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ZHONG YONG
THE CENTER OF HARMONY
by Zi-si

The Zhong Yong, like the Da Xue, also became one of the four books of Confucianism. According to the historian Sima Qian it was written by Zi-si (492-431 BC), who was the grandson of Confucius and possibly the teacher of Mencius.

English version by Sanderson Beck


1. The Natural Way
2. Living in Harmony
3. The Perfect Center
4. Why the Way is Not Pursued
5. Alas
6. Wisdom of Shun
7. Everyone says, "I am wise."
8. Hui Pursued the Center
9. The Center Not Followed
10. Energy
11. What People Do 12. The Way of the Best
13. Human Nature
14. The Best People
15. Concord
16. Spiritual Beings
17. Great Virtue
18. Mourning Rites
19. Filial Piety
20. Good Government
21. Enlightenment and Sincerity
22. Developing Our Nature 23. Sincerity and Transformation
24. Sincerity and Foreknowledge
25. Completion of Self
26. The Way of Heaven and Earth
27. The Way of the Wise
28. Ceremonies
29. The Way of True Rulers
30. Ancient Doctrines
31. The Perfectly Wise
32. The Absolutely Sincere
33. Perfect Virtue

 

1

What heaven gives to people is called human nature.
Following our nature is called the Way.
Cultivating the Way is called education.
The Way cannot be separated from us for a moment.
What can be separated is not the Way.
Therefore the best people are careful when they are unseen
and apprehensive when they are unheard.
Nothing is more visible than what is hidden,
and nothing more manifest than what is subtle.
Therefore the best people look into their hearts
when they are alone.

Before the feelings of pleasure, anger,
sorrow, and joy are aroused,
one is in what is called the center.
When these feelings are aroused,
and they each attain due measure and degree,
it is called harmony.
The center is the supreme foundation of the universe,
and harmony is its universal expression.
When the center and harmony are realized fully,
then order and happiness abound throughout heaven and earth,
and all things are nourished and flourish.

 

2

Confucius said,
"The best people live in the center of harmony.
The worst people act contrary to the center of harmony.
The best people live harmoniously,
because they always maintain the center.
The worst people act contrary to harmony,
because they are not aware of the center."

 

3

Confucius said, "The center of harmony is perfect;
for a long time few people have been able to follow it."

 

4

Confucius said, "I know why the Way is not pursued.
The smart ones go beyond it,
and the stupid ones do not come up to it.
I know why the Way is not understood.
The worthy go beyond it,
and the unworthy do not come up to it.
There is nobody who does not eat and drink,
but there are few who really appreciate flavors."

 

5

Confucius said, "Alas, how the Way is not being pursued!"

 

6

Confucius said, "Shun was indeed a man of great wisdom!
He loved to question people and examine their simple answers.
He passed over the bad in them and displayed the good.
He shunned their extremes, found the center,
and applied it in his dealing with the people.
In this way he became Shun."

 

7

Confucius said, "Everyone says, 'I am wise,'
but they are driven forward into nets,
caught in traps or pitfalls,
and they do not know how to escape.
Everyone says, 'I am wise,'
but choosing to pursue the center
they are not able to keep to it for a full month."

 

8

Confucius said,
"Hui was a man who chose to pursue the center,
and when he found something that was good,
he embraced it as if wearing it on his breast,
and he never lost it."

 

9

Confucius said,
"The world, states, and families can be put in order.
honors and rewards can be declined,
bare, naked weapons can be trampled upon,
but still the center of harmony is not being followed."

 

10

Zi-lu asked about energy.
Confucius said, "Do you mean the energy of the south,
the energy of the north,
or the energy you should cultivate yourself?
To be kind and gentle in teaching others
and not to revenge unreasonable conduct
is the energy of southern people.
The best people practice it.
To lie under arms and meet death without regret
is the energy of northern people.
The brave people practice it.
Thus the best people maintain harmony and strength.
How firm are they in their energy!
They stand in the middle without leaning to either side.
How firm are they in their energy!
When the Way prevails in the government
they do not change their private life.
How firm are they in their energy!
When the Way does not prevail in the government
they do not change even though they may die.
How firm are they in their energy!"

