Confucius said: “Life and death are the matter of destiny, riches, and honor which lie in heaven.”
Once, Confucius was surrounded by soldiers in the city of Wei, but Confucius was still singing and relaxing in the room. Zi Lu (one of Confucius’s best students) asked Confucius, “Why does the teacher still have time to sing?”
Confucius said: “Let me tell you! I have wanted to get rid of poverty for a long time, but I still can’t avoid it, this is destiny. I sought understanding for a long time, but I do not get it because it was not the right time. There were no frustrated men in the time of Emperor Yao, Emperor Shun and Emperor Yu. (The legendary rulers of the Xia Dynasty during the 5th century B.C., regarded as Great Sage Kings based on their virtues and skills as leaders.) It was not because they were smart. In the time of Jie-Zhou (the last rulers of the Xia and Shang Dynasties, respectively, and used as references to tyranny), there were no proud persons, but not because people lacked wisdom. It was because of their situation. Knowing that poverty is fate and attainment needs time, facing catastrophe without fear is the courage of saints! I am walking along destiny, what can anyone do to me?”
On the fifth day of being trapped, a general came to apologize and said, “We mistakenly thought that you were a general who had harassed the city for the past few days. Therefore, we let the Master suffer. We ask for your forgiveness.” Then, Confucius and his followers were set free.
Confucius learned music from Xiang Zi. After the teacher taught him a piece of music, he played it every day to practice. He didn’t look bored at all, and his techniques soon grew from amateurish to proficient.
Ten days later, the teacher said to him, “You have played this song very well, now you can learn a new song!”
Confucius stood up and said respectfully, “Although I have learned this form of music, I have not mastered the skill of playing.”
Many days passed, and the teacher felt that Confucius’s technique had improved even more. His music was harmonious to people’s ears, so the teacher said: “You have mastered the playing skill, you can learn a new song now!”
Confucius said, “Although I have mastered the skill of playing, I have not yet grasped the thought and emotion of this piece of music!”
Many days later, the teacher came to listen to his playing, and he was captivated by his beautiful playing. “You have grasped the thought and emotion of this piece of music, will you learn a new song?” He asked with a sigh.
Confucius replied, “Although I play well, I do not yet know whose song this is.”
Only a few days later, Confucius asked his teacher to come and listen to the music. “You already know whose song this is?” The teacher asked him, surprised.
Confucius said excitedly, “Yes! The man is tall and well built, his face is dark, his eyes look up to the sky, and his heart is full of influence. Is he the King of Zhou?”
The teacher was surprised and admired him, he said excitedly, “You are right! My teacher once told me that this song is called Wen Wang Cao. You have reached such a high level of knowledge with your tireless studying!”
King Wen of Zhou (Chinese: 周文王; pinyin: Zhōu Wén Wáng; 1152 – 1056 BC) was king of Zhou during the late Shang dynasty in ancient China. Although it was his son Wu who conquered the Shang following the Battle of Muye, King Wen was honored as the founder of the Zhou dynasty. A large number of the hymns of the Classic of Poetry are praises to the legacy of King Wen. Some consider him the first epic hero of Chinese history.
The story of Confucius was recorded in the book of Liezi. It is said that there was a man in the state of Song who was benevolent. His black cow gave birth to a white calf. He thought it was strange, so he asked Confucius.
Confucius did not give him any reason, he only said to him, “This is very auspicious! Give the calf to the gods!”
After a year, the man suddenly became blind. His cow gave birth to a white calf again, and he asked his son to ask Confucius again.
The image is from File:British White calf trio.jpg – Wikimedia Commons.
The son said: “We asked him once, and your eyes suddenly turn blind, why should we ask him again?”
The father said, “The words and deeds of the saint are profound. Sometimes his words will not be seen until later. Ask him again.”
The son asked Confucius again.
This time Confucius still did not say anything, and said to him like he did last time: “This is a sign of good fortune, so go and give it to the gods!”
The son returned and told his father.
The father said, “Do as Confucius said.”
After another year, the son suddenly went blind as well.
Soon after, the state of Chu attacked the state of Song and surrounded the city. All the men, including the old and young, were recruited to fight the enemy, and most of them died on the battlefield. The father and son were exempt from the service because they were both blind. After the siege lifted, they were suddenly able to see again.
Afterward, the father and son understood what Confucius’s words meant.