Two sharp insights from Confucius…
Cut the handle of a new axe with an old axe and it will not be far from the old handle in appearance. Hence a gentleman asks of others no more than of himself, so long as they correct their mistakes. He who can practice tolerance and forbearance is not far from the way of the mean. He should do to others as he would have others do to him.
Confucius highlights the challenge of walking the middle path (way of the mean) especially in the beginning. Cut the handle of a new axe with an old axe and it will not be far from the old handle in appearance. These words describe the difficulty in changing yourself. Even though you decide to change, the new will take time to settle. In the beginning, the new will still resemble the old because it is the old’s inertia which will hold you.
Hence a gentleman asks of others no more than of himself so long as they correct their mistakes. Here he is telling of the practical difficulty of following the way of the mean (middle path). Following the way of the mean is as if walking on that single rail track that we used to as children. You have to balance yourself. You walk a distance and then your step falls either on the right or on the left of the track and you are off balance. Then you come back again. So the way of the mean is like falling again and again on either side and coming back again. Erring again and again but less and less and less. That’s the way of the mean.
Hence a gentleman asks of others no more then of himself so long as they correct their mistakes – He knows he himself cannot keep on the way of the mean for long. So as long as people come back on the way of the mean after going left or right, he is okay with it. Because he, himself does that.
There are four ways to be a gentleman but I am unable to follow any of them – I cannot wait upon my father as I ask of my son, I cannot serve my lord as I ask of my subordinates, I cannot respect my elder brother as I ask of my younger brother, I cannot treat my friends as I ask my friends to treat me.
Here again, Confucius shares his humanness, his vulnerability. He is exposing his own vulnerability by saying I cannot serve my father as much as I expect my son to serve me, I cannot serve my superior as much as I want my subordinates to serve me, I cannot respect my elder brother as much as I ask my younger brother to respect me and I cannot treat my friends as I ask them to treat me. So he is aware of this little difference in the frequencies of his expectations and his performance. And this awareness will bring his performance in line with his expectations. When he will be speaking, he will be thinking of his acts, when he is expecting he will be thinking of his own delivery, when he acts he will be thinking of what he has said – thus he will reach the next level of spiritual evolution.