Why did Confucius always Criticize Zi Lu?
Confucius lived between 551 and 479 BC during the late years of the Spring and Autumn Period of China. He was a great thinker, educator and statesman as well as one of the most learnt people at that time. Confucius was the founder of Confucianism, a school of moral doctrine that encourages “justice” and “peace”. Among his three thousand students, Confucius favors Zi Gong, Yan Hui, Ceng Sen and Zi Lu the most. However, in Chinese classic Analects of Confucius, a record of the words and acts of the central Chinese thinker and philosopher Confucius, we find that Confucius also criticizes Zi Lu the most.
In Chapter 11 of Shu Er(Transmission), it goes like this:
Confucius said to Yanyuan:
When needed, acting;
When not needed, concealing.
“Only you and I can do this.”
Zi Lu said, “If you had to handle a major army, who would you choose to assist you?”
Confucius said, “I would not select the kind of man who likes to wrestle with tigers or cross rivers on foot, who can die without a second thought (like Zi Lu). It must be someone who approaches his business with caution, who likes to plan things well and see them to their completion.”
This is an interesting chapter, from which we can confer the situation. Confucius chattered with his students and commended Yan Hui. Hearing this, Zi Lu asked his teacher who he would brought with in military act. Zi Lu is a brave man and well versed in military. By asking this question, he wants to get Confucius’s praise. Confucius euphemistically answered that he prefers the one with caution and wisdom.
Portrait of Zi Lu
For another example in Chapter 13 of Xian Jin(Those of former eras):
When Min Zi waited by the Master's side, he was calm and precise. Zi Lu was always ready for action. Ran You and Zi Gong were affable. The Master was pleased, but said: “People like You can't die a natural death.”
Confucius is very delighted to see his four students remain their original personality while get aheading, but he worries about Zi Lu for his candor and recklessness.
Actually, Confucius trusts and cherish Zi Lu very much. He shifted tough job to Zi Lu and recommended Zi Lu to higher position. Zi Lu has the talent and did not disappoints Confucius’s confidence. He and Confucius are in good relationship and the reason why Confucius criticizes him so much lies in Confucius’s ides of education. In Confucius’s opinion, each student has specific personality and the teacher should instruct them according their personalities. Zi Lu is courageous but a little bit reckless, therefore Confucius reminds him of being prudential.