 

11

Confucius said,
"There are people who seek mysteries and practice wonders
in order to be remembered in future ages,
but this is what I will not do.
There are good people who proceed in accord with the Way,
but abandon it when they have gone half-way.
However, I could never give it up.
There are good people in accord with the center of harmony
who retire from the world,
are unknown to their age, and have no regret.
It is only the wise who can do this.

 

12

"The Way of the best people functions everywhere,
yet it is hidden.
Men and women of simple intelligence can find this knowledge.
Yet in its ultimate extent,
even the wise do not know it all.
Men and women of simple intelligence can practice it.
Yet in its ultimate extent,
even the wise do not practice it all.
Great as heaven and earth are,
people still find something in them to criticize.
Thus when the best people speak of the greatness of the Way,
nothing in the world could contain it.
When they speak of its minuteness,
nothing in the world could split it.
The Book of Odes says,

'The hawk flies up to heaven;
The fish dive down to the deep.'

This means it is clearly seen above and below.
The Way of the best people finds its simple beginnings
in the relationship between a man and a woman,
but in its ultimate extent
it can be clearly seen illuminating heaven and earth."

 

13

Confucius said, "The Way is not far from people.
If a person pursues a way which removes him from people,
this course cannot be considered the Way.
The Book of Odes says,

'When hewing an axe handle,
Hew an axe handle;
The pattern is not far off.'

If we grasp an axe handle to hew another axe handle,
and look skeptically from one to the other,
we may still think the pattern is far away.
Thus the best people govern people according to human nature,
and as soon as they become correct, they stop.
Conscientiousness and reciprocity are not far from the Way.
What you do not wish others to do to you, do not do to them.

"There are four things in the Way of the best people,
none of which have I as yet attained.
To serve my father as I would have my son serve me:
that I have not attained.
To serve my ruler as I would have my minister serve me:
that I have not attained.
To serve my older brother
as I would have my younger brother serve me:
that I have not attained.
To be first to treat friends as I would have them treat me:
that I have not attained.
Earnest in practicing the virtues in everyday life
and in being careful in ordinary conversation,
when there is excess
they do not allow themselves license.
Their words correspond to their actions,
and their actions correspond to their words.
Are not the best people genuine?"

 

14

The best people do what is proper in their position;
they do not desire to go beyond this.
In a position of wealth and honor
they do what is proper to a position of wealth and honor.
In a poor and humble position
they do what is proper to a poor and humble position.
Situated among barbarous tribes
they do what is proper among barbarous tribes.
In a position of difficulty and danger
they do what is proper in difficulty and danger.
There is no situation in which they are not themselves.
In a high position
they do not treat their inferiors with contempt.
In a low position
they do not court the favor of their superiors.
They correct themselves and seek nothing from others.
They do not complain and do not resent heaven or people.
Thus the best people live peacefully and calmly,
waiting for their destiny,
while the worst people walk in dangerous paths,
hoping for good luck.

Confucius said, "In archery we have something
like the Way of the best people.
When archers miss the center of the target, they turn around
and seek for the cause of their failure in themselves."

 

15

The Way of the best people is like a long journey.
We must begin with what is near.
It is like ascending a height;
we must begin from the lower ground.
The Book of Odes says,

"Happy union with wife and children
Is like the music of lutes and harps.
When brothers live in concord and peace,
The harmony is sweet and delightful.
Let your family live in concord
And enjoy your wife and children."

Confucius said, "How happy will their parents be!"

 

16

Confucius said, "How abundantly do spiritual beings
display the power that belongs to them!
We look for them, but do not see them.
We listen to them, but do not hear them.
They are in all things, and there is nothing without them.
They cause all people in the world
to fast and purify themselves
and put on robes in order to sacrifice to them.
Like the rush of overflowing water
they seem to be above and on the left and right.
The Book of Odes says,

'The approaches of the spirits
Cannot be surmised.
Yet they cannot be disregarded.'

Such are the manifestations of the subtle.
Such is the impossibility of hiding the real."

