以後走到陳國和蔡國之間，在那個地方就絕糧了，沒有人供養了。絕糧，就是糧食斷了，那時候，不是像現在說有糧荒，本來很多糧食的。他也沒有帶著糧食，到那個地方也沒有錢了，買也買不著了。陳國和蔡國都抵制他，說：「我們不歡迎你！」就在陳、蔡中間這個地方，就絕糧了。沒有東西吃，餓一天、兩天、三天，把孔老夫子也餓得病莫能行了──餓得有病了，餓得就Very weak (很衰弱)，不能站得起來了。
In China, Confucius is revered as a sage and the teaching host of Confucianism. Although he was a sage, he underwent many sufferings and difficulties during his lifetime. He set up a learning center at the Apricot Pavilion in Shandong to teach his students. How many disciples did he have? There were more than three thousand but only about a hundred were regular students. For instance, a disciple might depart for Shanxi one day, while another might set off for Hunan the next day. In all, there were more than a hundred disciples who constantly accompanied the Master, following him wherever he went. Shakyamuni Buddha had 1,250 constant followers, whereas Confucius had 125 constant followers, approximately one-tenth the number of Shakyamuni Buddha’s disciples. No matter which state he visited, he would receive offerings and his entourage of more than a hundred people were well provided for.
During the time when he traveled to various states in the late Zhou dynasty, Confucius brought along his group of disciples, lecturing and expounding his political aims and aspirations. He hoped to meet with a duke who would appreciate his talents and offer him a high official post, but wherever he went the situation was just like the present day. People are unwilling to listen when you talk about the true principles, but will be delighted if you tell them what is false. As Confucius expounded nothing but true principles wherever he went, nobody was pleased. However, they put on a front by exalting him: “Good! Splendid! The Minister of Justice from Lu has arrived at our state.” They flattered him but stopped short of engaging his services. In other words, they were implying: “We respect you, but have no use for you. Why? You are far too serious. By employing you, we will not be able to do anything improper. That won’t do.” As a result, his talents were not made use of.
Once, when Confucius and his disciples were at the border between the State of Chen and the State of Cai, they ran out of provisions and nobody came to make offerings to them. Their attempts to seek food offerings also came to naught. Originally, at that time, food supplies were abundant, unlike nowadays when we often hear of famine. With their provisions depleted, they also found themselves penniless when they reached the border. Thus there was no way for them to obtain food. Both the states of Chen and Cai rejected him, saying: “You are not welcome here!” It was at the boundary between these two states that Confucius and his party ran out of provisions and went hungry. After starving for three days, they could bear it no longer. The Master became ill and was so weakened that he could not even stand up, much less travel.
At this point, Confucius conferred with his disciples as to their next course of action. One of them said, “Fan Dan has grain.” Who was Fan Dan? He was a mendicant who had a bamboo tube for storing the rice that he collected during his begging rounds. This bamboo tube was a treasure for it could store thousands of bushels of grain and yet could not be filled up. Therefore, the person who knew this suggested, “Since Fan Dan has grain, we’ll go and borrow some from him.” Confucius then asked, “Whom should we send to borrow the grain? All the disciples are so famished and weak, they can hardly walk. Even if it is just to borrow grain, at least one person has to go and do it.” Thereupon, Zi Lu got up and volunteered to go, saying, “I am not sick. Having starved for a few days doesn’t matter to me.” He was very courageous indeed. At this, Confucius replied, “Alright! You shall go.”
Arriving at Fan Dan’s place, Zi Lu called out, “Hey, Big Brother Fan! I am Zi Lu, a disciple of Elder Master Kong. I have come to borrow some rice from you for we have run out of food at the border of Chen and Cai. As we know that you have rice, we would like to borrow some from you.” Fan Dan said, “I may lend you some rice. However, there are some questions that I would like you to answer. If you answer correctly, the rice is yours. But if you can’t answer them, then you may not have any.” Zi Lu agreed, “Fair enough! I can surely give you an appropriate answer.” Fan Dan said, “Alright, here are the questions: In this world, what is many and what is few? What brings happiness and what causes vexation?”
