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Confucius and his disciples were in distress between Ch’ên and Ts’ai.

Confucius and his disciples were in distress between Ch’ên and Ts’ai. They spent seven days without food sitting on the "Three Classics mat." They had li soup but no rice, and the disciples had a hungry look. They read the Shu and practiced rites (li) and music without stopping. Tzŭ-lu offered an objection: "Heaven rewards with good fortune those who practice good and requites with disaster those who practice evil. Now you, Master, have long accumulated virtue, piled up jên, and practiced good. I suppose there is still some defect in your conduct? Otherwise why do you live in obscurity?"

Confucius said, "Come, Yu. You are a mean man, without any understanding of principles. Be still while I tell you. Do you think that the wise are never punished? Then how was it the Prince Pi-kan had his heart cut out and died? Do you think the just are always hearkened to? Then how was it Wu Tzŭ-hsü had his eyes torn out and hung from the eastern gate of the capital of Wu? Do you think the scrupulous are always employed? Then how was it Po-i and Shu-ch’i starved on Mt. Shou-yang? Do you think the sincere are always employed? Then how was it that Pao Shu was not employed, or that Tzŭ-kao, Duke of Shê, never took office? Pao Chiao embraced a tree and wept; Chieh Tzŭ-t’ui climbed a hill and was burned to death. Many superior men of wide learning and subtle plans have not met with the right time; I am certainly not the only exception. 

A man's ability depends on natural endowment; his success or failure is a matter of opportunity. Now without opportunity, what use is there for a man of worth? That Shun of Yü was set up as Son of Heaven from having ploughed a field on the north slope of Mt. Li was due to his meeting Yao. That Fu Yüeh was made a Great Officer from having carried dirt and worked with building frames was due to his meeting Wu-ting. Originally I-yin was a servant in the Hsin family, carrying the tripods, holding the sacrificial stand, and blending the five flavors. That he was set up as minister was due to his meeting T’ang. When Lü Wang was fifty he sold food in Chi-chin, and at seventy he was a butcher in Ch’ao-ko; at ninety he was Teacher to the Son of Heaven—this because he met King Wên. Kuan I-wu was bound and kept with sealed-up eyes in a barred cart. That he became Chung-fu was because he met Duke Huan of Ch’i. Po-li Hsi sold himself for five rams' skins to the Po family of Ch’in and herded cattle. That he was raised to the rank of Great Officer was because he met Duke Mu of Ch’in. That Yü-ch’iu was famous in the empire for yielding his position as Prime Minister to Sun-shu Ao was because he met King Chuang of Ch’u. Wu Tzŭ-hsü at first had considerable merit. Later on he was put to death by decapitation. It was not because his understanding had decreased, but because he first met Ho-lü and later met Fu-ch’ai.

Now that a thoroughbred horse is put to work on the salt carts is not because he has not the appearance of a thoroughbred, but because no one recognizes him as such. If a thoroughbred horse does not get his Po-lo, how can he achieve a thousand-li run, and how could Tsao-fu in his turn manage to drive a thousand-li? If there is no one to see the lan-ch’ih plant growing in a dense forest in the depths of the mountains, it will not be the less fragrant. So the purpose of study is not to achieve success, but to enable one to be in straits and not be distressed, and to keep the determination from failing in times of difficulty. First understand the beginnings of disaster and good fortune, and your mind will be without illusions. For this reason the sages lived in retirement and reflected profoundly; they were unique in their apprehension and insight.

Now Shun was certainly a sage and a saint, but that he faced south and ruled the empire was solely due to his meeting with Yao. If Shun had lived in the times of Chou or Chieh, he would have been well off to escape punishment or execution; there would have been no question of his holding office. Chieh put Kuan Lung-fêng to death, and Chou put the Prince Pi-kan to death. On those occasions did Kuan Lung-fêng lack understanding? Did the Prince Pi-kan lack wisdom? In both cases it was a matter of not meeting with the right time. So the superior man devotes himself to study. He rectifies himself and orders his conduct, waiting for the right time. May you not be confused about this."

The Ode says,

The crane cries in the ninth pool of the marsh,
And her voice is heard in the sky.

孔子困于陈蔡之间,即三经之席,七日不食,藜羹不糁,弟子有饥色,读书习礼乐不休。子路进谏曰:“为善者天报之以福,为不善者天报之以贼。今夫子积德累仁,为善久矣,意者、当遣行乎?奚居之隐也?”孔子曰:“由,来!汝,小人也,未讲于论也。居,吾语汝:子以知者为无罪乎?则王子比干何为刳心而死;子以义者为听乎?则伍子胥何为抉目而悬吴东门;子以廉者为用乎?则伯夷叔齐何为饿于首阳之山;子以忠者为用乎?则鲍叔何为而不用,叶公子高终身不仕,鲍焦抱木而泣,子推登山而燔。故君子博学深谋,不遇时者众矣,岂独丘哉!贤不肖者、材也,遇不遇者、时也,今无有时,贤安所用哉!故虞舜耕于历山之阳,立为天子,其遇尧也;傅说负土而版筑,以为大夫,其遇武丁也;伊尹故有莘氏僮也,负鼎操俎,调五味,而立为相,其遇汤也;吕望行年五十,卖食棘津,年七十,屠于朝歌,九十乃为天子师,则遇文王也;管夷吾束缚自槛车,以为仲父,则遇齐桓公也;百里奚自卖五羊之皮,为秦伯牧牛,举为大夫,则遇秦缪公也;虞丘于天下以为令尹,让于孙叔敖,则遇楚庄王也;伍子胥前功多,后戮死,非知有盛衰也,前遇阖闾,后遇夫差也。夫骥罢盐车,此非无形容也,莫知之也,使骥不得伯乐,安得千里之足,造父亦无千里之手矣。夫兰茞生于茂林之中,深山之间,人莫见之故不芬;夫学者非为通也,为穷而不困,忧而志不衰,先知祸福之始,而心无惑焉,故圣人隐居深念,独闻独见。夫舜亦贤圣矣,南面而治天下,惟其遇尧也,使舜居桀纣之世,能自免于刑戮之中,则为善矣,亦何位之有?桀杀关龙逢,纣杀王子比干,当此之时,岂关龙逢无知,而王子比干不慧哉!此皆不遇时也。故君子务学修身端行而须其时者也,子无惑焉。”《诗》曰:“鹤鸣于九皋,声闻于天。”

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