I can't bear the sight of you any longer!" Thereupon he loaded a stone onto his back and drowned himself in the Lu River.

Long ago, when the Chou dynasty first came to power, there were two gentlemen who lived in Ku‑chu named Po Yi and Shu Ch'i. They said to one another, "We hear that in the western region there is a man who seems to possess the Way. Let us try going to look for him." When they reached the sunny side of Mount Ch'i, King Wu, hearing of them, sent his younger brother Tan to meet them.15  He offered to draw up a pact with them, saying, "You will be granted wealth of the second order and offices of the first rank, the pact to be sealed in blood and buried." 16

The two men looked at each other and laughed, saying, "Hah ‑ how peculiar! This is certainly not what we would call the Way! In ancient times, when Shen Nung held possession of the empire, he performed the seasonal sacrifices with the utmost reverence, but he did not pray for blessings. In his dealings with men, he was loyal and trustworthy and observed perfect order, but he did not seek anything from them. He delighted in ruling for the sake of ruling, he delighted in bringing order for the sake of order. He did not use other men's failures to bring about his own success; he did not use other men's degradation to lift himself up. Just because he happened along at a lucky time, he did not try to turn it to his own profit. Now the Chou, observing that the Yin has fallen into disorder, suddenly makes a show of its rule, honoring those who know how to scheme, handing out bribes,17 relying on weapons to maintain its might, offering sacrifices and drawing up pacts to impress men with its good faith, lauding its achievements in order to seize gain ‑ this is simply to push aside disorder and replace it with violence!

"We have heard that the gentlemen of old, if they happened upon a well‑ordered age, did not run away from public office; but if they encountered an age of disorder, they did not try to hold on to office at any cost. Now the world is in darkness and the virtue of the Chou in decline.18 Rather than remain side by side with the Chou and defile our bodies, it would be better to run away and thus protect the purity of our conduct!" The two gentlemen thereupon went north as far as Mount Shou‑yang, where they eventually died of starvation.

Men such as Po Yi and Shu Ch'i will have nothing to do with wealth and eminence if they can possibly avoid it. To be lofty in principle and meticulous in conduct, delighting in one's will alone without stooping to serve the world‑such was the ideal of these two gentlemen.