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Confucius is the national name to the Chinese and cultural figure in the Chinese tradition, just like Moses to the Jews, Jesus to the Christians and Muhammad to the Muslims, only in the secular sense. Confucius was the founder of the philosophy of Confucianism 2500 years ago, and the curator and authoritative interpreter of the Chinese thoughts 2500 years before him. Therefore Confucius and Confucianism represent all the Chinese philosophy in their 5000 years history of civilisation.
He was a Chinese philosopher and instructor born in 551BC in the State of Lu which is known today as Qufu in Shandong province. In Chinese, his name was Kong Qiu. Kong was the family name while Qiu was his given name. Confucianism originated its name from Confucius, but he was not the founder. It is more like a moral code or way to live life than an organised religion (even though technically, it is a religion). Confucius believed that every person had their place in society. He enforced this through his philosophy, and developed Ancient China into a structured society. This structured society was based on work/effort of the social class. For example- The merchants were at the bottom of this system even though many in the educated class were wealthy. As a result, Confucius became an important figure in Chinese history for this influence.
Confucius is the ultimate teacher to the Chinese. The Chinese people are his cultural descendants.
He was not only an educator and politician, but also scholar and thinker. During his extensive studies, he also dealt intensively with literature, history, philosophy, politics, society and ethics. He was also confronted with various social problems.
Confucius defined five pairs of relationships that members of society have and how they should interact. The five relationships are: father and son, older brother and younger brother, husband and wife, elder and junior, and ruler and subject. He also taught that there is a particular virtue each member of the different relationships should practice to the other. Confucius taught that fathers were to be kind to their sons, and in return, sons were to show filial piety toward their fathers. Older brothers were to show gentleness to their younger brothers, and in return the younger was to show humility toward the older brother. A husband was to show righteousness to his wife in all he did, and the wife in return was to be obedient to the husband. An elder was to show humane consideration toward his juniors, and they in turn were to show deference to their elders. A ruler was to show benevolence to his subjects, and the subjects would give him their loyalty.
His philosophy preached of social order above all. Confucius believed that this order was only possible through mutual respect for each other and for ancestor worship. To achieve this ideal, Confucius saw education as the only way. Confucius is especially famous for his various quotes on education.
Unlike prophets of monotheistic religions, Confucius did not preach a theology that would lead humanity to personal redemption. He preached a philosophy that sought the redemption of the state by correcting individual behavior. It was a doctrine oriented to this world, preaching a code of social conduct and not a path to life after death.
Confucius broke the monopoly on education and founded the first private school at the age of 30, the principle of which was “to give education to all without distinction.” Confucius was the first man in China to make the rule that everyone was equal to education, poor or rich.
He taught over three thousand students over the decades, of which 72 students stood out as wise men. In the educational history of ancient China, no one had had as many disciples as Confucius.
Education at a school for commoners
Although Confucius was a member of the ‘shi’, or the knights’ social class, by birthright, he was believed to grow up in an impoverished environment. His birthright still gave him access to knowledge via the public libraries, but he had to work hard on farm and as a bookkeeper and clerk to provide for his family. He married namely very young, at the age of 19, but that did not hinder him in his ongoing quest for knowledge. He took part in gatherings of intellectuals and soon made the choice to become a teacher of the Six Arts, the disciplines most revered and noble for the Chinese people. He educated in the six arts namely archery, mathematics, music, calligraphy, charioting and ritual. These six arts became a part of Confucian philosophy.
The Golden Rule
The Golden rule is nothing more and nothing less than the famously quoted: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others”. Although it is a basis of many religious and philosophical systems worldwide, the writing down of the Golden Rule is attributed to Confucius. The idea extends to a whole principle of Confucianism called ‘ren’, which, loosely translated means: “virtue denoting the good feeling a virtuous human experiences when being altruistic”. Ren is the principle objective of every devout follower of Confucianism. It is a special form of reciprocity, which enables humans to grow and become less flawed in their ways.
Author of Chinese classics
Confucius was not only a brilliant and morally responsible teacher of the Chinese people. He was also a very prolific writer. He believed that his line of thought could be beneficial not only to the average citizen wanting to become wiser, but that it could also transform the highly corrupt ruling system of the Chinese Empire. He is known to have written and edited some of the Chinese classical philosophical works. These include, the Book of Odes, a revision of the Book of Documents, a historical account of the 12 Dukes of Lu – the so-called Spring and Autumn Annals, Lunyu – a philosophical and political manifesto. Lunyu has also got its English translation, entitled: “The Analects of Confucius”.
Actively involved in Politics
In 501 BC, Confucius was offered the position of governor of Lu. And later, he was elected the Minister of Crime. He also took numerous attempts at returning all the legislative power to the ducal family, stripping the rest of the nobles of their privileges. This led to many domestic conflicts, including Hou Fan—the governor of Hou—revolting against the Shu noble family. In the end, Confucius’s attempts were not entirely successful, as the true power of the state was still divided between the ducal family and the nobles.
Self-imposed exile for 13-14 long years
After Confucius failed to reconcile the noble families striving for political influence, he went into a sort of self-imposed exile. He resigned his Governor post and began a long journey around all of the north-east and central China. On his way, he travelled across the states of Wei, Song, Chen, and Cai. In each and every single one of them he openly professed his political beliefs at law courts, but was never fully understood and his views did not seem to get implemented. Confucius, reluctantly returned home at the age of 68, after he was implored to do so by Ji Kangzi, the Chief Minister of Lu.
Died at the age 72
He was buried in the Kong Lin cemetery, situated in the historical part of the Qufu city, Shandong Province. The tomb of Confucius has been built on one of the banks of the Sishui River and originally it had the shape of an ax.
The Lasting Impact of Confucius
There may be arguments and counter arguments but the impact of Confucianism on the life, culture and thought in East Asia and through it in other parts of the world can be perceived even today; many centuries after his death. He is widely considered as one of the most important and influential individuals in history who had a deep and profound effect on humanity.
Confucianism is important as it’s not turned into a Religion. Instead it’s still able to keep its Spirituality. And I think this is crucial to humanity because as you can see, religions are killing humanity, there’s no space for mutual understanding for religions. Imagine if humanity adopts Confucianism, not in the religion way, humanity will be able to advance so much!
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