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Confucius was a Sage: Testimony of a Hostile Witness

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That Confucius was a Sage is part of the Confucian tradition. I have summoned and deposed a hostile witness and obtained the following account:

Hostile Witness name: Zhuangzi

Deposition summary:

Would you please state your name for the record?


And I understand that you have written a great deal on the subject of Chinese Philosophy, and in particular, what has come to be know as "Taoism", is that correct?

Well, that was a long time ago and it was mostly about "Dao", I don't know much about these Taoists, though apparently they do like to refer to me as an authority.

Is it or is it not true that in writings published under your name you have given a very positive account of Confucius?


Bearing in mind that negative accounts of Confucius also appear in your published writings, do you have an explanation for this seeming contradiction?

Well, I may have been dreaming I was a Confucian when wrote it, you know, sometimes a man sometimes a butterfly, sometimes a Confucian.

Can you repeat the account that you have given about the Sage qualities of Confucius?


For the sake of the Jury, consisting largely of "Taoist", who who never read anything outside of your works and those of Laozi, can you clarify the names of these two interlocutors?

Yes, they are Confucius under his courtesy name Zhongni and his favorite disciple Yan hui.

Let the jury note substantiating evidence A and B.

A: Zhongni was Confucius courtesy name, under names, on Wikipedia

B: Yan hui was Confucius favorite disciple on Wikipedia

Alright then, can you tell the court and the ladies and gentlemen of the jury what you have written about Zhongni, AKA Confucius, and Yan Hui.

Yes, this is what I wrote:

Zhuangzi Book four: 人間世 - Man in the World, Associated with other Men

Yan Hui went to see Zhongni, and asked leave to take his departure. 'Where are you going to?' asked the Master. 'I will go to Wei' was the reply. 'And with what object?' 'I have heard that the ruler of Wei is in the vigour of his years, and consults none but himself as to his course. He deals with his state as if it were a light matter, and has no perception of his errors. He thinks lightly of his people's dying; the dead are lying all over the country as if no smaller space could contain them; on the plains and about the marshes, they are as thick as heaps of fuel. The people know not where to turn to. I have heard you, Master, say, "Leave the state that is well governed; go to the state where disorder prevails." At the door of a physician there are many who are ill. I wish through what I have heard (from you) to think out some methods (of dealing with Wei), if peradventure the evils of the state may be cured.'
Zhongni said, 'Alas! The risk is that you will go only to suffer in the punishment (of yourself)! The right method (in such a case) will not admit of any admixture. With such admixture, the one method will become many methods. Their multiplication will embarrass you. That embarrassment will make you anxious. However anxious you may be, you will not save (yourself). The perfect men of old first had (what they wanted to do) in themselves, and afterwards they found (the response to it) in others. If what they wanted in themselves was not fixed, what leisure had they to go and interfere with the proceedings of any tyrannous man?
Moreover, do you know how virtue is liable to be dissipated, and how wisdom proceeds to display itself? Virtue is dissipated in (the pursuit of) the name for it, and wisdom seeks to display itself in the striving with others. In the pursuit of the name men overthrow one another; wisdom becomes a weapon of contention. Both these things are instruments of evil, and should not be allowed to have free course in one's conduct. Supposing one's virtue to be great and his sincerity firm, if he do not comprehend the spirit of those (whom he wishes to influence); and supposing he is free from the disposition to strive for reputation, if he do not comprehend their minds;-- when in such a case he forcibly insists on benevolence and righteousness, setting them forth in the strongest and most direct language, before the tyrant, then he, hating (his reprover's) possession of those excellences, will put him down as doing him injury. He who injures others is sure to be injured by them in return. You indeed will hardly escape being injured by the man (to whom you go)!
Further, if perchance he takes pleasure in men of worth and hates those of an opposite character, what is the use of your seeking to make yourself out to be different (from such men about him)? Before you have begun to announce (your views), he, as king and ruler, will take advantage of you, and immediately contend with you for victory. Your eyes will be dazed and full of perplexity; you will try to look pleased with him; you will frame your words with care; your demeanour will be conformed to his; you will confirm him in his views. In this way you will be adding fire to fire, and water to water, increasing, as we may express it, the evils (which you deplore). To these signs of deferring to him at the first there will be no end. You will be in danger, seeing he does not believe you, of making your words more strong, and you are sure to die at the hands of such a tyrant.
And formerly Jie killed Guan Long-feng, and Zhou killed the prince Bi-gan. Both of these cultivated their persons, bending down in sympathy with the lower people to comfort them suffering (as they did) from their oppressors, and on their account opposing their superiors. On this account, because they so ordered their conduct, their rulers compassed their destruction - such regard had they for their own fame. (Again), Yao anciently attacked (the states of) Cong-qi and Xu-ao, and Yu attacked the ruler of Hu. Those states were left empty, and with no one to continue their population, the people being exterminated. They had engaged in war without ceasing; their craving for whatever they could get was insatiable. And this (ruler of Wei) is, like them, one who craves after fame and greater substance - have you not heard it? Those sages were not able to overcome the thirst for fame and substance - how much less will you be able to do so! Nevertheless you must have some ground (for the course which you wish to take); pray try and tell it to me.'
Yan Hui said, 'May I go, doing so in uprightness and humility, using also every endeavour to be uniform (in my plans of operation)?' 'No, indeed!' was the reply. 'How can you do so? This man makes a display of being filled to overflowing (with virtue), and has great self-conceit. His feelings are not to be determined from his countenance. Ordinary men do not (venture to) oppose him, and he proceeds from the way in which he affects them to seek still more the satisfaction of his own mind. He may be described as unaffected by the (small lessons of) virtue brought to bear on him from day to day; and how much less will he be so by your great lessons? He will be obstinate, and refuse to be converted. He may outwardly agree with you, but inwardly there will be no self-condemnation - how can you (go to him in this way and be successful)?'
(Yan Hui) rejoined, 'Well then; while inwardly maintaining my straightforward intention, I will outwardly seem to bend to him. I will deliver (my lessons), and substantiate them by appealing to antiquity. Inwardly maintaining my straightforward intention, I shall be a co-worker with Heaven. When I thus speak of being a co-worker with Heaven, it is because I know that (the sovereign, whom we style) the son of Heaven, and myself, are equally regarded by Heaven as Its sons. And should I then, as if my words were only my own, be seeking to find whether men approved of them, or disapproved of them? In this way men will pronounce me a (sincere and simple) boy. This is what is called being a co-worker with Heaven. Outwardly bending (to the ruler), I shall be a co-worker with other men. To carry (the memorandum tablet to court), to kneel, and to bend the body reverentially - these are the observances of ministers. They all employ them, and should I presume not to do so? Doing what other men do, they would have no occasion to blame me. This is what is called being a fellow-worker with other men. Fully declaring my sentiments and substantiating them by appealing to antiquity, I shall be a co-worker with the ancients. Although the words in which I convey my lessons may really be condemnatory (of the ruler), they will be those of antiquity, and not my own. In this way, though straightforward, I shall be free from blame. This is what is called being a co-worker with antiquity. May I go to Wei in this way, and be successful?' 'No indeed!' said Zhongni. 'How can you do so? You have too many plans of proceeding, and have not spied out (the ruler's character). Though you firmly adhere to your plans, you may be held free from transgression, but this will be all the result. How can you (in this way) produce the transformation (which you desire)? All this only shows (in you) the mind of a teacher!'

