When Confucius was besieged in the area between Ch'en and Ts'ai, he went without cooked food for seven days.
The old gentleman Jen went to console him, asking, "Were you close to death?"
"Do you dislike death?"
"Let me try to explain the Way to avoid death," said Jen. "In the Eastern Sea there is a bird named the lazybird. It flip-flops along as if it had no power. The lazybird will only fly when there are others to lead it on and will only roost when there are others that press close to its sides. When it goes forward it dares not take the lead; when it retreats it does not take the rear; when it eats it dares not take the first bite, always preferring to take the leftovers. Therefore, their ranks are seldom broken and outsiders rarely can harm them, hence they escape calamity.
The straight tree is the first to be felled;
The well with sweet water is the first to be exhausted.
You seem intent on ornamenting your knowledge to amaze those who are ignorant and on cultivating your person to highlight those who are vile. You are as ostentatious as if you were walking along holding the sun and moon above you. Hence you do not escape calamity. In the past, I heard a man of great accomplishment say, 'Who is self-assertive has no merit; Merit that is complete will collapse; Fame that is complete will decline.' Who can get rid of merit and fame, and return to be with the masses of men?
He flows with the Way
but does not rest in brilliance;
Walks with integrity
but does not dwell in fame.
He is so plain and ordinary
That he may be compared to an imbecile.
He erases his traces and renounces his influence, doing nothing for merit or fame. For this reason he does not blame others, nor is he blamed by others. The ultimate man does not seek renown. Why, sir, do you like it so much?"
"Excellent!" said Confucius, whereupon he bid adieu to his associates, sent his disciples away, and retired to a great marsh. He dressed in skins and haircloth, and ate acorns and chestnuts. He went among animals without disturbing their herds, went among birds without disturbing their flocks. If even birds and animals were not afraid of him, how much less were men!