 

17

Confucius said, "How great was the filial piety of Shun!
In virtue he was a sage;
in honor he was the Son of Heaven;
and in wealth he owned all within the four seas.
Temple sacrifices were made to him,
and his descendants preserved the sacrifices to him.
Thus whoever has great virtue will certainly attain
high position, great wealth, fame, and lasting life.
For heaven in the production of things
is sure to be bountiful to them according to their qualities.
Thus the tree that is well taken care of is nourished,
while that which is about to fall is overthrown.
The Book of Odes says,

'The admirable, amiable prince
Displayed conspicuously his excellent virtue.
He put his people and his officers in concord,
And he received his compensation from heaven.
It protected him, assisted him, and appointed him king.
Heaven gave its blessings to him again and again.'

Therefore whoever has great virtue
will certainly receive a mandate from heaven."

 

18

Confucius said, "Only King Wen was without sorrow.
He had King Chi for a father and King Wu for a son.
His father laid the foundation, and his son carried it on.
King Wu continued the enterprise
of King Tai, King Ji, and King Wen.
Once he buckled on his armor, the world became his.
He did not lose his personal reputation in the world.
In honor he was the Son of Heaven;
and in wealth he owned all within the four seas.
Temple sacrifices were made to him,
and his descendants preserved the sacrifices to him.

"King Wu received heaven's mandate to rule in his old age.
Duke Zhou completed the virtuous course
of King Wen and King Wu.
He carried up the title of king to Tai and Ji,
and sacrificed to all the former dukes with royal ceremonies.
He extended this rule
to the princes, officers, and common people.
If the father was a great officer
and the son a minor officer,
when the father died,
he was buried with the rite of a great officer,
but afterward sacrificed to with the rite of a minor officer.
If the father was a minor officer
and the son a great officer,
then the father was buried with the rite of a minor officer,
but afterward sacrificed to with the rite of a great officer.
The rule for one year of mourning for relatives
was extended to include great officers,
but the rule for three years of mourning
was extended to include the Son of Heaven.
In the mourning for a father or a mother
there was no difference for the noble or the commoner.
The practice was the same."

 

19

Confucius said, "How influential
was the filial piety of King Wu and Duke Zhou!

"Filial piety is
the skillful carrying out of the wishes of forefathers,
and the skillful carry forward of their undertakings.

"In spring and autumn they
repaired their ancestral temple,
displayed their ancestral vessels,
exhibited the ancestral robes,
and presented the appropriate offerings of the season.
By means of the ritual of the ancestral temple
they distinguished the descent of the royal kindred.
By ordering those present according to their rank,
they distinguished the more noble and the less.
By the arrangement of the services
they distinguished the talented and worthy.
In the pledging ritual the inferiors
presented the cup to their superiors
so that the humble would have something to do.
At the feast honored places were given
to people with white hair
so that the differences in age were observed.

"To occupy places of their forefathers,
to practice their rites,
to perform their music,
to reverence those whom they honored,
to love those who are dear to them,
to serve the dead as they were served while alive,
and to serve the departed
as they were served while still with us:
this is the height of filial piety.

"By the ceremonies of sacrifices to heaven and earth
they served the Most High Lord,
and by the ceremonies of the ancestral temple
they served the ancestors.
Whoever understands the ceremonies
of sacrifices to heaven and earth
and the meaning of the seasonal sacrifices to the ancestors
will govern a kingdom as easily as looking at one's palm."

 

20

Lord Ai of Lu asked about the way to govern.
Confucius said, "The government of King Wen and King Wu
is revealed in the historical records.
With their kind of people government will flourish,
but without their kind of people government decays and dies.

"With the right people government is prompt,
just as in the right soil vegetation grows rapidly.
Indeed, good government is like a fast-growing plant.
Therefore the conduct of government depends on the people.
The right people are obtained by the ruler's character.
The character is cultivated by following the Way.
Following the Way is cultivated by goodness.

"Goodness is human,
and the greatest expression of it is in loving relations.
Justice is the principle of setting things right and proper,
and the greatest expression of it is in honoring the worthy.
The relative love to relations
and the degrees of honoring the worthy
give rise to the rules of propriety.

