When Boniu fell ill, Confucius went to inquire after him. Holding Boniu’s hand through the window, he said: “He is dying. Such is fate, alas! That such a man should have an illness like this! That such a man should have an illness like this!”
Life is fragile. Even though we have found cures for serious diseases like leprosy (which the follower Boniu is said to have died from), there are still plenty of others such as cancer that can strike us in our prime. Perhaps one day we will find a cure for that, too, but even that and the plethora of other astounding medical advances that technology is enabling won’t stop us from shuffling off this mortal coil.
This makes it all the more important that we make the most of the time we have on earth by enjoying our lives and utilizing our talents to build a more peaceful and prosperous world. At its core, this is what Confucius’s teaching is all about. As much as we would like to think otherwise, we will never become immortal. Such is fate.
This article features a translation of Chapter 10 of Book 6 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 6 here.
(1) Boniu (百牛) was the courtesy name of Ran Geng (冉耕), who was only seven years younger than Confucius. He came from the same clan as two other followers of the sage, Ran Yong (冉雍) and Ran Qiu (冉求). Some sources even claim that he was Ran Yong’s father.
(2) The disease afflicting Boniu must have been an extremely serious one like leprosy to force Confucius to hold his hand from outside the window rather than going inside to comfort his loyal friend and follower.
I took this image at the Temple of Mencius in Zoucheng, a small town near to Qufu.