Confucius, Biography, Quotes and Beliefs

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who was born in 551 B.C. Confucius is a corruption of the name K'ung Fu-tzu. Although K'ung Fu-tzu was the philosopher's correct name, he has historically been referred to as Confucius in Western countries. Confucius is to the Chinese culture and history what Socrates is to the Western culture and history. Both philosophers lived before A.D.

Confucius

Confucius (551-478 B.C.) is the romanised form of the Chinese name Kong Fuzi (Chinese: 孔夫子; Hanyu pinyin: Kòng Fūzǐ; Wade-Giles: K'ung-fu-tzu). He was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher born in Lu (modern day Shandong province). Confucius is to the Chinese culture and history what Socrates is to the Western culture and history. Both philosophers lived before A.D.

His parents, while not wealthy, belonged to the superior class. His father was a warrior, distinguished no less for his deeds of valor than for his noble ancestry. Confucius was a mere boy when his father died. From childhood he showed a great aptitude for study, and though, in order to support himself and his mother, he had to labor in his early years as a hired servant in a noble family, he managed to find time to pursue his favorite studies. He made such progress that at the age of twenty-two years he opened a school to which many were attracted by the fame of his learning. His ability and faithful service merited for him promotion to the office of minister of justice. Under his wise administration the State attained to a degree of prosperity and moral order that it had never seen before. But through the intrigues of rival states the Marquis of Lu was led to prefer ignoble pleasures to the preservation of good government. Confucius tried by sound advice to bring his liege lord back to the path of duty, but in vain. He thereupon resigned his high position at the cost of personal ease and comfort, and left the state. For thirteen years, accompanied by faithful disciples, he went about from one state to another, seeking a ruler who would give heed to his counsels. Many were the privations he suffered. More than once he ran imminent risk of being waylaid and killed by his enemies, but his courage and confidence in the providential character of his mission never deserted him. At last he returned to Lu, where he spent the last five years of his long life encouraging others to the study and practice of virtue, and edifying all by his noble example. He died in the year 478 B.C., in the seventy-fourth year of his age. His lifetime almost exactly coincided with that of Buddha, who died two years earlier at the age of eighty.

Confucius is best known for formulating a code of ethics and ritual based upon the venerated ancient Golden Civilizations of China. His real name was Kong Fu Zi (the "Zi" character meaning "little one," or "master"), the romanization of his name occurred when the first Christian evangelicals came to China and took a liking to his teachings, and transferred them back to the West. His disciples wrote down his teachings in a book called the Analects, which focus on man's duties to obey a universal natural law through ritual behavior. Moderation in conduct, or "Li", was emphasized, and filial piety (respecting the older members of one's family) was the goal. Age itself is greatly honored in Chinese culture, and the elderly were taught to be venerated. He emphasized rational analysis with a touch of flexibility. He is quoted to say,

"I for my part am not one of those who have innate knowledge. I am simply one who loves the past and who is diligent in investigating it."

The religion of Confucianism derives its name from Confucius, and is based on his writings. These writings were intended to be advice for the rulers of China in the sixth century B.C., and were later studied by the followers of Confucius. In addition, his followers brought in ideas originating in Buddhism and Taoism, as Confucianism spread from China to other Asian countries, including Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

One idea emphasized by Confucius was "beautiful conduct." He thought that if everyone in a society could achieve "beautiful conduct," or what he considered correct behavior, society could become perfect. This involved avoiding all extreme actions and emotions, being considerate to others, respecting family and the elderly.

A modern Chinese scholar suggested that the core of Confucian philosophy is contained in these words:

The men of old, when they wished their virtues to shine throughout the land, first had to govern their states well. To govern their states well, they first had to establish harmony in their families. To establish harmony in their families, they first had to discipline themselves. To discipline themselves, they first had to set their minds in order. To set their minds in order, they first had to make their purpose sincere. To make their purpose sincere, they first had to extend their knowledge to the utmost. Such knowledge is acquired through a careful investigation of things. For with things investigated knowledge becomes complete. With knowledge complete the purpose becomes sincere. With the purpose sincere the mind is set in order. With the mind set in order there is real self discipline. With real self discipline the family achieves harmony. With harmony in the family the state becomes well governed. With the state well governed there is peace throughout the land.