"If those in inferior positions
do not have the confidence of their superiors,
they will not be able to govern the people.
Thus rulers must not fail to cultivate their personal lives.
Wishing to cultivate their personal lives,
they must not fail to serve their parents.
Wishing to serve their parents,
they must not fail to know people.
Wishing to know people,
they must not fail to know heaven.

"The duties of universal obligation are five,
and the virtues by which they are practiced are three.
The duties are between the ruler and the minister,
between father and son, between husband and wife,
between older and younger brothers,
and those in the intercourse between friends.
These are the five duties of universal obligation.

"Wisdom, love, and courage
are the three universal virtues.
The way by which they are practiced is one.

"Some are born knowing these things;
some learn them through study;
some learn them through hard experience;
but when the knowledge is acquired,
it comes to the same thing.

"Some practice them naturally and easily;
some practice them for their own advantage;
some practice them with effort and difficulty;
but when the achievement is made,
it comes to the same thing."

Confucius said, "Love of learning is akin to wisdom.
To practice vigorously is akin to goodness.
A sense of shame is akin to courage.
Those who know these three things
know how to cultivate their personal lives.
Knowing how to cultivate their personal lives
they know how to govern other people.
And knowing how to govern other people
they know how to govern the world, its states, and families.

"To govern the world, its states, and families,
there are nine rules:
cultivating the personal life,
honoring the worthy,
loving the relatives,
respecting the great ministers,
identifying oneself with the welfare of all the officers,
treating the common people as one's own children,
promoting all the useful arts and crafts,
being kind to strangers from far countries,
and taking interest in the princes of the world.

"If rulers cultivate their personal lives,
the Way will be established.
If they honor the worthy, mistakes will not occur.
If they love their relatives,
their uncles and brothers will not grumble.
If they respect the great ministers,
they will not be deceived.
If they identify themselves
with the welfare of all the officers,
then the officers will gratefully return this courtesy.
If they treat the common people as their own children,
then they will exhort one another to do good.
If they promote all the useful arts and crafts,
then there will be sufficient wealth and resources.
If they are kind to strangers from far countries,
then people from all over the world will flock to them.
And if they take an interest in the princes of the world,
then the world will respect their authority.

"By cleanliness, purification, dressing correctly,
and not doing anything contrary to the rules of propriety---
this is the way to cultivate the personal life.

"By discarding flatterers,
keeping away from seductive women,
regarding riches lightly, and honoring virtue---
this is the way to encourage the worthy.

"By giving them honorable positions and ample compensation,
and sharing their likes and dislikes---
this is the way to encourage love among relatives.

"By allowing them many officers
to carry out their functions---
this is the way to encourage the great ministers.

"By dealing with them loyally and faithfully
with generous compensation---
this is the way to encourage the officers.
"By requiring their services only at the proper time

and taxing them lightly---
this is the way to encourage the common people.

"By inspecting them daily and examining them monthly
and rewarding them according to their workmanship---
this is the way to encourage the various artisans.

"By welcoming them when they come
and escorting them when they go
and commending the good among them
while showing compassion to the incompetent---
this is the way to be kind to strangers from far countries.

"By restoring broken family lines,
reviving extinguished states,
bringing order to chaotic states,
supporting states in danger,
having set times for receptions at court,
and presenting generous gifts
after expecting little when they come---
this is the way
to take an interest in the princes of the world.

"To govern the world, its states, and families,
there are nine rules,
but the way by which they are practiced is one.
In all matters success depends on preparation;
without preparation there will be failure.

"If what is to be said is planned well,
there will be no stumbling.

"If the business to be done is planned well,
there will be no difficulty.

"If the action to be taken is planned well,
there will be no trouble.

"If the Way to be pursued is planned well,
there will be no limits.

"If those in inferior positions
do not have the confidence of their superiors,
they will not be able to govern the people.

"There is a way to gain the confidence of the superiors:
if you are not trusted by your friends,
you will not gain the confidence of your superiors.

"There is a way to be trusted by your friends:
if you are not obedient to your parents,
you will not be trusted by your friends.

"There is a way to obey your parents:
if you examine yourself and find yourself to be insincere,
you will not be obedient to your parents.