Man in the World,...:
Yan Hui said, 'I can go no farther; I venture to ask the method from you.' Zhongni replied, 'It is fasting, (as) I will tell you. (But) when you have the method, will you find it easy to practise it? He who thinks it easy will be disapproved of by the bright Heaven.' Hui said, 'My family is poor. For months together we have no spirituous drink, nor do we taste the proscribed food or any strong-smelling vegetables;-- can this be regarded as fasting?' The reply was, 'It is the fasting appropriate to sacrificing, but it is not the fasting of the mind.' 'I venture to ask what that fasting of the mind is,' said Hui, and Zhongni answered, 'Maintain a perfect unity in every movement of your will, You will not wait for the hearing of your ears about it, but for the hearing of your mind. You will not wait even for the hearing of your mind, but for the hearing of the spirit. Let the hearing (of the ears) rest with the ears. Let the mind rest in the verification (of the rightness of what is in the will). But the spirit is free from all pre-occupation and so waits for (the appearance of) things. Where the (proper) course is, there is freedom from all pre-occupation; such freedom is the fasting of the mind.' Hui said, 'Before it was possible for me to employ (this method), there I was, the Hui that I am; now, that I can employ it, the Hui that I was has passed away. Can I be said to have obtained this freedom from pre-occupation?' The Master replied, 'Entirely. I tell you that you can enter and be at ease in the enclosure (where he is), and not come into collision with the reputation (which belongs to him). If he listen to your counsels, let him hear your notes; if he will not listen, be silent. Open no (other) door; employ no other medicine; dwell with him (as with a friend) in the same apartment, and as if you had no other option, and you will not be far from success in your object. Not to move a step is easy; to walk without treading on the ground is difficult. In acting after the manner of men, it is easy to fall into hypocrisy; in acting after the manner of Heaven, it is difficult to play the hypocrite. I have heard of flying with wings; I have not heard of flying without them. I have heard of the knowledge of the wise; I have not heard of the knowledge of the unwise. Look at that aperture (left in the wall); the empty apartment is filled with light through it. Felicitous influences rest (in the mind thus emblemed), as in their proper resting place. Even when they do not so rest, we have what is called (the body) seated and (the mind) galloping abroad. The information that comes through the ears and eyes is comprehended internally, and the knowledge of the mind becomes something external: (when this is the case), the spiritual intelligences will come, and take up their dwelling with us, and how much more will other men do so! All things thus undergo a transforming influence. This was the hinge on which Yu and Shun moved; it was this which Fu-xi and Ji-qu practised all their lives: how much more should other men follow the same rule!' (Zhuangzi, Inner Chapters, Book Four, "Man in the World Associated, with Other Men" at The Chinese Text Project, Emphasis mine, ZYD)

If it may please the Court your Honor, I submit to the Court and the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, As the testimony and supporting evidence shows Zhuangzi has written very positive things about Confucius as well as the better known criticism of Confucius person and teachings and I submit that a person who sometimes dreams himself a butterfly and sometimes a Confucian is hardly a reliable source for quotes to criticize either the person of Confucius or his teachings or the Confucian tradition.

The jury is still out on this one.




Edit: Corrected in Zhuangzi in final paragraph and added emphasis in the second section of the quoted material, to make it easier to find the important passages.

Edited by Zhongyongdaoist
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I have been reading Wagner on Wang Bi’s craft of a Chinese commentator and have been thinking about Wang Bi’s famous conversation with Pei Hui where he was asked why Confucius never talked of the Dark (the mysterious origin or non-being) while Lao constantly did so.  Wang Bi’s reply was that the Sage (i.e..e Confucius ) embodied nothingness and so knew that it was inexpressible so said nothing, while Laozi embodied being (you) and so talked constantly about nothingness - constantly because whatever he said always fell short.


My first reaction to this was huh!  What is he saying?  The albeit very youthful, leading thinker of the Xuanxue places Confucius higher than Laozi!  … since he implies that Confucius the great Sage completely understood the mysterious while Lao was still struggling to express it.  But then it began to dawn on me what a brilliant answer this had been.  Brilliant politically as well as philosophically.


Wang Bi studied not just the Analects, the Laozi , Zhuangzi, but also of course the Zhouyi (on which he wrote an extensive commentary) and also several other classic texts.  His view was that the Laozi was written by a historical person, a single author, and had a coherent narrative - not just a collection of aphorisms.  his view of the Zhouyi was that it was the product of succession of Sages. In fact he regarded the Zhouyi as a direct product of the wisdom of those sages and through the ‘sitting and forgetting’ process of ‘meaning and principle’ analysis it is possible penetrate that wisdom.  He regarded the Ten Wings as integral as Confucius was the last of the line of sages who commented on the Changes.  What marks out the I Ching Sages starting with Fu Xi is not just wisdom but also its application.  Each of the Sages is credited with inventing or implementing a change as a result of their gnosis.  Fu Xi invented animal traps, another sage the plough, another market places and so on - so they made key contributions to human social progress.  In this lineage Confucius brought in the Ru, the way of social harmony and the cultivation of benevolence.  To do this, if rightly placed in the lineage of the Zhouyi Sages he must have penetrated to the nature and origin of Yi and thus to Wu.  He must have embodied Wu.


