Chuang Tzu. Chapter 31. Charity And Duty
To One's Neighbour*
Confucius, travelling in the Black Forest, rested awhile at Apricot
Altar. His disciples sat down to their books, and he himself played
upon the lute and sang.
Half way through the song, an old fisherman stepped out of a
boat and advanced towards them. His beard and eyebrows were snowy
white. His hair hung loose, and he flapped his long sleeves as
he walked over the foreshore. Reaching firm ground, he stood still,
and with left hand on his knee and right hand to his ear, listened.
When the song was finished, he beckoned to Tzu Kung and Tzu Lu,
both of whom went to him. Then pointing with his finger, he enquired,
saying, 'What is that man doing here?'
'He is the Sage of Lu', replied Tzu Lu.
'Of what clan?' asked the old man.
'Of the K'ung family', replied Tzu Lu.
'And what is his occupation?' said the old man.
'He devotes himself', replied Tzu Lu, 'to loyalty and truth.
He practises charity and duty towards his neighbour. He regulates
ceremonies and music. He distinguishes the relationships of man.
He is loyal to his prince above, a reformer of the masses below.
Thus he will be of great service to the whole empire. Such is
'Is he a ruler of a State?' asked the old man.
'He is not', said Tzu Kung.
'A minister?' said the old man.
'No', said Tzu Kung.
Then the old man laughed and walked away, saying, 'Charity is
charity, yet I fear he will not escape the wear of mind and tear
of body which imperil the original purity of man. How far, alas,
has he wandered from the true path!'
Tzu King went back and told Confucius, who, laying aside his
lute, arose and said, 'This man is a Sage!'
Thereupon he followed the old man down the shore, catching him
up just as he was drawing in his boat with his staff. Perceiving
Confucius, the old man turned round to receive him, at which Confucius
stepped back and prostrated himself twice before advancing.
'What do you want, Sir?' asked the fisherman.
'Just now, venerable Sir', replied Confucius, 'you left without
finishing your remarks. In my stupidity I cannot make out what
you mean. Therefore I have come in the humble hope of hearing
any words with which you may deign to help me.'
Well', said the old man, 'you are certainly anxious to learn'.
At this Confucius prostrated himself twice, and wehn he got up
said, 'Yes, I have been a student from my youth upwards until
now, the sixty-ninth year of my age. Yet I have never heard the
true doctrine, which I am now ready to receive without bias.'
'Like species follow like', answered the old man. 'Like sounds
respond to like. This is a law of nature. I will now with your
leave apply what I know to what you occupy yourself with, the
affairs of men.
'The Son of Heaven, the princes, the ministers, and the people,
if these four fulfil their proper functions the result is good
government. If they quit their proper places, the result is unutterable
confusion. When the officials mind their duties and the people
their business, neither is injured by the other.
'Barren land, leaky roofs, want of food and clothing, inability
to meet taxation, quarrels of wives and concubines, no precedence
between young and old, such are the sorrows of the people.
'Capacity unequal to one's duties, and inability to carry on
routine work, absence of clean-handedness, and carelessness among
subordinates, lack of distinction and want of preferment, such
are the sorrows of ministers.
'The Court without loyal ministers and the State in rebellion,
the artisan unskilful and the tribute unsatisfactory, the periodical
levees unattended and the Son of Heaven displeased, such are the
sorrows of the princes.
'The two great principles of nature working inharmoniously, heat
and cold coming at irregular seasons so that men and things suffer,
the princes rebellious and fighting among themselves so that the
people perish, music and ceremonies ill regulated, wealth dissipated,
the relationships of man disregarded, the masses sunk in immorality,
such are the sorrows which fall to the share of the Son of Heaven.
'But now you, Sir, occupying neither the more exalted position
of ruler nor performing the subordinate functions of minister,
neverthless take upon yourself to regulate music and ceremonies
and to distinguish the relationships of man, in order to reform
the masses. Are you not travelling out of your own sphere?
'Further, men have eight blemishes, and there are four things
which obstruct business. These should be investigated.
'Meddling with matters which do not matter to you, is prying.
'To push one's way in, regardless of neglect, is to be forward.
'To adapt one's thoughts and arrange one's words, is sycophancy.
'To applaud a person, right or wrong, is flattery.
'To love speaking evil of others, is slander.
'To sever friendships and break ties, is mischievousness.
'To praise people falsely with a view to injure them, is malice.
'To give ready assent with a view to worm out the wishes of others,
good and bad alike, is to be a hypocrite.
'These eight blemishes cause a man to throw others into confusion
and bring injury upon himself. The superior man will not have
him for a friend; the enlightened prince will not employ him as
'To love the conduct of great affairs, and to introduce change
into established order with a view to gain reputation, ‹
this is ambition.
'To strive to get all into one's own hands, and to usurp what
should be at the disposal of others, this is greed.
'To know one's faults but not to correct them, to receive admonition
but only to plunge deeper, this is obstinacy.
'To suffer those who are like oneself, but as for those unlike
not to credit them with the virtues they really possess, ‹
this is bigotry.
'Such are the four things which obstruct business. And only he
who can put aside the above eight and abstain from the above four
is fit for instruction.'