"There is a way to be sincere with yourself:
if you do not understand what is good,
you will not be sincere with yourself.

"Sincerity is the Way of heaven.
To think how to be sincere is the way of humans.
Those who are sincere hit on what is right without effort
and understand without thinking.
They are naturally and easily in harmony with the Way.
Such people are wise.
Those who think how to be sincere
choose the good and hold to it.

"Study the way to be sincere extensively,
inquire into it accurately, think it over carefully,
clearly discern it, and practice it thoroughly.
When there is anything not yet studied,
or studied, but not yet understood, do not give up.
When there is any question not yet asked,
or asked, but its answer not yet known, do not give up.
When there is anything not yet thought over,
or thought over, but not yet assimilated, do not give up.
When there is anything not yet discerned,
or discerned, but not clearly, do not give up.
When there is anything not yet practiced,
or practiced, but not thoroughly, do not give up.
If another succeeded by one effort, use a hundred efforts.
If another succeeded by ten efforts, use a thousand efforts.
Let people really follow this course,
and though stupid, they will surely become intelligent,
and though weak, they will surely become strong."

 

21

Enlightenment resulting from sincerity is ascribed to nature.
Sincerity resulting from enlightenment is ascribed to education.
Given sincerity, there will be enlightenment,
and given enlightenment, there will be sincerity.

 

22

Only those who are absolutely sincere
can fully develop their nature.
By fully developing their nature
they can fully develop the nature of others.
By fully developing the nature of others
they can fully develop the nature of things.
Those who fully develop the nature of things
are worthy to assist in the transforming
and nourishing process of heaven and earth.
Those worthy to assist in the transforming
and nourishing process of heaven and earth
can thus form a trinity with heaven and earth.

 

23

Next in order are those
who cultivate themselves to the utmost.
From this they can attain to the possession of sincerity.
As there is sincerity, there will be its expression.
As it is expressed, it will become manifest.
As it becomes manifest, it will be full of light.
As it is full of light, it will move others.
As it moves others, it changes them.
As it changes them, they are transformed.
Only those who are absolutely sincere can transform others.

 

24

It is characteristic of absolute sincerity
to be able to foreknow.
When a nation or family is about to flourish,
there are sure to be good omens.
When a nation or family is about to perish,
there are sure to be bad omens.
These omens are revealed in divination
and in the movement of the body's four limbs.
When disaster or blessing is about to come,
it can surely be known ahead if it is evil.
Therefore whoever has absolute sincerity is like a spirit.

 

25

Sincerity means the completion of self,
and the Way of it is self-directing.
Sincerity is the end and beginning of things.
Without sincerity there would be nothing.
Therefore the best people value sincerity above everything.
Sincerity is not only the completion of one's own self,
it is that by which all things are completed.
The completion of the self means goodness.
The completion of all things means wisdom.
These are the virtues of our being,
and the Way in which the internal and external are united.
Thus whenever they are employed, everything done is right.

 

26

Thus absolute sincerity is ceaseless.
Being ceaseless, it is eternal.
Being eternal, it is manifest.
Being manifest, it is infinite.
Being infinite, it is extensive and deep.
Being extensive and deep, it is transcendental and brilliant.

Because it is extensive and deep, it contains all things.
Because it is transcendental and brilliant,
it illuminates all things.
Because it is infinite and eternal, it perfects all things.

In being extensive and deep, it is like earth.
In being transcendental and brilliant, it is like heaven.
In being infinite and eternal, it is unlimited.
Such being its nature,
it manifests itself without being seen,
produces changes without motion,
and accomplishes its ends without acting.

The Way of heaven and earth
may be described in one sentence:
They are without doubleness
and produce things in a way that is unfathomable.
The Way of heaven and earth is extensive, deep,
transcendental, brilliant, infinite, and eternal.

The heaven now before us is only this bright shining mass,
but when viewed in its immeasurable extent,
the sun, moon, stars, and constellations are suspended in it,
and all things are illuminated by it.

The earth before us is only a handful of soil,
but in its breadth and depth,
it sustains the great mountains without feeling their weight,
and contains the rivers and seas without letting them leak;
everything is supported by it.

