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.”
Food and Drink
Confucius said, “Guan Zhong was a small vessel.”
Someone asked, “So, you mean he was frugal?”
Confucius replied, “He had three different residences and kept a separate member of staff to perform each duty. You call that frugal?”
“So, then, do you mean that Guan Zhong understood ritual?”
Confucius replied, “The princes kept a ritual screen in front of their gates–and so did Guan Zhong. The princes, when entertaining other heads of state, had a bar to hold their drinks–and so did Guan Zhong. If Guan Zhong understands ritual, who doesn’t?”
Confucius was cautious about fasting, war, and sickness.
Confucius said, “To eat only coarse rice and drink only water, with nothing but my bent arm for a pillow—I could find joy in that. Wealth and fame gained in the wrong way mean as much to me as the floating clouds.”
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 said, “I can’t find fault with Yu. He lived on the simplest food and drink, but he showed his filial devotion with lavish offerings to the spirits. He wore shabby clothes in his daily life, but his ceremonial robes and caps were elegant. He lived in a humble home, but he exhausted his strength building irrigation canals to water the fields. I can’t find fault with Yu.”
Confucius said, “When out in the world, serving the rulers and ministers. When at home, serving my elders. Not slacking off during funerary rites and not getting drunk. These things aren’t a problem for me.”
When Confucius fasted, he always wore a clean, plain linen robe. When he fasted, he always changed his diet and his usual seat at home.
Confucius did not demand that his rice be finely-polished or that his meat be finely cut. He didn’t eat rice that had gone sour, spoiled meat or fish, food with a bad color or odor, or food that was overcooked. He didn’t eat food that was not cooked properly, and he didn’t eat outside of mealtimes.
He wouldn’t eat food that was improperly seasoned or prepared with the wrong sauce. Even when there was a lot of meat, he wouldn’t eat more meat than rice.
He didn’t limit his wine, though he never got drunk. He didn’t drink store-bought wine or eat store-bought dried meats. He would leave ginger on the table for after the meal, but he didn’t overdo it.
After he assisted at a public sacrifice, he wouldn’t let his portion of the sacrificial meat sit overnight. When sacrificing at home, he wouldn’t let the meat sit for more than three days. If it did, he wouldn’t eat it.
Even if Confucius was just having a simple meal of coarse grains and vegetable broth, he’d always set some aside for sacrifice, and he did so with reverence.
When drinking with the people in his village, he would leave only after the elderly left.
When the ruler sent him a gift of cooked food, Confucius would always taste it right away, after straightening his mat. If the ruler sent uncooked meat, he would always cook it and offer some as a sacrifice. If the ruler presented him with a live animal, he would always raise it. When attending a meal with the ruler, after the ruler made the sacrifice, Confucius would eat first.
When Confucius saw a person wearing clothes of mourning, even if it was someone he saw every day, his face would express grief. When he saw someone wearing a court cap or a blind person, even if it was someone he saw every day, he would become solemn.
If Confucius was riding in his carriage and he came across someone in mourning, or someone carrying official documents, he would bow down and grasp the crossbar.
If he was served a rare delicacy at a banquet, he would rise and express his appreciation.
He would also change his expression at the clap of thunder or a strong gust of wind.
Zigong asked Confucius about government.
Confucius replied, “Enough food, enough weapons, and the confidence of the people in their ruler.”
Zigong then asked, “But suppose you have to give up one of these three. Which would you give up first?
Confucius replied, “Weapons.”
Zigong said “And what if you had to give up one of the remaining two?”
Confucius replied, “Food. Death has been with us since ancient times, but if the people lose confidence in their ruler, the community cannot stand.”
Confucius said, “I once spent a whole day without eating and whole night without sleeping in order to think. Useless! Study would have been better.”
Confucius said, “There are three kinds of pleasure that will help you and three kinds of pleasure that will harm you. The enjoyment of cultivation in music and ritual, speaking well of others’ good points, and being surrounded by friends of good character—these will help you. The enjoyment of self-importance, loafing, and going overboard in feasting—these will harm you.”
Zai Wo questioned Confucius about the traditional three-year mourning period.
“One year is already too long. If a noble person gives up ritual for three years, the ritual will decay. If a noble person gives up music for three years, then music will fall apart. In the course of a year, as the old crop is eaten up, new crops grow for harvest. Four types of firewood—one for each season—have been used for kindling. A full year of mourning is quite enough.”
Confucius asked, “Would you be comfortable eating white rice and wearing silk after a year?”
“I would,” replied Zai Wo.
Confucius said, “If you’d feel comfortable, go right ahead then. When a noble person mourns, fine foods are not sweet, music brings no joy, and luxurious clothes bring no comfort, even around the house. These things don’t bring pleasure, so the noble person doesn’t indulge in them. But if you’d feel comfortable doing these things, go right ahead.”
After Zai Wo left, Confucius said, “He lacks humaneness. Children don’t leave their parents arms for three years after they’re born, so three years’ mourning is the custom throughout the world. Didn’t Zai Wo even have three years of love from his parents?”
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.”