Confucius may not have considered himself to have founded a religion. He was a philosopher, not a prophet, and did not emphasize spirituality, but instead certain behaviors and being a good citizen. He believed that five relationships formed the basis of a stable, happy society. These five relationships include those between ruler and subject, older brother and younger brother, father and son, husband and wife, and the relationship between two friends.

After his death, Confucius' grandson and disciples continued spreading his philosophies. Confucius is considered a great teacher, rather than a prophet or god. He is well-known for his sayings, such as "What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others," and "Respect yourself and others will respect you." Rituals which strengthen the five relationships are important to followers of his teachings.

Confucius died in 479 B.C. His hometown of Qufu became well-known after his death, and is now visited by many tourists, as well as Chinese citizens wishing to visit the nearby temples and Confucius' grave. It is unclear whether Confucius would have approved of the many temples dedicated to him, or if he would have wished for his followers to continue with his teaching, and not make him the object of veneration.

Confucius Quotes

"A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions."

Confucius

"Ability will never catch up with the demand for it."

Confucius

"An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger."

Confucius

"Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without."

Confucius

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest."

Confucius

"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."

Confucius

"Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire."

Confucius

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it."

Confucius

"Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage."

Confucius

"Go before the people with your example, and be laborious in their affairs."

Confucius

"He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it."

Confucius

"He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger."

Confucius

"He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make his words good."

Confucius

"Heaven means to be one with God."

Confucius

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."

Confucius

"I hear, I know. I see, I remember. I do, I understand."

Confucius

"I want you to be everything that's you, deep at the center of your being."

Confucius

"I will not be concerned at other men's not knowing me; I will be concerned at my own want of ability."

Confucius

"If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself."

Confucius

That Confucius possessed a noble, commanding personality, there can be little doubt. It is shown by his recorded traits of character, by his lofty moral teachings, by the high-minded men that he trained to continue his life-work. In their enthusiastic love and admiration, they declared him the "greatest of men", the "sage without flaw", the "perfect man". That he himself did not make any pretension to possess virtue and wisdom in their fullness is shown by his own recorded sayings. He was conscious of his shortcomings, and this consciousness he made no attempt to keep concealed. But of his love of virtue and wisdom there can be no question. He is described in "Analects", VII, 18, as one "who in the eager pursuit of knowledge, forgot his food, and in the joy of attaining to it forgot his sorrow". Whatever in the traditional records of the past, whether history, lyric poems, or rites and ceremonies, was edifying and conducive to virtue, he sought out with untiring zeal and made known to his disciples. He was a man of affectionate nature, sympathetic, and most considerate towards others. He loved his worthy disciples dearly, and won in turn their undying devotion. He was modest and unaffected in his bearing, inclined to gravity, yet possessing a natural cheerfulness that rarely deserted him. Schooled to adversity from childhood, he learned to find contentment and serenity of mind even where ordinary comforts were lacking. He was very fond of vocal and instrumental music, and often sang, accompanying his voice with the lute.

Confucius is often held up as the type of the virtuous man without religion. His teachings, it is alleged, were chiefly ethical, in which one looks in vain for retribution in the next life as a sanction of right conduct. Now an acquaintance with the ancient religion of China and with Confucian texts reveals the emptiness of the assertion that Confucius was devoid of religious thought and feeling. He was religious after the manner of religious men of his age and land. In not appealing to rewards and punishments in the life to come, he was simply following the example of his illustrious Chinese predecessors, whose religious belief did not include this element of future retribution. The Chinese classics that were ancient even in the time of Confucius have nothing to say of hell, but have much to say of the rewards and punishments meted out in the present life by the all-seeing Heaven. There are numbers of texts that show plainly that he did not depart from the traditional belief in the supreme Heaven-god and subordinate spirits, in Divine providence and retribution, and in the conscious existence of souls after death. These religious convictions on his part found expression in many recorded acts of piety and worship.

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