Wang Bi was critical of the Ru scholars despite this because he thought that they contrived meaning from the Old Texts by superimposition.  While he himself allowed the text to speak directly and used the text itself as his reference point.  He was similarly critical of the Legalists and Naming school and so on.  So the Confucius he was praising was not necessarily the deified object of the Ru, but the Confucius who was the last of the Yi Sages.  So the superior status given to Confucius was about his role as a Sage in giving to humanity the gift of how to live peaceably.  Laozi no matter how great did not have this status.


What can also be said about this is that in Laozi’s own words paraphrased, this is not about putting yourself to the fore.  I imagine that neither he nor Zhuangzi gave a fig for being a Yi Sage.  This was not what they were about at all.  And so Wang Bi’s distinction or the status it might imply would mean nothing to them and perhaps should mean nothing to us.


In saying Mr. Lao embodied being (you) and thus spoke of non-being even though his words fell short … is nothing other than confirming the first chapter of the DaoDeJing.  We know words are inadequate but we are still going to talk.  Because … because why not?


Just some thoughts.

Edited by Apech
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Objection! ,, No evidence that Confucious WAS a Sage has been provided. Since The conclusion of the questioning was that the witness was NOT to be established as a reliable expert in the eyes of the jury, nothing he said may be used as evidence to that assertion.

This instead has been a malicious attack to discredit Zz.

Case dismissed.

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I thought Confucius was a scholar and saw value of the Taoist traditions. 


I might say the latter about Sima Qian as he saw the Lao-Huang as embracing some values of the Taoist tradition.


But, to me, Confusius saw value in Dao... in the way he interpreted its role on mankind

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But, to me, Confusius saw value in Dao... in the way he interpreted its role on mankind

Hehe, it might come as surprise to some but for the later religious-alchemical taoists such as Liu Yi-ming  it was a given, that Confucious  was an accomplished internal alchemist, his Analects being a coded alchemical manual.

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Hehe, it might come as surprise to some but for the later religious-alchemical taoists such as Liu Yi-ming  it was a given, that Confucious  was an accomplished internal alchemist, his Analects being a coded alchemical manual. (Emphasis mine ZYD)


I would come as a surprise to more than "some", but they would simply write it off as proof positive of how nutty these later religious-alchemical taoists were.


My original post was part of my discussion here:


Ren is conformism


Part of that discussion quotes Zhuangzi to Confucius detriment, to which I took great exception.  The original post should be read as a witness deposition for that discussion and this thread should be read in the context of that discussion.


In Confucianism Ren, 仁, is an extremely powerful and profound concept and as far as I am concerned if all Confucius did was put the problem of what Ren is at the center of Chinese culture, his importance would be undeniable, if he actually had a conception of it such as arises in Mencius and the Zhongyong, then he was a Sage indeed.


As an example I have pointed out elsewhere:



'...the wondrous light of (essential) nature which is symbolised by a circle which Confucius called virtuous perfection (jen); the Book of Change calls it the ultimateless (wu chi), the Buddha perfect knowledge (yuan ming) and the Taoists the elixir of immortality or spiritual light; which all point to the prenatal One True Vitality.' (Lu K'uan Yu, Taoist Yoga, p. 4)

in which the ' which Confucius called virtuous perfection (jen)', jen is Cantonese for the Pinyin, rén (仁), the fundamental concept of the Confucian Dao.


I don't have time to develop the above more, but a strong case can be made that the reference to "jen" in Taoist Yoga is more than a respectful bow to "Three Teachings" syncretism.


My posts in:


Confucian Qi gong


Are useful for understanding Ren in its Confucian sense.





Edit: Corrected some problems with font size.

Edited by Zhongyongdaoist
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