At this Confucius heaved a sigh of distress. Then having twice
prostrated himself, he arose and said, 'Twice was I driven from
Lu. I was tabooed in Wei. My tree was cut down in Sung. I was
surrounded by the Ch'ens and the Ts'ais. I know not what my fault
is that I should have suffered these four persecutions.'
'Dear me!' said the old man in a vexed tone, 'How slow of perception
'There was once a man who was so afraid of his shadow and so
disliked his own footsteps that he determined to run away from
them. But the oftener he raised his feet the more footsteps he
made, and though he ran very hard his shadow never left him. From
this he inferred that he went too slowly, and ran as hard as he
could without resting, the consequence being that his strength
broke down and he died. He was not aware that by going into the
shade he would have got rid of his shadow, and that by keeping
still he would have put an end to his footsteps. Fool that he
'Now you occupy yourself with charity and duty to one's neighbour.
You examine into the distinction of like and unlike, the changes
of motion and rest, the canons of giving and receiving, the emotions
of love and hate, and the restraint of joy and anger. Yet you
cannot avoid the calamities you speak of.
'Reverently care for your body. Carefully preserve your natural
purity. Leave externals to others. Then you will not be involved.
But as it is, instead of improving yourself you are trying to
improve other people. Surely this is dealing with the external.'
'Then may I enquire', said Confucius in a tone of distress, 'what
is the original purity?'
'Our original purity', replied the fisherman, 'is the perfection
of truth unalloyed. Without this, we cannot influence others.
Hence, those who weep to order, though they mourn, do not grieve.
Those who assume anger, though violent, do not inspire awe. Those
who affect friendship, though they smile, are not in unison.
'Real mourning grieves in silence. Real anger awes without expression.
Real friendship is unison without the aid of smiles. Our emotions
are dependent upon the original purity within; and accordingly
we hold the latter in esteem.
'If applied to human affairs, then in serving our parents we
are filial, in serving our prince we are loyal, in the banquet
hour we are merry, in the hour of mourning we are sad.
'The object of loyalty is successful service; of a banquet, mirth;
of mourning, grief; of serving parents, gratifying their wishes.
If the service is accomplished, it matters not that no trace remain.
If parents be gratified, it matters not how. If a banquet results
in mirth, the accessories are of no importance. If there be real
grief in mourning, it matters not what ceremonies may be employed.
'Ceremonial is the invention of man. Our original purity is given
to us from God. It is as it is, and cannot be changed. Wherefore
the true Sage models himself upon God, and holds his original
purity in esteem. He is independent of human exigencies. Fools,
however, reverse this. They cannot model themselves upon God,
and have to fall back on man. They do not hold original purity
in esteem. Consequently they are ever suffering the vicissitudes
of mortality, and never reaching the goal. Alas! you, Sir, were
early steeped in deceit, and are late in hearing the great doctrine.'
Confucius, having again prostrated himself twice, arose and said:
'It has been a godsend to meet you, Sir, today. Pray allow me
to follow you as your servant, that I may benefit by your teaching.
I venture to ask where you live that I may enter upon my duties
and learn the great doctrine.'
'I have heard', replied the old man, 'that if a man is a fit
companion, one may travel with him into the uttermost depths of
Tao. But if he is not a fit companion, and does not know Tao,
one must avoid his company, that no harm may befall. Excuse me,
I must leave you.' Thereupon he pushed off his boat, and disappeared
among the reeds.
'Yen Yüan then brought up the chariot, and Tzu Lu offered
the hand-cord to Confucius. But the latter paid no attention.
He waited until the ripples on the water had smoothed down and
the sound of the punt-pole had died away, before he ventured to
Tzu Lu, who was at the side of the chariot, enquired saying,
'Master, I have been in your service now for a long time, yet
never did I see you treat any man like this. In the presence of
a ruler of ten thousand or a thousand chariots, I have never seen
you treated other than with great respect, while you yourself
would wear a haughty air. Yet before this old fisherman, leaning
on his punt-pole, you cringe and bow and prostrate yourself twice
before answering. Is not this too much? The disciples do not know
what to make of it. Why this behaviour to an old fisherman?'
'Yu!' cried Confucius, resting on the bar of the chariot, 'it
is difficult to make anything of you. You have long studied ceremonies
and duty to your neighbour, yet you have not succeeded in getting
rid of the old evil nature. Come here, and I will tell you.
'To meet an elder without respect is want of ceremony. To see
a Sage and not to honour him, is not to be in charity with man.
Unless you are in charity with man, you cannot humble yourself
before a fellow-creature. And unless you can honestly do this,
you can never attain to that state of original purity; but the
body will constantly suffer. Alas! there is no greater evil than
not to be in charity with man. Yet in such a plight, O Yu, are
'Further. Tao is the source of all creation. Men have it, and
live. They lose it, and die. Affairs in antagonism thereto, fail;
in accordance therewith, succeed. Therefore, wherever Tao abides,
there is the reverence of the true Sage. And as this old fisherman
may be said to possess Tao, could I venture not to respect him?'
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Translated from the Chinese by Herbert A. Giles. First edition,
1889; second edition, 1923.