Be Discreet as if Standing on Cliff Edge or Treading on Thin Ice
Be discreet and watchful as if one is standing on the edge of a cliff or treading on thin ice, both being precarious situations in which people need to exercise maximum caution to stay safe. One should observe the same discreet and care when it comes to adherence to ethics, rites and law as well as fulfilling one’s due responsibility. Any slackening may result in disastrous consequences. Hence the importance of being discreet and watchful.
People all know that they should not fight a tiger with bare hands or wade through a river, but they are not aware of other dangers. We should be discreet and watchful in dangerous situations as if to stand on the edge of a cliff or tread on thin ice. (The Book of Songs)
When Zengzi was ill, he summoned his students and said: “Look at my trembling feet and hands! The Book of Songs says, ‘One should be fearful, discreet and watchful, as if standing on the edge of a cliff or treading on thin ice.’ I am now in such a state and I know I may stay away from disasters and punishments, my students!” (The Analects)