CONFUCIUS, AFTER STROLLING through the Black Curtain Forest, sat down to rest on the Apricot Altar.1 While his disciples turned to their books, he strummed his lute and sang. He had not gotten halfway through the piece he was playing when an old fisherman appeared, stepped out of his boat, and came forward. His beard and eyebrows were pure white, his hair hung down over his shoulders, and his sleeves flapped at his sides. He walked up the embankment, stopped when he reached the higher ground, rested his left hand on his knee, propped his chin with his right, and listened until the piece was ended. Then he beckoned to Tzu‑kung and Tzu‑lu, both of whom came forward at his call. The stranger pointed to Confucius and said, "What does he do?"

"He is a gentleman of Lu," replied Tzu‑lu.

The stranger then asked what family he belonged to, and Tzu‑lu replied, "The K'ung family."

"This man of the K'ung family," said the stranger, "what's his occupation?"

Tzu‑lu was still framing his reply when Tzu‑kung answered, "This man of the K'ung family in his inborn nature adheres to loyalty and good faith, in his person practices benevolence and righteousness; he brings a beautiful order to rites and music and selects what is proper in human relationships. Above, he pays allegiance to the sovereign of the age; below, he transforms the ordinary people through education, and in this way brings profit to the world. Such is the occupation of this man of the Kung family!"

"Does he have any territory that he rules over?" asked the stranger, pursuing the inquiry.

"No," said Tzu‑kung. "Is he the counselor to some king or feudal lord?"

"No," said Tzu‑kung.

The stranger then laughed and turned to go, saying as he walked away, "As far as benevolence goes, he is benevolent all right. But I'm afraid he will not escape unharmed. To weary the mind and wear out the body, putting the Truth in peril like this ‑ alas, I'm afraid he is separated from the Great Way by a vast distance indeed!"

Tzu‑kung returned and reported to Confucius what had happened. Confucius pushed aside his lute, rose to his feet and said, "Perhaps this man is a sage!" Then he started down the embankment after him, reaching the edge of the lake just as the fisherman was about to take up his punting pole and drag his boat into the water. Glancing back and catching sight of Confucius, he turned and stood facing him. Confucius hastily stepped back a few paces, bowed twice, and then came forward.

"What do you want?" asked the stranger.

"A moment ago, Sir," said Confucius, "you made a few cryptic remarks and then left. Unworthy as I am, I'm afraid I do not understand what they mean. If I might be permitted to wait upon you with all due humility and be favored with the sound of your august words, my ignorance might in time be remedied."

"Goodness!" exclaimed the stranger. "Your love of learning is great indeed!" 2

Confucius bowed twice and then, straightening up, said, "Ever since childhood I have cultivated learning, until at last I have reached the age of sixty‑nine. But I have never yet succeeded in hearing the Perfect Teaching. Dare I do anything, then, but wait with an open mind?"

"Creatures follow their own kind, a voice will answer to the voice that is like itself," said the stranger; "this has been the rule of Heaven since time began. With your permission, therefore, I will set aside for the moment my own ways and try applying myself to the things that you are concerned about.3 What you are concerned about are the affairs of men. The Son of Heaven, the feudal lords, the high ministers, the common people ‑ when these four are of themselves upright, this is the most admirable state of order. But if they depart from their proper stations, there is no greater disorder. When officials attend to their duties and men worry about their undertakings, there is no overstepping of the mark.

"Fields gone to waste, rooms unroofed, clothing and food that are not enough, taxes and labor services that you can't keep up with, wives and concubines never in harmony, senior and junior out of order ‑ these are the worries of the common man. Ability that does not suffice for the task, official business that doesn't go right, conduct that is not spotless and pure, underlings who are lazy and slipshod, success and praise that never come your way, titles and stipends that you can't hold on to ‑ these are the worries of the high minister. A court lacking in loyal ministers, a state and its great families in darkness and disorder, craftsmen and artisans who have no skill, articles of tribute that won't pass the test, inferior ranking at the spring and autumn levees at court, failure to ingratiate himself with the Son of Heaven ‑ these are the worries of a feudal lord.

