Monday, December 29, 2014

Confucius’ Last Years

Featuring Robert K. Douglas

Previously on Confucius. And now, Robert K. Douglas.

Time: 551 BC - 479 BC
Place: China

cc Wikipedia
Once again only, do we hear of Confucius presenting himself at the court of the duke after this. And this was on the occasion of the murder of the duke of T'se by one of his officers. We must suppose that the crime was one of a gross nature, for it raised Confucius' fiercest anger, and he who never wearied of singing the praises of those virtuous men who overthrew the thrones of licentious and tyrannous kings, would have had no room for blame if the murdered duke had been like unto Kee or Show. But the outrage was one which Confucius felt should be avenged, and he therefore bathed and presented himself at court.

"Sir," said he, addressing the duke, "Ch'in Hang has slain his sovereign; I beg that you will undertake to punish him." But the duke was indisposed to move in the matter, and pleaded the comparative strength of T'se. Confucius, however, was not to be so silenced. "One-half of the people of Tse," said he, "are not consenting to the deed. If you add to the people of Loo one-half of the people of Tse, you will be sure to overcome." This numerical argument no more affected the duke than the statement of the fact, and wearying with Confucius' importunity, he told him to lay the matter before the chiefs of the three principal families of the state. Before this court of appeal, whither he went with reluctance, his cause fared no better, and the murder remained unavenged.

At a period when every prince held his throne by the strength of his right arm, revolutions lost half their crime, and must have been looked upon rather as trials of strength than as disloyal villainies. The frequency of their occurrence, also, made them less the subjects of surprise and horror. At the time of which we write, the states in the neighborhood of Loo appear to have been in a very disturbed condition. Immediately following on the murder of the duke of T'se, news was brought to Confucius that a revolution had broken out in Wei. This was an occurrence which particularly interested him, for when he returned from Wei to Loo he left Tsze-loo and Tsze-kaou, two of his disciples, engaged in the official service of the state. "Tsze-kaou will return, " was Confucius' remark, when he was told of the outbreak, "but Tsze-loo will die." The prediction was verified. For when Tsze-kaou saw that matters were desperate he made his escape; but Tsze-loo remained to defend his chief, and fell fighting in the cause of his master. Though Confucius had looked forward to the event as probable, he was none the less grieved when he heard that it had come about, and he mourned for his friend, whom he was so soon to follow to the grave.

One morning, in the spring of the year B.C. 478, he walked in front of his door, mumbling as he went:

"The great mountain must crumble;
The strong beam must break;
And the wise man withers away like a plant."

These words came as a presage of evil to the faithful Tsze-kung. "If the great mountain crumble," said he, "to what shall I look up? If the strong beam break, and the wise man wither away, on whom shall I lean? The master, I fear, is going to be ill." So saying, he hastened after Confucius into the house. "What makes you so late?" said Confucius, when the disciple presented himself before him; and then he added, "According to the statutes of Hea, the corpse was dressed and coffined at the top of the eastern steps, treating the dead as if he were still the host. Under the Yin, the ceremony was performed between the two pillars, as if the dead were both host and guest. The rule of Chow is to perform it at the top of the western steps, treating the dead as if he were a guest. I am a man of Yin, and last night I dreamed that I was sitting, with offerings before me, between the two pillars. No intelligent monarch arises; there is not one in the empire who will make me his master. My time is come to die." It is eminently characteristic of Confucius that in his last recorded speech and dream, his thoughts should so have dwelt on the ceremonies of bygone ages. But the dream had its fulfillment. That same day he took to his bed, and after a week's illness he expired.

On the banks of the river Sze, to the north of the capital city of Loo, his disciples buried him, and for three years they mourned at his grave. Even such marked respect as this fell short of the homage which Tsze-kung, his most faithful disciple, felt was due to him, and for three additional years that loving follower testified by his grief his reverence for his master. "I have all my life had the heaven above my head," said he, "but I do not know its height; and the earth under my feet, but I know not its thickness. In serving Confucius, I am like a thirsty man, who goes with his pitcher to the river and there drinks his fill, without knowing the river's depth."

The End

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