[Editor's Note: Forgive the brevity, but this book is short.]
The sum of the whole work.
What Heaven has conferred is called THE NATURE; an accordance with this nature is called THE PATH of duty; the regulation of this path is called INSTRUCTION.
The path may not be left for an instant. If it could be left, it would not be the path. On this account, the superior man does not wait till he sees things, to be cautious, nor till he hears things, to be apprehensive.
There is nothing more visible than what is secret, and nothing more manifest than what is minute. Therefore the superior man is watchful over himself, when he is alone.
While there are no stirrings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, or joy, the mind may be said to be in the state of EQUILIBRIUM. When those feelings have been stirred, and they act in their due degree, there ensues what may be called the state of HARMONY. This EQUILIBRIUM is the great root from which grow all the human actings in the world, and this HARMONY is the universal path which they all should pursue.
Let the states of equilibrium and harmony exist in perfection, and a happy order will prevail throughout heaven and earth, and all things will be nourished and flourish.
Only the superior man can follow the Mean; the mean man is always violating it.
Chung-nî said, “The superior man embodies the course of the Mean; the mean man acts contrary to the course of the Mean.”
“The superior man’s embodying the course of the Mean is because he is a superior man, and so always maintains the Mean. The mean man’s acting contrary to the course of the Mean is because he is a mean man, and has no caution.”
The rarity, long existing in Confucius’s time, of the practice of the Mean.
The Master said, “Perfect is the virtue which is according to the Mean! Rare have they long been among the people, who could practice it!”
How it was that few were able to practice the Mean.
The Master said, “I know how it is that the path of the Mean is not walked in: — The knowing go beyond it, and the stupid do not come up to it. I know how it is that the path of the Mean is not understood: — The men of talents and virtue go beyond it, and the worthless do not come up to it.”
“There is no body but eats and drinks. But they are few who can distinguish flavours.”
The Master said, “Alas! How is the path of the Mean untrodden!”
How Shun pursued the course of the Mean.
The Master said, “There was Shun: — He indeed was greatly wise! Shun loved to question others, and to study their words, though they might be shallow. He concealed what was bad in them and displayed what was good. He took hold of their two extremes, determined the Mean, and employed it in his government of the people. It was by this that he was Shun!”
Their contrary conduct shows men’s ignorance of the course and nature of the Mean.
The Master said “Men all say, ‘We are wise;’ but being driven forward and taken in a net, a trap, or a pitfall, they know not how to escape. Men all say, ‘We are wise;’ but happening to choose the course of the Mean, they are not able to keep it for a round month.”
How Hûi held fast the course of the Mean.
The Master said “This was the manner of Hûi: — he made choice of the Mean, and whenever he got hold of what was good, he clasped it firmly, as if wearing it on his breast, and did not lose it.”
The difficulty of attaining to the course of the Mean.
The Master said, “The kingdom, its States, and its families, may be perfectly ruled; dignities and emoluments may be declined; naked weapons may be trampled under the feet; — but the course of the Mean cannot be attained to.”
On energy in its relation to the Mean.
Tsze-lû asked about energy.
The Master said, “Do you mean the energy of the South, the energy of the North, or the energy which you should cultivate yourself?
“To show forbearance and gentleness in teaching others; and not to revenge unreasonable conduct: — this is the energy of Southern regions, and the good man makes it his study.”
“To lie under arms; and meet death without regret: — this is the energy of Northern regions, and the forceful make it their study.”
“Therefore, the superior man cultivates a friendly harmony, without being weak. — How firm is he in his energy! He stands erect in the middle, without inclining to either side. — How firm is he in his energy! When good principles prevail in the government of his country, he does not change from what he was in retirement. — How firm is he in his energy! When bad principles prevail in the country, he maintains his course to death without changing. — How firm is he in his energy!”
Only the sage man can come up to the requirements of the Mean.
The Master said, “To live in obscurity, and yet practice wonders, in order to be mentioned with honor in future ages: — this is what I do not do.
“The good man tries to proceed according to the right path, but when he has gone halfway, he abandons it: — I am not able so to stop.”
“The superior man accords with the course of the Mean. Though he may be all unknown, unregarded by the world, he feels no regret. — It is only the sage who is able for this.”
The course of the Mean reaches far and wide, but yet is secret.
The way which the superior man pursues, reaches wide and far, and yet is secret.
Common men and women, however ignorant, may intermeddle with the knowledge of it; yet in its utmost reaches, there is that which even the sage does not know. Common men and women, however much below the ordinary standard of character, can carry it into practice; yet in its utmost reaches, there is that which even the sage is not able to carry into practice. Great as heaven and earth are, men still find some things in them with which to be dissatisfied. Thus it is that, were the superior man to speak of his way in all its greatness, nothing in the world would be found able to embrace it, and were he to speak of it in its minuteness, nothing in the world would be found able to split it.
It is said in the Book of Poetry, “The hawk flies up to heaven; the fishes leap in the deep.” This expresses how this way is seen above and below.
The way of the superior man may be found, in its simple elements, in the intercourse of common men and women; but in its utmost reaches, it shines brightly through heaven and earth.
The path of the Mean is not far to seek. Each man has the law of it in himself, and it is to be pursued with earnest sincerity.
The Master said “The path is not far from man. When men try to pursue a course, which is far from the common indications of consciousness, this course cannot be considered THE PATH.”
“In the Book of Poetry, it is said, ‘In hewing an ax-handle, in hewing an ax-handle, the pattern is not far off.’ We grasp one ax handle to hew the other; and yet, if we look askance from the one to the other, we may consider them as apart. Therefore, the superior man governs men, according to their nature, with what is proper to them, and as soon as they change what is wrong, he stops.”
“When one cultivates to the utmost the principles of his nature, and exercises them on the principle of reciprocity, he is not far from the path. What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do to others.”
“In the way of the superior man there are four things, to not one of which have I as yet attained. — To serve my father, as I would require my son to serve me: to this I have not attained; to serve my prince, as I would require my minister to serve me: to this I have not attained; to serve my elder brother, as I would require my younger brother to serve me: to this I have not attained; to set the example in behaving to a friend, as I would require him to behave to me: to this I have not attained. Earnest in practicing the ordinary virtues, and careful in speaking about them, if, in his practice, he has anything defective, the superior man dares not but exert himself; and if, in his words, he has any excess, he dares not allow himself such license. Thus his words have respect to his actions, and his actions have respect to his words; is it not just an entire sincerity which marks the superior man?”
How the superior man, in every varying situation, pursues the Mean, doing what is right, and finding his rule in himself.