Teacher Tang Yuling will accompany you to read The Analects
54. Book 3 Ba Yi (The Eight-row Dance), Chapter 13
Wang Sun Jia asked, saying, “What is the meaning of the saying, ‘It is better to pay court to the furnace than to the southwest corner?’” The Master said, “Not so. He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray.”
Highlights of this lecture include:
1. Historical Background
Wang-sun Jia was the military minister of Wei; and was weighted highly by his master Duke Ling of Wei. Though Duke Ling was doted and trust unduly upon his wife Nan-zi, he was not dumb. He appointed able and talented persons to help him governed the state. This prevented Wei from falling apart quickly. When Confucius arrived at Wei during his peregrination, the infamous Madame Nan-zi attempted to pull him in her power bloc of influence. On seeing Confucius did not refuse Nan-zi’s request and met her eventually, Wang-sun Jia thought Confucius might wanted to seek a position with her influence. So, the military minister ostensibly raised the question about an idiomatic phrase which was actually intended to ridicule Confucius.
2. Wang-sun Jia’s underlying intention
Wang-sun Jia’s underlying intention was to told Confucius that ‘you, the Master, would be better to flatter me—Wang-sun Jia, than to be personally associated with Nan-zi. Nan-zi was referred as the “Ao奧” tutelary god of the house. “Zao竈” god of the hearth or kitchen stove was referred to himself who had actual power in the Court of Wei. “Ao” was god of household occupied the post of greatest honor in the southwestern corner of the hall and was of higher rank deities than that of the lar of stove “zao”. But the lar of stove was more useful and has more actual power of influence. Wang-sun Jia thought he had more proper power than Nan-zi. He compared Nan-zi and himself in accordance with the rank and power of the gods of house and of stove in the deities.
3. How did Confucius reply?
At sixty, the Master had the capacity to understand a man thoroughly out his speech. His ears became an obedient organ for the reception of truth. This capacity of understand just by listening could be enhanced by the accumulation of knowledge and experience, as well as a lot of practices. The Master, in front of this ridicule, fully understood Wang-sun Jia’s underlying meaning. He replied, “Not so”, totally rebuked Wang-sun Jia. The Master was firm and said: “He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray.” which means that “I, Confucius, am not the one whom would resort to flattery for a position. This is an act that go against the Way of Heaven and an offense to the Heavenly God. He who offends against heaven has none to whom he can pray for help, it is useless to flatteringly pray anywhere else. As an official of Wei state, Wang-sun Jia should serve public good as the way to serve Wei’s lord--Duke Ling with all sincerity, rather than seeking personal interest. Otherwise, there is no one to whom you can pray for help.