Confucius was a wise sage who sought to educate his fellow citizens on the ancient wisdom of moral precepts. He is one of the most influential Chinese philosophers.
Confucius was born around 551 BC to a modest family. His father was a soldier and his mother educated him in the ancient ceremonies, poetry, music and etiquette of the ancient courts. Confucius was fascinated with these moral and cultural precepts known as ‘Li’ However, he was born in a time of religious and cultural decline. The great Chou dynasty was in decline and it was being replaced by petty fiefdoms fighting for supremacy.
After the death of his mother, Confucius spent three years in seclusion and bereavement; this enabled him to focus on his philosophic ideals. On the end of his period of seclusion, he became a teacher, teaching people from all classes in the ancient arts of Li. Confucius soon became the acknowledged expert in the art of Li and he became the chief sage to the Duke of Lu. However, the Duke of Lu was expelled from his city by a revolt of ministers. Confucius followed him into exile and spent the next 14 years perfecting the ancient codes of conduct and morality.
“Isn’t it a pleasure to study and practice what you have learned? Isn’t it also great when friends visit from distant places? If one remains not annoyed when he is not understood by people around him, isn’t he a sage?”
The Analects, Chapter I
Confucius taught the importance of self-introspection. In particular, valuing the true motives and performing one’s duty to the best of his ability.
“In archery we have something like the way of the superior man. When the archer misses the center of the target, he turns round and seeks for the cause of his failure in himself.”
Confucius, The Doctrine of the Mean
Confucius was widely loved by his students – breaking with tradition, he became friendly and got to know them on a personal level and teaching them depending on their personalities and character traits.
Despite his glowing reputation, Confucius often encountered difficulties from those who opposed him or were jealous of his influence. Towards the end of his life, Confucius despaired at the difficulty of returning society to justice and order. However, in his later years, he wrote prodigiously explaining his key concepts and teachings.
After seeing a wounded antelope, Confucius predicted his own death and died shortly after.
“To show forbearance and gentleness in teaching others; and not to revenge unreasonable conduct — this is the energy of southern regions, and the good man makes it his study. To lie under arms; and meet death without regret — this is the energy of northern regions, and the forceful make it their study. Therefore, the superior man cultivates a friendly harmony, without being weak — How firm is he in his energy!”
Confucius, The Doctrine of the Mean
Although relatively unsuccessful in his own time, his philosophy took hold around 200BC and played a huge role in influencing future Chinese society and Chinese philosophy.
Confucius did not claim miracles or any divinity but had great faith in the power of education, respect for the past, righteous conduct, and reform of corrupt practices.
The Complete Confucius
- The Complete Confucius: The Analects, The Doctrine Of The Mean, and The Great Learning with an Introduction by Nicholas Tamblyn
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