Without hesitation, Zi Lu replied, “I can answer that. In this world, the stars in the sky are many while moons are few. Since there is only one moon, that is definitely few. Marriages are happy occasions while deaths are vexing events.” He spoke with great confidence for he was certain that his answers accorded with principle and were correct. Fan Dan disagreed, “No! No! Your answers are wrong.” Zi Lu protested, “These are the most perfect answers. How can you say that they are incorrect? Beggar, you are simply unreasonable!” Regardless of whether Fan Dan was reasonable or not, Zi Lu was at his wits’ end for he could not possibly take the rice by force. Feeling at a loss, he returned to consult with the Master.
Confucius inquired, “Well, have you borrowed any rice?”
Zi Lu replied, “That old beggar was very unreasonable.”
“He had some questions that he wanted me to answer. It was obvious that I had answered them correctly, yet he said that my answers were wrong. I think he just doesn’t want to lend us any rice, that’s all.”
“Tell me, what were his questions?”
“He asked me: In this world, what is many and what is few? What brings happiness and what causes vexation?”
“How did you answer him?”
I said: “Stars are many while moons are few; marriages are happy occasions while deaths are vexing events. This is absolutely correct and is in line with principle. There are no other answers that are more perfect than these.”
“Your answers were wrong.”
Zi Lu originally thought that he was right and was very sure of himself, but now Confucius also concurred that he was wrong. As the latter was his teacher, he did not dare to disagree with him but merely asked, “Then, what should it be?” The Master instructed, “Go back to Fan Dan and tell him this: In this world, immoral people are many while men of virtue are few. Borrowing is happy but being approached by a borrower is vexing. One is very happy when one borrows things or money from others, but one is vexed when others approach one to borrow money.” Later, when Zi Lu repeated this to Fan Dan, he nodded in approval, saying, “Your teacher’s learning ultimately surpasses yours. You just could not think of it; whereas your teacher has given the best answers.” He then lent him the rice.
After Zi Lu’s return, Confucius and his disciples subsisted on plain rice for a few days without any other food. One day, after everyone had had his meal, a black-faced general appeared. Tall and burly, he burst into their courtyard with a spear in his hand, wanting to kill people. At this juncture, Zi Lu, who was feeling more courageous after eating his fill, grabbed a red-tasseled spear and charged outside to meet his foe. Zi Lu was a very strong person but his strength was no match for his opponent’s and he just could not gain an upper hand. Confucius, who was standing at the doorway watching the duel, shouted to Zi Lu: “You! Pierce his throat!” Zi Lu’s name was Zhong You. Confucius called out to him to pierce his opponent’s throat with his spear. What was the reason? It was because the Master noticed that the burly person’s throat was exposed. At once, Zi Lu understood and with a single thrust pierced his spear right through his opponent’s throat. What do you think happened next? It turned out that the burly person was not a human being but a big fish. It was so huge and long that it occupied the entire courtyard. Confucius and his hundred or so disciples cooked the fish for their meals and therefore did not starve to death. What was Zi Lu’s strong point? If anyone pointed out his errors and shortcomings, he would be elated. If you were to tell him: “Zi Lu, you have made a mistake here”, he would be absolutely delighted. Hence, he was one of Confucius’ best disciples.
After returning to the State of Lu, Confucius devoted himself to teaching his disciples. In the meantime, he also abridged the
Book of Songs and the Book of History, and edited the
Book of Rites and the Book of Music. In ancient times, there were many poems, not merely three hundred. The three hundred poems in the
Book of Songs were selected by Confucius. Hence it is said:
“These three hundred pieces, in a nutshell, can be called proper thinking.” The selected poems compiled in this anthology have much educational value. He also deleted the errors found in the
Book of History and edited the Book of Rites and the
Book of Music. Confucius praised The Zhou Book of Changes and wrote an Introduction for it. He authored
The Spring and Autumn Annals, which contained evaluation that distinguished between good and evil and served as an admonishment to treacherous officials and traitors. Finally, Confucius saw a kylin1 that had been caught and killed by a hunter. Recognizing it from the red floss thread that his mother had tied around its neck, he lamented:
During the reigns of the Kings Tang and Yu,
Kylins and phoenixes roamed freely.
But the present is unlike the past;
So what is it that you have come to seek?
Kylin! O, Kylin!
My heart is full of sorrow.
After saying these few lines, he never wrote any books again. He lived to the age of seventy-three. This is a brief account of Confucius’ life.
1. a fabulous animal resembling a deer said to appear only in time of peace and prosperity.
To be continued