The mountain before us is only a pebble,
but in all the vastness of its size,
grass and trees grow upon it,
birds and beasts dwell on it,
and precious minerals are found in it.

The waters before us are only a spoonful of liquid,
but in all their unfathomable depth,
the monsters, dragons, fish, and turtles
are produced in them,
and many useful articles abound in them.

The Book of Odes says,

"The destiny of heaven,
How beautiful and unceasing!"

That is to say, this is what makes heaven to be heaven.

"How bright it is,
The purity of King Wen's virtue!"

That is to say, this is what makes King Wen what he was.
Purity is also unceasing.

 

27

How great is the Way of the wise!
Overflowing, it produces and nourishes all things
and rises up to the height of heaven.
How magnificent it is!
It embraces the three hundred rules of ceremony
and the three thousand rules of conduct.
It waits for the proper person to put it into practice.
Thus it is said, "Unless there is perfect virtue
the perfect Way cannot be realized."

Therefore the best people honor their virtuous nature
and apply themselves to study and inquiry.
They broaden and deepen their knowledge,
and pursue the refined and subtle.
While seeking to attain the highest and most brilliant,
they maintain the center of harmony.
They make the old come alive again to find out what is new.
They are devoted and honest
and respect the rules of propriety.
Thus when occupying a high position, they are not proud,
and when serving in a low position,
they are not insubordinate.
When the Way prevails in the country,
their words bring prosperity.
When the Way does not prevail in the country,
their silence assures their preservation.
The Book of Odes says,

"Intelligent and wise,
They protect themselves."

This is what it means.

 

28

Confucius said,
"To be stupid and want to use one's own judgment,
to be in a low position and want to give orders,
to live in the present age
and go back to the ways of the past---
people like this bring calamity on themselves.
Only the Son of Heaven is to decide on ceremonies,
set the weights and measures,
and determine the written characters.
In the world today, carriage wheels are the same size;
all writing is with the same characters;
and conduct is governed by the same principles.
One may occupy the throne;
but if he does not have the proper virtue,
he dare not institute ceremonies or music.
One may have the proper virtue;
but if he does not occupy the throne,
he also dare not institute ceremonies or music."

Confucius said,
"I could describe the ceremonies of the Xia dynasty,
but what remains in the state of Qi
does not provide sufficient evidence.
I have studied the ceremonies of the Shang dynasty,
and in the state of Sung they are still preserved.
I have studied the ceremonies of the Zhou dynasty,
which are in use today. I follow the Zhou."

 

29

If whoever attains to the sovereignty of the world
has these three important things, there will be few mistakes.
However excellent may have been the regulations
of former times, there is no evidence for them.
Without evidence, they cannot command credence,
and not being credited, the people would not follow them.

However excellent might be the regulations
made by one in a low position, his position is not honored.
Not being honored, he cannot command credence,
and not being credited, the people would not follow them.

Thus the Way of good rulers
is rooted in their personal lives
and is evidenced by the cooperation of the people.
It is examined according to the three emperors
and found to be without error.
It is applied before heaven and earth
and found to be without contradiction in its operation.
It is presented before spiritual beings
without question or fear,
and can wait a hundred generations for a sage
without doubting.

Being presented before spiritual beings
without question or fear
shows that they know heaven.
Waiting a hundred generations for a sage without doubting
shows that they know people.

Thus every move such rulers make
is an example to the world for ages;
every action becomes a guide to the world for ages;
those who are far away look longingly to them,
and those who are near never tire of them.
The Book of Odes says,

"There they do not dislike them;
Here they do not get tired of them.
From day to day and night to night
They will perpetuate their praise."

There never has been a ruler
who did not fit this description
and yet could obtain early renown throughout the world.

 

30

Confucius transmitted the ancient doctrines
of Yao and Shun as if they had been his ancestors,
and he adopted and perfected the systems of Wen and Wu.
These harmonized with the divine order
governing the revolutions of the seasons in heaven above,
and with the principles governing land and water below.
They may be compared
to earth in its supporting and containing,
and to heaven in its overshadowing and embracing all things.
They may be compared to the four seasons in their succession,
and to the sun and the moon in their alternate shining.

