Duke Ling of Wei asked Confucius about military tactics.

Confucius responded, “I know something about how to handle ritual vessels, but I never studied how to handle troops.”

The next day, he left Wei.


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 asked, “Zigong, do you think I’m the kind of person who learns lots of different things and remembers them all?”

Zigong replied, “Yes, of course. Don’t you?”

Confucius said, “No. I thread them all together on a single string.”


Zizhang asked Confucius about correct conduct.

Confucius replied, “If you do your very best to make good on your word, and you act with integrity and respect, your conduct will be effective, even among barbarians. If you don’t follow through on your word, though, and you don’t act with integrity and respect, you’ll have trouble, even in your own hometown.

“When you stand, see these words in front of you. When you ride in a carriage, see them resting on the crossbar. Only then will you make progress.”

Zizhang wrote these words on his sash.


Confucius said, “How straight Shi Yu was! When the Way prevailed in the state, he was straight as an arrow. When the Way didn’t prevail in the state, he was still straight as an arrow.

“And Qu Boyu was noble. When the Way prevailed in the state, he served. When the Way didn’t prevail in the state, he could roll it up and hide it away.”


Confucius said, “If you fail to teach a person who is capable of learning, you waste the person. If you try to teach someone who is not capable of learning, you waste your teaching. A wise person doesn’t waste people or teaching.”


Zigong asked Confucius about humaneness.

Confucius replied, “The craftsman who wants to do his work well sharpens his tools first. When you live in a state, serve its most worthy officials and make friends with its humane scholar-officials.”


Zigong asked, “Is there a single principle that can guide our actions throughout life?”

Confucius replied, “Wouldn’t that be reciprocity? Don’t impose on others what you wouldn’t want them to impose on you.”


Confucius said, “In my dealings, who do I praise and who do I blame? If I do praise someone, you can be sure that I’ve tested them. The common people of today are made of the same stuff as those who kept the Three Dynasties on the right path.”


Confucius said, “I can remember a time when scribes would leave a gap when they were unsure about a word and horse owners would lend their horses out to an expert to be assessed. This doesn’t happen anymore.”


Confucius said, “Your knowledge might be sufficient, but if you don’t have the humaneness to guard it, you will lose what you gained.

“If your knowledge is sufficient and you have the humaneness to guard it, it won’t be respected by the people if you don’t exercise it with dignity.

“If your knowledge is sufficient, and you have the humaneness to guard it, and you exercise it with dignity, but you take action that’s not in line with ritual—that’s still not good enough.”


Confucius said, “The noble person’s ability can’t be seen in how they handle small matters, but they can be entrusted with great ones. A small person can’t be entrusted with great matters, but they can be entrusted with small ones.”


Confucius said, “Humaneness is more essential to the people than water and fire. I’ve seen people die from walking through water or fire, but I’ve never seen anyone die from walking the path of humaneness.”


The Music Master Mian came for a visit. As he came to the stairs, Confucius said, “Here are the steps.” When they came to the mats, Confucius said, “Here is the mat.” When everyone was seated, Confucius said, “So-and-so is here, and so-and-so is over there.”

After Mian had left, Zizhang asked, “Is this the way of speaking to a music master.”

Confucius replied, “Yes, indeed. This is the way of speaking to a music master.”