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Confucius

Confucius, China's most famous teacher, philosopher and political theorist, born in the
small state of Lu, which is located in what is now Shantung Province, in 551 B.C. and
died in the year 479 B.C. His family name was K'ung. "Confucius" is a Latinized version
of K'ung Fu-tzu, meaning "Master K'ung."

As a young man Confucius was very poor, and at one time he made his living by keeping

accounts. He seems to have never attended school and was largely self educated and

eventually became the most learned man of his day. As a young man he was, as he said,

"without rank and in humble circumstances." He had to make his own living at an early

age, at tasks that were more or less menial. Working with the common people gave him a

closer view of their sufferings about which he became deeply concerned. He felt that

world had "gone to the dogs" and that some drastic changes had to be made. He had a

very poor opinion of the rulers of his day. He said, about the parasitic nobles of his time,

"It is difficult to expect anything from men who stuff themselves with food the whole

day, while never using their minds in any way at all. Even gamblers do something, and to

that degree are better than these idlers." But, these "idlers" were not always idle. These

nobles practiced the art of war. They rediculed those who concerned themselves with the

need for good government and orderly administration.

However, Confucius was not a pacifist. There are time, he believed, that moral men must

use force in order to prevent the world from being enslaved by those for whom force is

the only argument settler. He considered war as a last resort to enforce the power of

justice. But on the personal level he said: "If I feel in my heart that I am wrong, I must

stand in fear even though my opponent is the least formidable of men. But if my own

heart tells me I am right, I shall go forward even against thousands and tens of thousand.
" He believed that an army could not fight effectively unless its private or common

soldiers knew why they were fighting and were convinced in the justice of their cause.

Morale, he believed, was dependent on moral conviction. He said: "To lead a people who

have not been educated to war, is to throw them away." Such ideas as these were

completely at variance with those of the ruling class. He realized this and tried to do

something about it. From the point of view of the rulers these ideas must have seemed

dangerous. But, undaunted, he dedicated his life to the attempt to relieve the sufferings of

the common people. It was the custom of the aristocrats to make it a pastime to tax their

subjects and exhaust the common people with forced labor. In years when crops were

bad, starvation was common.

Confucius believed that the solution to the problem should be reform of the government

that would make its objective not the pleasure of the rulers but the happiness of their

subjects. Therefore, his lifelong objective was to occupy a commanding administrative

post in which he would have the power to put his radical ideas into practice. As an

humble subject, the rulers of his native state, Lu, paid little attention to his ideas.

But, his opportunity never came. He was considered as an enemy of the state, but he

never ceased to talk to younger men about his principles. Gradually a group of them

formed about him, as disciples who recognized him as their teacher. since he was

powerless to apply his principles himself, he paid increasing emphasis on teaching them

to younger men for whom he sought posts in the government. He was successful in

placing some of his students in positions of authority. But their teacher, and his doctrines

had little effect in his day. At the age of fifty he set off on what was to be a decade or

more of ardous and dangerous travels through various states, seeking a ruler who would
help him put his ideas into effect. Finally, at age 67 he returned to Lu where he continued

teaching until his death at 72.

Confucianism has been called a religion. However, Confucius was not a religious leader

in the usual sense of the word. He was undoubtedly a religious man, in that he felt that

somewhere in the universe there was a force on the side of right. He liked religious ritual,

but he considered a large part of the religious practice of his day to be sheer superstition.

His philosophy was not founded upon supernaturalism. Humanity was central in his

philosophy. "Virtue," he said, "is to love men. And wisdom is to understand men."

Confucius regarded humankind as one large family. One of his disciples said: "Within the

four seas all men are brothers." Sincerity and reciprocity in human relationships should

be one's guiding principles. Confucius said: "The truly virtuous man, desiring to establish

himself, seeks to establish others; desiring success for himself, he strives to help others

succeed. To find in the wishes of one's own heart the principle for his conduct toward

others is the method of true virtue."

The teachings of Confucius became known as "tao" usually translated as "The Way."

"Tao" means "road" or "path." To Confucius "tao" did not mean anything mystical. It was

simply the Way, with a capital W, or in other words, the way above all other ways that

men should follow. The goal was not after life but in this life here and now, for all

humankind. The Way included the ethical code of the individual and also the pattern of

government that should bring the fullest measure of well-being for every human being.

The Way was not mystical, but it was regarded with enthusiasm by Confucius' disciples.

Confucius said: "The measure of a man's life is not how long but how good?" It was not
desirable that a man should die the same evening after hearing the Way, but if he must, it

could be borne.

To Confucius the doctrine of the Way was not a mystical thing. He made this clear when

he said: "Men can enlarge the Way, but the Way, by itself, does not enlarge the man."

Even though Confucius did not regard his teachings as a cosmic absolute, he was

nonetheless exacting in his demands that his disciples adhere to its unswervingly. He

demanded loyalty to the principle of the Way. Despite the fact that his principles were not

based on religious beliefs he was able to inspire young men with the most complete

devotion to his ideals.

The function of Confucius' teaching has been much like that of the faith of Christians. he

demanded the utmost zeal of his followers. He expected them to be prepared to lay down

their lives for their principles. And many did so. Over the centuries Confucians have

produced many martyrs.

The problem of Confucius' relationship to religion is a difficult one. He was not primarily

a religious teacher or prophet. He talked much about the way men should follow; he did

not discuss the way to heaven. When a disciple asked how one should serve spirits,

Confucius told him: "You are not yet able to serve men; how can you serve spirits?" The

disciple asked about death. Confucius replied: "You do not yet understand life; how can

you understand death?" The religion of his day had little to say about life after death.

The main thrust of Confucius' teaching concerned the present. He was deeply distressed

by the misery he saw on every hand. China was only nominally united. The king merely a

puppet and the feudal states were divided between powerful nobles who did as they

pleased.
Confucius's ancestry is unknown, but it has been said that he was descended from the

Chinese nobility. It is known that his family was poor and belonged to the coolie class.

He said: "It is better to be poor and yet happy; rich and yet fond of your fellowmen;" and,

"To eat vegetables and drink only water, with bent arms for a pillow, I am still happy in

such a life.”

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