The yin and rang out of harmony, cold and heat so untimely that they bring injury to all things, feudal lords violent and unruly, wantonly attacking one another till they all but destroy the common people, rites and music improperly performed, funds and resources that are forever giving out, human relationships that are not ordered as they should be, the hundred clans contumacious and depraved ‑ these are the worries of the Son of Heaven and his chancellors. Now on the higher level you do not hold the position of a ruler, a feudal lord, or a chancellor, and on the lower level you have not been assigned to the office of a high minister with its tasks and duties. Yet you presume to `bring a beautiful order to rites and music, to select what is proper in human relationships,' and in this way to `transform the ordinary people.' This is undertaking rather a lot, isn't it?

"Moreover, there are eight faults that men may possess, and four evils that beset their undertakings ‑ you must not fail to examine these carefully. To do what it is not your business to do is called officiousness. To rush forward when no one has nodded in your direction is called obsequiousness. To echo a man's opinions and try to draw him out in speech is called sycophancy. To speak without regard for what is right or wrong is called flattery. To delight in talking about other men's failings is called calumny. To break up friendships and set kinfolk at odds is called maliciousness. To praise falsely and hypocritically so as to cause injury and evil to others is called wickedness. Without thought for right or wrong, to try to face in two directions at once so as to steal a glimpse of the other party's wishes is called treachery. These eight faults inflict chaos on others and injury on the possessor. A gentleman will not befriend the man who possesses them, an enlightened ruler will not have him for his minister.

"As for the four evils which I spoke of, to be fond of plunging into great undertakings, altering and departing from the old accepted ways, hoping thereby to enhance your merit and fame ‑ this is called avidity. To insist that you know it all, that everything be done your way, snatching from others and appropriating for your own use ‑ this is called avarice. To see your errors but refuse to change, to listen to remonstrance but go on behaving worse than before ‑ this is called obstinacy. When men agree with you, to commend them; when they disagree with you, to refuse to see any goodness in them even when it is there ‑ this is called bigotry. These are the four evils. If you do away with the eight faults and avoid committing the four evils, then and only then will you become capable of being taught!"

Confucius looked chagrined and gave a sigh. Then he bowed twice, straightened up, and said, "Twice I have been exiled from Lu; they wiped away my footprints in Wei, chopped down a tree on me in Sung, and besieged me between Ch'en and Ts'ai. I am aware of no error of my own, and yet why did I fall victim to these four persecutions?"

A pained expression came over the stranger's face and he said, "How hard it is to make you understand! Once there was a man who was afraid of his shadow and who hated his footprints, and so he tried to get way from them by running. But the more he lifted his feet and put them down again, the more footprints he made. And no matter how fast he ran, his shadow never left him, and so, thinking that he was still going too slowly, he ran faster and faster without a stop until his strength gave out and he fell down dead. He didn't understand that by lolling in the shade he could have gotten rid of his shadow and by resting in quietude he could have put an end to his footprints. How could he have been so stupid!

"Now you scrutinize the realm of benevolence and righteousness, examine the borders of sameness and difference, observe the alternations of stillness and movement, lay down the rules for giving and receiving, regulate the emotions of love and hate, harmonize the seasons of joy and anger ‑ and yet you barely manage to escape harm. If you were diligent in improving yourself, careful to hold fast to the Truth, and would hand over external things to other men, you could avoid these entanglements. But now, without improving yourself, you make demands on others ‑ that is surely no way to go about the thing, is it?"

Confucius looked shamefaced and said, "Please, may I ask what you mean by `the Truth'?"

The stranger said, "By `the Truth' I mean purity and sincerity in their highest degree. He who lacks purity and sincerity cannot move others. Therefore he who forces himself to lament, though he may sound sad, will awaken no grief. He who forces himself to be angry, though he may sound fierce, will arouse no awe. And he who forces himself to be affectionate, though he may smile, will create no air of harmony. True sadness need make no sound to awaken grief; true anger need not show itself to arouse awe; true affection need not smile to create harmony. When a man has the Truth within himself, his spirit may move among external things. That is why the Truth is to be prized!

