Youzi said, “When it comes to ritual, harmony is key. This is what made the Way of the great kings of old so elegant, and it applies in all matters—great and small. But if you just try to achieve harmony for its own sake without following ritual, it won’t work.”
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, “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.”
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.”
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.”
Confucius said of the Jisun family, “They have eight rows of dancers in their courtyard! If they’re capable of this, what are not they not capable of?”
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?”
Confucius said, “If a person lacks humaneness, what can their ritual be like? If a person lacks humaneness, what can their music be like?”
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.”
The head of the Jisun family made a kingly sacrifice at Mt. Jai.
Confucius asked Ran Qiu, “Couldn’t you stop this?”
Ran Qiu replied, “I couldn’t.”
Confucius said, “What, then, does Mt. Tai know less about ritual than Lin Fang?”
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.”
Confucius said, “As for the king’s ceremonial sacrifice, I don’t want to hang around after they pour the libation.”
Someone asked Confucius to explain the king’s ceremonial sacrifice.
Confucius said, “I don’t know. A person who did know could handle the world as if they had it right here,” and he pointed to the palm of his hand.
“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.”
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.”
Zigong wanted to stop sacrificing a sheep at the Declaration of the New Moon Ceremony.
Confucius said, “Zigong, you love the sheep. I love the ritual.”
Confucius said, “If you observe every detail of propriety when serving your leader, people will say you’re a kiss-ass.”
Duke Ding asked how a leader should employ ministers, and how ministers should serve their leader.
Confucius said, “The leader should employ ministers according to ritual. The ministers should serve their leader with dutifulness and loyalty.”
Duke Ai asked Zai Wo about the altar to the soil.
Zai Wo answered, “The Xia used pine and the Shang used cypress. But the Zhou, they say, used chestnut in order to instill the people with fear.”
After hearing about this, Confucius said, “Don’t try to explain what is already over and done with. Don’t try to criticize what’s already past. Don’t try to assign blame after something is past.”
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 said, “To lack tolerance when holding high office, to lack respect but perform ritual, to attend a funeral but not mourn–how could I stand to look at someone like that?”
Confucius said, “If you can lead with ritual and deference, what else do you need? If you can’t lead with ritual and deference, what good will ritual do you?”
Zigong asked, “What do you think of me?”
Confucius replied, “You are a vessel.”
Zigong asked, “What kind of vessel?”
Confucius replied, “One of the ancient sorts of vessels that held grain offerings in the ancestral temples.”
Confucius said, “A misshapen wine glass is not a wine glass. How could it be a wine glass? How could it be a wine glass?”
Confucius said, “The noble person who studies broadly in culture and restrains themselves through ritual won’t jump the track.”
Confucius always used the correct pronunciation when reciting from The Book of Odes, or The Book of Documents and when conducting rituals. On all these occasions, he used the classical pronunciation.
The Minister of Justice in Chen asked Confucius, “Did the Duke of Zhou know the rules of ritual?”
Confucius replied, “He did.”
After Confucius left, the minister bowed to his prince, Wuma Qi, and told him, “I have heard that a noble person is not biased, but maybe some are.
“The Duke of Zhou married a woman with the same clan, and justified it by saying that she came from ‘the Elder Family of Wu.’ If the Duke of Zhou knew the rules of ritual, then who doesn’t know them?”
Later, Wuma Qi told this to Confucius.
Confucius replied, “I’m a lucky man! When I make a mistake, other people always find out.”
Confucius said, “Without ritual, being respectful becomes tiresome, caution becomes timidness, courage becomes recklessness, and straightforwardness becomes rudeness.
“When a person with a high office is generous to family and kin, the common people will be inspired to be humane. If old friends and acquaintances are not forgotten, the common people will honor their obligations, too.”
When Zengzi became ill, Meng Jingzi visited him.
Zengzi said, “When a bird is about to die, its song is melancholy. When a man is about to die, his words are excellent.
“There are three things a noble person should value in the Way. In conduct and bearing, avoiding violence and arrogance. In facial expression, welcoming trustworthiness. In words and tone of voice, avoiding coarseness and vulgarity. As to the sacrificial vessels, there are professionals to deal with those matters.”
Confucius said, “Arise with the Odes, take your stand with ritual, and come to perfection with music.”
Confucius said, “The linen cap is prescribed by the rites, but these days they use a silk cap. That’s thrifty—I’ll go with the consensus on that.
“Bowing at the bottom of the stairs is prescribed by the rites, but these days they bow at the top of the stairs. That’s arrogant—I’ll go against the consensus on that and bow at the bottom of the stairs.”
With a deep sigh, Yan Hui said, “The more I look up at it, the higher it gets. The more I drill into it, the harder it gets. I catch a glimpse of it in front of me, and all of a sudden, it’s behind me.
“My teacher is skilled at leading me forward, one step at a time. He broadens me with culture and restrains me with ritual. I couldn’t quit, even if I wanted to, but it still towers over me. I want to get there, but I can’t find a route up.”
In his own neighborhood, Confucius was agreeable and modest, seeming to be at a loss for words. When he was in the ancestral temples or at court, however, he was eloquent, though always cautious.
When the ruler summoned Confucius to welcome a guest, his face would be solemn and his pace brisk. When he bowed to those around him, extending his cupped hands to the right and to the left, his robes swayed, perfectly arrayed, front and back. Stepping forward with them, he glided like a bird.
When the guests had departed, he would report back to the ruler, “Our guest no longer looks back.”
When passing through the door of his ruler, he would draw himself in, as if the gate wasn’t large enough to accommodate him. He wouldn’t stand in the middle of the gate or step on the threshold. When he passed by the throne, his expression became serious, his steps, short and deliberate. His voice dropped to a whisper, as if he could barely get the words out.
When he lifted the hem of his robe to climb the steps, he again drew himself in, holding his breath as if he’d stopped breathing altogether. On leaving the ruler’s place, after he had gone back down the first step, his expression became relaxed. After reaching the bottom of the stairs, he’d glide back to his position like a bird and resume a reverent attitude.
When Confucius carried the jade tablet of his ruler, he drew himself in as if he couldn’t bear the weight. When he held it high, it was as if he was bowing to someone. When he held it low, it was as if he was offering it to someone. His expression was serious and concerned. His steps were short and controlled, as if his feet never left the ground.
During the presentation ritual, his expression was relaxed. In a private meeting, he was even more at ease.
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.
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.
Confucius wouldn’t sit down on a mat unless it was straight.
When the villagers performed the year-end ritual to drive away the spirits of disease and pestilence, Confucius would put on his full court regalia stand on the eastern steps.
When he asked about the well-being of a friend in another state, Confucius would bow twice before sending the messenger away.
Ji Kangzi sent Confucius some medicine as a present. He accepted it graciously, but told the messenger, “Since I don’t know anything about this medicine, I don’t dare take it.”
When Confucius was sick and his ruler came to visit him, he had himself laid out facing east, with his court rapes draped over him, and his sash laid out across the bed.
When Confucius was in the Great Ancestral Temple, he’d ask questions about everything.
When a friend would send him a gift—even something as lavish as a horse and carriage—he would not bow in acknowledgement unless it was sacrificial meat.
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.
Confucius said, “The first students to join me in learning about ritual and music were commoners. The noblemen joined in the learning later. If I were appointing officials, I would choose from among the former.”