All things are nourished together
without injuring one another.
Their courses are pursued without conflict.
The lesser energies flow continuously like river currents,
while the greater energies silently and deeply transform.
This is what makes heaven and earth so great.

 

31

It is only the perfectly wise in the world who have
the quick apprehension, intelligence, insight, and wisdom
to be able to rule all people;
the greatness, generosity, kindness, and tender heart
to be able to embrace all people;
the energy, strength, steadiness, and resolution
to be able to maintain everything;
the balance, seriousness, centeredness, and correctness
to be able to command reverence;
the order, refinement, concentration, and penetration
to be able to exercise discernment.

All-embracing and vast, deep and active as a fountain,
these virtues always spring forth from them.
All-embracing and vast like heaven
and deep and active as a fountain like an abyss,
they appear, and all people respect them;
they speak, and all people believe them;
they act, and all people are pleased with them.

As a result their fame spreads out over China
and extends to the barbarous tribes.
Wherever ships and carriages travel,
wherever the work of people penetrates,
wherever the heavens overshadow and the earth sustains,
wherever the sun and moon shine,
and wherever frosts and dews fall,
all who have blood and breath honor and love them.
Thus it is said, "They are the counterparts of heaven."

 

32

Only those who are absolutely sincere
can adjust the great relations of mankind,
establish the great foundations of humanity,
and know the transforming
and nourishing process of heaven and earth.
Do they depend on anything except themselves?

How devoted and sincere is their goodness!
How profound and unfathomable is their depth!
How vast and great is their divinity!
Who can know them except those who have quick apprehension,
intelligence, insight, wisdom,
and understanding of heavenly virtue?

 

33

he Book of Odes says,

"Over her embroidered robe
She wore a plain and simple dress,"

implying she disliked to display its elegance.

Thus the way of the best people is hidden,
while it becomes more illustrious every day;
whereas the way of the worst people is conspicuous,
but it gradually goes to ruin.

The best people appear plain,
but people do not get tired of them.
They are simple, but gracefully accomplish.
They are easy, yet thorough.
They know what is distant begins with what is near.
They know where the winds come from.
And they know how the subtle becomes manifest.
Such people enter into virtue.

The Book of Odes says,

"Although the fish dive down to the bottom,
It is still quite clearly seen."

Therefore the best people examine their own hearts
that there may be nothing wrong there,
and that they may have no cause to be dissatisfied.
The best people are better at observing things
other people do not see.

The Book of Odes says,

"While the ceiling looks down upon you,
Be free from shame in your own house
As though exposed to the light of heaven."

Therefore the best people are reverent without moving
and truthful without speaking.

The Book of Odes says,

"Throughout the ritual not a word is spoken.
In the presence there is not the slightest contention."

Therefore the best people do not use rewards,
and people are encouraged to be good.
They do not show anger,
and people are awed more than by hatchets and axes.

The Book of Odes says,

"What needs no display is virtue;
yet all the princes emulate it."

Therefore when the best people are virtuous and respected,
the world will be in order and at peace.

The Book of Odes says,

"I cherish your brilliant virtue,
Which makes no great noise or show."

Confucius said, "Among the means to regenerate mankind,
noise and show are of little importance."

The Book of Odes says,

"His virtue is as light as a hair."

Still, a hair has weight to compare.
"The workings of heaven have neither sound nor smell."
That is perfect virtue.

 

Notes to:
6, 17, and 30: Shun was a legendary sage-emperor of the third millennium BC.

18, 19, 20, and 30: King Wen was the founder of the Zhou dynasty and ruled from 1171 to 1122 BC, and King Wu was his successor and ruled from 1121 to 1116 BC; Duke Zhou was King Wu's brother and died in 1094 BC.

20: Lord Ai ruled Lu from 494-465 BC.

28: The Xia dynasty lasted from 2183 to perhaps 1752 BC. The Shang dynasty lasted from 1751 to 1123 BC. The Western Zhou dynasty lasted from 1122 to 770 BC.

29: The three emperors are the founders of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties.

30: Yao was also a legendary sage-emperor of the third millennium BC.