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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.



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