The Works of Mencius

Book 4, Part 2 (cont.): Li Lau


Chapter 23.

First judgments are not always correct. Impulses must be weighed in the balance of reason, and what reason dictates must be followed.

Mencius said, 'When it appears proper to take a thing, and afterwards not proper, to take it is contrary to moderation. When it appears proper to give a thing and afterwards not proper, to give it is contrary to kindness. When it appears proper to sacrifice one's life, and afterwards not proper, to sacrifice it is contrary to bravery.'

Chapter 24.

The importance of being careful of whom we make friends.

1. P'ang Mang learned archery of Î. When he had acquired completely all the science of Î, he thought that in all the kingdom only Î was superior to himself, and so he slew him. Mencius said, 'In this case Î also was to blame. Kung-ming Î indeed said, "It would appear as if he were not to be blamed," but he thereby only meant that his blame was slight. How can he be held without any blame?'

2. 'The people of Chang sent Tsze-cho Yü to make a stealthy attack on Wei, which sent Yü-kung Sze to pursue him. Tsze-cho Yü said, "To-day I feel unwell, so that I cannot hold my bow. I am a dead man!" At the same time he asked his driver, "Who is it that is pursuing me?" The driver said, "It is Yü-kung Sze," on which, he exclaimed, "I shall live." The driver said, "Yü-kung Sze is the best archer of Wei, what do you mean by saying 'I shall live?'" Yü replied, "Yü-kung Sze learned archery from Yin-kung T'o, who again learned it from me. Now, Yin-kung T'o is an upright man, and the friends of his selection must be upright also." When Yü-kung Sze came up, he said, "Master, why are you not holding your bow?" Yü answered him, "To-day I am feeling unwell, and cannot hold my bow." On this Sze said, "I learned archery from Yin-kung T'o, who again learned it from you. I cannot bear to injure you with your own science. The business of to-day, however, is the prince's business, which I dare not neglect." He then took his arrows, knocked off their steel points against the carriage-wheel, discharged four of them, and returned.

Chapter 25.

It is only moral beauty that is truly excellent and acceptable.

1. Mencius said, 'If the lady Hsî had been covered with a filthy head-dress, all people would have stopped their noses in passing her.

2. 'Though a man may be wicked, yet if he adjust his thoughts, fast, and bathe, he may sacrifice to God.'

Chapter 26.

How knowledge ought to be pursued by the careful study of phenomena.

1. Mencius said, 'All who speak about the natures of things, have in fact only their phenomena to reason from, and the value of a phenomenon is in its being natural.

2. 'What I dislike in your wise men is their boring out their conclusions. If those wise men would only act as Yü did when he conveyed away the waters, there would be nothing to dislike in their wisdom. The manner in which Yü conveyed away the waters was by doing what gave him no trouble. If your wise men would also do that which gave them no trouble, their knowledge would also be great.

3. 'There is heaven so high; there are the stars so distant. If we have investigated their phenomena, we may, while sitting in our places, go back to the solstice of a thousand years ago.'

Chapter 27.

How Mencius would not imitate others in paying court to a favourite.

1. The officer Kung-hang having on hand the funeral of one of his sons, the Master of the Right went to condole with him. When this noble entered the door, some called him to them and spoke with him, and some went to his place and spoke with him.

2. Mencius did not speak with him, so that he was displeased, and said, 'All the gentlemen have spoken with me. There is only Mencius who does not speak to me, thereby slighting me.'

3. Mencius having heard of this remark, said, 'According to the prescribed rules, in the court, individuals may not change their places to speak with one another, nor may they pass from their ranks to bow to one another. I was wishing to observe this rule, and Tsze-âo understands it that I was slighting him:-- is not this strange?'

Chapter 28.

How the superior man is distinguished by the cultivation of moral excellence, and is placed thereby beyond the reach of calamity.

1. Mencius said, 'That whereby the superior man is distinguished from other men is what he preserves in his heart;-- namely, benevolence and propriety.

2. 'The benevolent man loves others. The man of propriety shows respect to others.

3. 'He who loves others is constantly loved by them. He who respects others is constantly respected by them.

4. 'Here is a man, who treats me in a perverse and unreasonable manner. The superior man in such a case will turn round upon himself-- "I must have been wanting in benevolence; I must have been wanting in propriety;-- how should this have happened to me?"

5. He examines himself, and is specially benevolent. He turns round upon himself, and is specially observant of propriety. The perversity and unreasonableness of the other, however, are still the same. The superior man will again turn round on himself-- "I must have been failing to do my utmost."

6. 'He turns round upon himself, and proceeds to do his utmost, but still the perversity and unreasonableness of the other are repeated. On this the superior man says, "This is a man utterly lost indeed! Since he conducts himself so, what is there to choose between him and a brute? Why should I go to contend with a brute?"

7. 'Thus it is that the superior man has a life-long anxiety and not one morning's calamity. As to what is matter of anxiety to him, that indeed be has.-- He says, "Shun was a man, and I also am a man. But Shun became an example to all the kingdom, and his conduct was worthy to be handed down to after ages, while I am nothing better than a villager." This indeed is the proper matter of anxiety to him. And in what way is he anxious about it? Just that he maybe like Shun:-- then only will he stop. As to what the superior man would feel to be a calamity, there is no such thing. He does nothing which is not according to propriety. If there should befall him one morning's calamity, the superior man does not account it a calamity.'