Confucius Teaches About Trying to Change Tyrants - LKL 🐉

Yan Hui went to see Confucius and asked for permission to travel.

Confucius asked him, “Where are you going?”

“To the state of Wey.”

“What will you do there?”

“I have heard that the lord of Wey is in the prime of youth and his behavior is impetuous. He is quick to send his armies off to war and fails to see his faults. He regards it as a light matter that his people should die; corpses fill the marshlands like dried reeds and there is nothing his people can do. I have heard it from you, Master: ‘Depart the well ordered state and go to the state in disarray. The gate of the doctor is filled with the ill.’ I wish to put into practice the teachings I have learned, and so, perhaps effect some healing in Wey?”

“Ach!” said Confucius. “You’re just going to get yourself executed. What you don’t want in a Dao is some assortment of teachings. An assortment is just a profusion of notions, and if you follow a profusion of notions you’ll lose control of them. When you lose control you’ll be governed by anxiety, and once that happens you’re be beyond help. In the old days the Perfect Person cultivated the way within himself before he tried to cultivate it in others. When you haven’t yet settled what’s within you yourself, what leisure have you to concern yourself with the conduct of a tyrant? “Do you know what staggers virtue and what intellect comes from? Virtue is staggered by fame and intellect arises from strife. People crush one another with fame and wisdom is a weapon of struggle. These are two tools of ill omen, they are not tools for success. Though your virtue may be deep and your good faith unshakable, you’ve yet to grasp the nature of men’s qi. You are known as a man who does not contend with others, but you’ve yet to grasp the nature of men’s minds. If you appear before a tyrant stubbornly peddling the standards of ren and righteousness, you’ll simply be using his faults to show off your own superiority. Such a person is called a disaster to others, and others will surely bring disaster to him in return. It seems to me you’re heading this way.

“And then again, if it actually turns out that he is one who can be pleased by worthy men such as you and who detests the unworthy, then what need is there for you to seek to change him? “You had best not undertake to remonstrate at all. You see, ruling lords seize the advantage they have over men to attack any lapse in argument and prevail. Your sight will become dazzled, the blood will drain from your face, you’ll begin to babble in your defense, your bearing will become more and more submissive, and then you’ll find yourself agreeing with him. This is like fighting fire with fire or pouring water on a flood; it is called ‘adding to excess,’ and once you start to give in to it, there will be no stopping. On the other hand, if you were to put yourself in danger by repeating the earnest advice that he refuses to accept, such a tyrant would simply have you cut down in front of his eyes.”

Confucius continued, “In times past, Jie, the king of the Xia, put Guan Longfeng to death and the Shang king Zhòu put Prince Bi Gan to death. Both Guan Longfeng and Prince Bi Gan cultivated in themselves the ability to be humble in bringing comfort to the people below them, while challenging the rulers above them. Their rulers trapped them by exploiting the very virtues they had cultivated – it was all because those men valued their reputations. Again, in times past Emperor Yao attacked Cong, Zhi, and Xu’ao, and Emperor Yu attacked Youhu. In the territories of these chiefs their cities were left in ruins, their people slaughtered, and they themselves were punished with death. For these men, the cause was their ceaseless warfare and insatiable search for gain. These are examples of both men who sought good reputation and men who sought gain – are you the only one who hasn’t heard about them? Even sages can’t overcome the pursuit of reputation and gain, much less a person like you!”

“However, you must have some plan in mind. Why don’t you tell me what it is?”

Yan Hui said, “If I remain formal and unperturbed, steadfast and focused, will that work?”

“What!” said Confucius. “How could that work? This is a man whose power fills his bearing, and because his temper is completely unpredictable, no one ventures to cross him. So you will seek to anticipate his responses and accommodate his dispositions. You’ll say this is using ‘virtue enough to lead him forward each day.’ But that won’t work – much less great virtue. He will hold to his habits and resist change. Though outwardly he may seem agreeable, inwardly he’ll accept nothing. How could that work?”

“All right,” said Yan Hui. “But what if I am inwardly upright, outwardly accommodating, and tie my speech to the lessons of the past?”

“Inwardly upright – such a one is a disciple of Heaven. He understands that the Son of Heaven and he are alike in being sons of Heaven. What concern would such a person have whether his requests will meet with approval or not? Though people may dismiss me as a naive child, this is merely to say that I am a disciple of Heaven.”

“Outwardly compliant – such a one is a disciple of man. Kneeling to raise one’s tablet of credentials, bowing with hands clasped – such are the ritual li of the minister. Everyone performs them, how could I fail to? If I do what other people do they certainly have no basis to criticize me. This is to be a disciple of men.”

“Tying speech to the lessons of the past – this is to be a disciple of antiquity. Though my words may in effect be admonitions and reproaches, they belong to antiquity, not to me. In this way, though straightforward I cannot be faulted. That is to be a disciple of antiquity. “If I go proceed in this manner, will that work?”

“What!” said Confucius. “How could that work? You have an excess of strategies, but no insight. Indeed, although your plans are simpleminded, you might escape blame this way, but that’s the extent of it. How could these methods actually transform him? You are still letting your own mind be your teacher!”

Yan Hui said, “I have nothing more to offer. May I ask the proper method?”

Confucius said, “You must fast! Let me tell you. Can any action be accomplished with ease if pursued by means of the mind’s intentions? If you think it is, bright Heaven will not befriend you.” Yan Hui said, “My family is poor, and I have not drunk wine or eaten meat for several months. Doesn’t that constitute fasting?”

“That is the fasting one does before performing rites of sacrifice. It is not the fasting of the mind.”

“May I ask, what is the fasting of the mind?”

Confucius said, “Unify your will. Don’t listen with your ears, listen with your mind – don’t listen with your mind, listen with your qi. The ears are limited to listening; the mind is limited to sorting. But the qi, all empty it awaits things. The Dao gathers in emptiness – emptiness: that is the fasting of the mind.”

“Before hearing this,” said Yan Hui, “and grasping it in full, “I was solidly I myself. But now that I have grasped it – why, there has never been any I at all! Is this the emptiness you mean?”

“You’ve got it!” said Confucius. “I tell you, now you may go to roam inside his coop, and you’ll never be moved by fame. If he listens, then sing; if not, be still. Have no gate, have no doorway – make oneness your home and lodge in the unavoidable. That’s as close to it as can be!” “It’s easy to walk without leaving footprints; it’s hard to walk without touching the ground. Deceit is easy when you work for men, but hard when you work for Heaven. You’ve heard of flying with wings, but you have never heard of flying without wings. You’ve heard of understanding by means of knowledge, but you have never heard of the understanding that comes from not knowing. Look into the closed room, the empty chamber where light is born. Fortune and blessings gather where there is stillness. But if you do not keep still – that is called galloping where you sit. Let your ears and eyes communicate with what is inside and put mind and knowledge on the outside. Then even the spirits will come to dwell with you, not to speak of men. Such is change in the world of things – the pivot of Emperors Yu and Shun, the constant practice of the sages Fu Xi and Ji Qu. How much more should it be a rule for others!”

~ Zhuangzi: The Inner Chapters

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