If you don’t know how to serve men, why worry about serving the gods?

Confucius (c. 551- c. 479 BC) Chinese philosopher, sage, politician [孔夫子 (Kǒng Fūzǐ, K'ung Fu-tzu, K'ung Fu Tse), 孔子 (Kǒngzǐ, Chungni), 孔丘 (Kǒng Qiū, K'ung Ch'iu)]
The Analects [Lun Yü], 11.11 (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse]

Common translation of this Analect, source unknown. Other translations:

  • 'Chi Lu asked about serving the spirits of the dead. The Master said, "While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve their spirits?"' [tr. Legge (1861)]

  • 'Tszlu propounded a question about ministering to the spirits of the departed. The Master replied, "Where there is scarcely the ability to minister to living men, how shall there be ability to minister to the spirits?"' [tr. Jennings (1895)]

  • 'A disciple (the intrepid Chung Yu) enquired how one should behave towards the spirits of dead men. Confucius answered, "We cannot as yet do our duties to living men; why should we enquire about our duties to dead men?"' [tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]

  • 'When Chi Lu asked about his duty to his spirits the Master replied: "While still unable to do your duty to the living, how can you do your duty to the dead?"' [tr. Soothill (1910)]

  • 'Zilu asked how to serve the spirits and gods. The Master said: "You are not yet able to serve men, how could you serve the spirits?"' [tr. Leys (1997)]

  • 'Jilu asked how one should serve the gods and spirits. The Master said, "When you don't yet know how to serve human beings, how can you serve the spirits?"' [tr. Watson (2007)]

  • 'Jilu [Zilu] asked about how to serve the spirits of the dead and the gods. The Master said, "You can't even serve men properly, how can you serve the spirits?"' [tr. Annping Chin (2014), 11.12]

  • 'Ji Lu asked about how to serve and worship gods and spirits. Confucius said, "You still have not served men well. Why do you bother serving gods and spirits?"' [tr. Li (2020), 11.12]

Added on 12-May-04 | Last updated 10-Dec-20
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