Confucius said, “Isn’t it satisfying to learn and apply what you’ve learned? Isn’t it great when friends come from afar? If I’m not bothered that people don’t recognize me, isn’t that the mark of a noble person?”


Confucius said, “To govern an important state, take care of business, keep your word, and watch your spending. Care for the people and only employ them at the right times.”


Confucius said, “A young person should be filial to parents inside the home and respectful of elders outside the home. Conscientious and trustworthy, cherishing everyone, but with a special affection for the humane. If you have any energy left over, use it to study the cultural arts.”


Confucius said, “While you father is alive, observe his intentions. After he’s passed away, reflect on his actions. If you hold back from changing your father’s ways for three years, you can be called filial.”


Confucius said, “A noble person isn’t motivated by the desire for a full belly or a comfortable house. A noble person gets things done and is careful with words, sticking close to those who know the Way, being improved by them. We could say that this is the kind of person who loves learning.”


Zigong asked, “To be a poor person who doesn’t grovel or a rich person who isn’t arrogant. What do you think of that?”

Confucius replied, “Not bad, not bad. But not as good as being poor and enjoying the Way or being rich and loving ritual.”

Zigong said, “The Book of Odes says,

Like cutting and filing,

like grinding and polishing.

Is that what you mean?”

Confucius said, “Ah Zigong, you’re the kind of person I can talk about The Book of Odes with. I give you a little and you come back with the rest!”


Confucius said, “To lead with the power of moral influence is like being the North Star. It stays in its place and all the other stars arrange themselves around it.”


Confucius said, “If you lead with regulations and keep people in line with punishments, they’ll stay out of trouble, but they’ll have no sense of shame. If you lead by setting a good example, however, and keep people in line with ritual, they will develop their own sense of shame and lead themselves.”


Confucius said, “At fifteen, I set my heart on learning. At thirty, I took my stand. At forty, I was without confusion. At fifty, I understood the commands of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was attuned to what I heard. At seventy, I can follow my heart’s desire without stepping over the line.”


Meng Yizi asked about filiality.

Confucius said, “Don’t diverge from them.”

Later, as Fan Chi was driving Confucius’ chariot, Confucius told him, “Meng Yizi asked me about filiality and I told him, ‘Don’t diverge from them.’”

Fan Chi asked, “What did you mean by that?”

Confucius said, “While your parents are alive, serve them according to ritual. When they die, bury them according to ritual. After they are gone, venerate them according to ritual.”


Ziyou asked about filiality.

Confucius said, “These days, people think just feeding their parents is filiality. But people feed horses and dogs, too. Without respect, what’s the difference?”


Zixia asked about filiality.

Confucius said, “The tough part is having the right demeanor. The young should take on the harder physical tasks and defer to their elders when food and wine is passed around, of course, but filiality is more than that.”


Confucius said, “I can talk with Yan Hui all day and not once does he question or contradict me. It’s like he’s stupid. But after he walks away and I see how he conducts himself, it’s clear that there’s nothing stupid about him!”


Zigong asked about the character of a noble person.

Confucius said, “A noble person acts first and then lets their words follow their actions.”


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.”


Zizhang asked about getting an official position.

Confucius said, “Listen as much as you can, put aside what’s doubtful, and speak cautiously about the rest. This will lead to few errors. Observe as much as you can, put aside what’s dangerous, and be careful in acting on the rest. This will lead to few regrets.

Few errors in speech and few regrets in action—that’s the key to earning an official position.”


Duke Ai asked, “How can I get the people to follow me?”

Confucius replied, “If you raise up the straight and apply them to the crooked, the people will follow you. If you raise up the crooked and apply them to the straight, though, they won’t.”


Someone asked Confucius, “Why aren’t you involved in government?”

Confucius replied, “The Book of History says,

‘Filial! Just be filial!

And a friend to brothers, young and old.

This has influence on government.’

“Since this is taking part in government, why do I need to be ‘involved in government?’”


Confucius said, “A person who can’t be trusted, I don’t see how they get anywhere. When the linchpin is missing from the yoke-bar of a large wagon or the collar-bar of a small wagon—how can you drive them anywhere?”


Zizhang asked, “Can we know what things will be like ten generations from now?”

Confucius said, “The Yin Dynasty followed the ritual of the Xia Dynasty, and what they added and subtracted from that can be known. The Zhou Dynasty followed the ritual of the Yin Dynasty, and what they added and subtracted from that can be known.

“In just this Way, what follows after the Zhou Dynasty—even to a hundred generations from now—can also be known.”


The Three Families had the King’s ode performed at the closing of their ceremonies, as the ritual utensils were being gathered up.

Confucius quoted the Ode,

 ‘Served by lords and princes,

The King, solemn and majestic.’

He added, “What could this possibly have to do with the ancestral hall of the Three Families?”


Lin Fang asked about the roots of ritual.

Confucius said, “Good question! In ritual, it’s better to error on the side of modesty than showy extravagance. In mourning, it’s better to error on the side of real grief than to fuss over all the formal details.”


Confucius said, “A noble person is not competitive, but they do take part in the archery contest. They ascend to their positions, bowing and deferring to each other. After descending, they offer toasts to each other. This is how noble people compete.”


Zixia asked about the meaning of this passage from The Book of Odes:

‘Her alluring smile, with dimples,

The lovely eyes, expressive and clear

The color emerges bright and distinct from the white’

Confucius said, “The painting of color is done on a plain background.”

Zixia said, “Then, does ritual come after?”

Confucius replied, “Zixia lifts me up! Finally, someone to discuss The Book of Odes with!”


Confucius said, “I can speak of the rituals of the Xia Dynasty, but there’s little left in the state of Qii to document them. I can speak of the rituals of the Shang Dynasty, too, but there’s little left in the state of Song to document them.

“There’s not much in the way of documentation or worthy scholars in those states. If there were, I could back up my words with evidence.”


“Sacrificing as if present” means to sacrifice to the spirits as though they are present.

Confucius said, “If I am not fully present at the sacrifice, it’s as if I didn’t sacrifice at all.”


Wangsun Jia asked, “What is the meaning of the old saying, ‘It’s better to sacrifice to the spirit of the kitchen stove than the spirit of the southwest corner?’”

Confucius said, “It’s not so! If you offend Heaven, there’s no one you can pray to.”


When Confucius entered the Great Ancestral Temple, he asked questions about everything. Seeing this, someone said, “Who ever said this son of a guy from Zou understands ritual? He comes into the Great Ancestral Temple and asks questions about everything!”

When Confucius head about this, he said, “Asking questions is the ritual.”