Do You Choose to Be Brave, Eloquent, or Virtuous? What Did Confucius Say?

Confucius said, “Because it does no financial damage or harm and is without exaggeration." (Image:
Confucius said, “Because it does no financial damage or harm and is without exaggeration." (Image:

One day, Confucius was touring Nong Mountain with his disciples Zilu, Zigong, and Yanhui. At the summit, Confucius looked into the distance and said: “Standing high, one can see afar. Why don’t you tell me your ambitions without holding anything back?”

Zilu stepped up and said: “I wish arrows were decorated with white feathers, and flags with red. Amidst bugle calls, bells, and drums, I would lead the army and drive the enemies away in a spurt of energy, reclaiming a thousand miles of lost land. Zigong and Yanhui could offer me advice.” Confucius praised him and said: “Brave!”

Zigong stepped up and said: “One day, the armies of the State of Qi and the State of Chu will confront each other in the field. Just at the brink of battle, I will show up in a white robe and white hat, and illustrate the price of war to the two states. Without costing a single soldier, I will resolve the dispute between them. Zilu and Yanhui could help by supporting me.” Confucius said: “Eloquent!”

Yanhui was silent. Confucius asked him: “Yanhui, don’t you have any ambitions to share with us?” Yanhui answered: “They have covered both civil and military affairs. What’s left for me?”

Confucius said: “Even so, everyone has his ambitions. Do share with us.” Yanhui said: “I wish I could assist a wise king and educate people using rites and music. The king will apply the Tao to the entire kingdom. The officials will touch many lives with virtue. Common folks will foster harmonious relations and good faith, and live and work in peace and contentment. Weapons will be melted down and turned into farming tools, cities will become farmland. People will be kind to their neighbors and friends. The surrounding countries, inspired by the kingdom’s integrity and sense of justice, will rest their armies and make a truce. If the entire world were like this, there would be no need to worry about war. If this day comes, there will be no need for Zilu and Zigong to deliver people from misery.” Confucius praised him: “Wonderful, virtuous!”

Zilu asked: “Master, which one would you pick?”

Confucius said: ‘Because it does no financial damage or harm, and is without exaggeration, I pick virtuous.’

Believing the Tao will save the world and help people live in peace and serenity was indeed Confucius’ aspiration.

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