"It may be applied to human relationships in the following ways. In the service of parents, it is love and filial piety; in the service of the ruler, it is loyalty and integrity; in festive wine drinking, it is merriment and joy; in periods of mourning, it is sadness and grief. In loyalty and integrity, service is the important thing; in festive drinking, merriment is the important thing; in periods of mourning, grief is the important thing; in the service of parents, their comfort is the important thing. In seeking to perform the finest kind of service, one does not always try to go about it in the same way. In assuring comfort in the serving of one's parents, one does not question the means to be employed. In seeking the merriment that comes with festive drinking, one does not fuss over what cups and dishes are to be selected. In expressing the grief that is appropriate to periods of mourning, one does not quibble over the exact ritual to be followed.

"Rites are something created by the vulgar men of the world; the Truth is that which is received from Heaven. By nature it is the way it is and cannot be changed. Therefore the sage patterns himself on Heaven, prizes the Truth, and does not allow himself to be cramped by the vulgar. The stupid man does the opposite of this. He is unable to pattern himself on Heaven and instead frets over human concerns. He does not know enough to prize the Truth but instead, plodding along with the crowd, he allows himself to be changed by vulgar ways, and so is never content. Alas, that you fell into the slough of human hypocrisy at such an early age, and have been so late in hearing of the Great Way! "

Confucius once more bowed twice, straightened up, and said, "Now that I have succeeded in meeting you, it would seem as though Heaven has blessed me. If, Master, you would not consider it a disgrace for one like myself to enter the ranks of those who wait upon you, and to be taught by you in person, then may I be so bold as to inquire where your lodgings are? I would like to be allowed to go there, receive instruction, and at last learn the Great Way!"

The stranger replied, "I have heard it said, If it is someone you can go with, then go with him to the very end of the mysterious Way; but if it is someone you cannot go with, someone who does not understand the Way, then take care and have nothing to do with him ‑ only then may you avoid danger to yourself. Keep working at it! Now I will leave you, I will leave you." So saying, he poled away in his boat, threading a path through the reeds.

Yen Yuan brought the carriage around, Tzu‑lu held out the strap for pulling oneself up, but Confucius, without turning in their direction, waited until the ripples on the water were stilled and he could no longer hear the sound of the pole before he ventured to mount.

Tzu‑lu, following by the side of the carriage, said, "I have been permitted to serve you for a long time, Master, but I have never seen you encounter anyone who filled you with such awe. The rulers of ten thousand chariots, the lords of a thousand chariots, when they receive you, invariably seat you on the same level as themselves and treat you with the etiquette due to an equal, and still you maintain a stiff and haughty air. But now this old fisherman, pole in hand, presents himself in front of you, and you double up at the waist, as bent as a chiming‑stone,4 and bow every time you reply to his words ‑ this is going too far, isn't it? Your disciples all are wondering about it. Why should a fisherman deserve such treatment?"

Confucius leaned forward on the crossbar, sighed, and said, "You certainly are hard to change! All this time you have been immersed in the study of ritual principles and you still haven't gotten rid of your mean and servile ways of thinking. Come closer and I will explain to you. To meet an elder and fail to treat him with respect is a breach of etiquette. To see a worthy man and fail to honor him is to lack benevolence. If the fisherman were not a Perfect Man, he would not be able to make other men humble themselves before him. And if men, in humbling themselves before him, lack purity of intention, then they will never attain the Truth. As a result, they will go on forever bringing injury upon themselves. Alas! There is no greater misfortune than for a man to lack benevolence. And yet you alone dare to invite such misfortune!

"Moreover, the Way is the path by which the ten thousand things proceed. All things that lose it, die; all that get it, live. To go against it in one's undertakings is to fail; to comply with it is to succeed. Hence, wherever the Way is to be found, the sage will pay homage there. As far as the Way is concerned, this old fisherman may certainly be said to possess it. How, then, would I dare fail to show respect to him!"