Gems of Chinese Literature/Lieh Tzŭ-Why Confucius was Sad
Confucius was one day sitting at leisure, when Tzŭ Kung went in to attend upon him. The disciple noticed that his master wore a sorrowful air; but not venturing to ask the reason, went out and told Yen Hui. Thereupon Yen Hui seized his guitar and began to sing; at which Confucius called him in and said, “Hui, why are you alone glad?” “Master,” retorted Hui, “why are you alone sorrowful?” “First answer my question,” said Confucius. “I once heard you declare,” explained Yen Hui, “that he who was contented with his lot and prepared for the appointments of destiny, could not be sorrowful. Accordingly, I am glad.”
The master's expression for a moment changed. Then he answered, saying, “I did use those words. But you are misapplying them here. Such utterances are of the past. Rather adopt those which I deliver now. Alas! you know only the superficial principle that he who is contented with his lot and prepared for the appointments of destiny cannot be sorrowful. You do not perceive the deeper sorrow entailed by this very absence of sorrow. I will tell you all.
“You cultivate yourself. You accept success or failure as they may come. You see that life and death are independent of your efforts. You maintain your moral and mental equilibrium. And you consider that under such conditions of contentment and preparedness you are without sorrow.
“Now, I edited the Odes and the Book of History. I defined the functions of Music and Ceremonial. I did this in order to benefit the whole earth, and to be a guide for posterity. I did not do it merely for my own personal advantage, nor for that of my own individual State. But now, even in my own State, the obligations between prince and subject are forgotten; charity and duty to one's neighbour are passing away; and right feeling is all but gone. If then the truth cannot prevail for a brief space in a single State, how is it likely to prevail over the whole earth through all generations to come? I know now that all I have achieved is in vain; and I am utterly at a loss to discover the true remedy. Therefore I am sad.”