Whenever there is a discussion on philosophy, Confucius’s name always pops up. Philosophy and Confucius go hand in hand – he was known as the first teacher after all. Confucius was an ancient Chinese philosopher who got famous a century or two after his death.
His teachings were followed not only in China but also in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Confucius’s contributions and teachings were more about lessons of morality from life. He did not form any religion, but he is considered a prophet among many communities.
Confucius was born in 551BC in the region of Zou in Shandong province. This was not his birth name – he was given the name of Kong Qiu at birth. Later on, he was known as Master Kong by his disciples.
His ancestors belonged to the Shang Dynasty, and his family held positions in the government. His father, Kong He was a commander under the local Lu government who died when Confucius was three. He and his mother, Yan Zhengzai, lived in poverty for many years.
He belonged to China’s shi class, which means that he was neither a complete aristocrat nor a commoner. It is widely believed that Confucius worked as a bookkeeper and a farmer until he got recognition.
When Confucius was 19, he got married and had three children. His mother died when he was 23, and it is said that he mourned for three years according to Chinese tradition.
Confucius did not immediately start his life as a philosopher. Instead, he worked at small positions to pay off his debts and give his mother a proper burial. After this, Confucius started teaching at local schools where his students and other people were readily impressed by his teaching style.
Eventually, Confucius was made the governor of his town, and later, he was appointed as the Minister for Crimes. Even though his life changed, Confucius never compromised his beliefs and was always certain that everything should be done according to customs and traditions.
The duke of Lu, under which Confucius worked, was a man of immoral deeds. Confucius intended to leave when the duke got distracted by worldly pleasures, but he waited because he did not want to bring humiliation to his ruler. Sometime later, the duke forgot to share meat from a sacrificial animal according to the custom. This proved to be the last nail in the coffin, and Confucius left his job and hometown to travel.
Confucius traveled to the states of north and central China. He taught his philosophies everywhere he could but saw no implementation. He returned to his land of Lu at the age of 68, and served as an advisor to many government officials.
Following the loss of his sons and his favorite student, Confucius died at 71 due to natural causes.
Like many ancient scholars, there is very little accurate account of Confucius’s teachings and philosophies. Everything that we know today comes from the secondhand accounts of his disciples. The most notable accounts are from Lunyu. It cannot be said for sure that the ideologies are from Confucius.
Confucius never claimed that his thoughts and teachings are his own. He considered himself as a means to convey the message of traditions and customs. His teachings were strongly rooted in conduct with one another, worshipping of ancestors, and morality. There was hardly anything related to spirituality in his teachings.
Confucianism includes a way of life and a set of rules regarding how one should have a relationship with another. He was of the view that moral harmony is linked with cosmic harmony. For example, decisions by a cruel ruler can result in natural disasters among his people. The famous quote behind this stance is:
‘Heaven does not have two suns, and the people do not have two kings.’
It confirms that the concept of Confucianism has only one way of life, and everyone is bound to follow it no matter the country or religion.
The philosophies of Confucius are enclosed in a collection called “The Analects.” This collection is made by historians and students of Confucius. The Analects holds the basic sayings by this great intellectual. By no means had he ever claimed himself to be a reformer or a revolutionary. He wanted the men to keep their glory as they had in the Golden Age.
Confucius was the one who famously quoted these lines:
“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.” (Analects XV.24, tr. David Hinton)
His way of life held humanity above everything else, even property. He emphasized that rulers and teachers should have the best conduct as they can change their nations’ course.
In Confucianism, there is a concept of Yi, which states that an individual’s actions should have the most sincere intentions. Actions without virtue hold no meaning, and the aim should be the greater good. In simple words, Yi means to do the right thing for the right reasons instead of personal interests.
Confucianism – Aftermath
It wasn’t until after 220 BCE that Confucianism was recognized as an ideology. During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 221 CE), Confucianism was regarded as a state religion. It was formed in contrast with Buddhism and Taoism.
Although Confucianism was in contrast with Buddhism and Taoism, it later paved the way for Neo-Confucianism – an amalgam of all three ideologies. During the Song Dynasty (960 -1297), the exams for imperial services included concepts from Confucianism.
With time, Confucius’ teachings were translated into other languages as well. One of the most notable translators was Matteo Ricci during the 17th Century.
Confucius never claimed himself to be associated with a religion. Even his followers saw him as a spirit. When Confucius died, he had 3,000 followers and 72 disciples. As his teachings spread far and wide, they merged into other religions because of their flexible nature. In Taoism, Confucius is hailed as a prophet.
Influence of Confucius
Confucius taught basic concepts related to humanity. He never used any complex or fancy ideas that could be foreign to the ancient people of China. His ideology’s six main points were humanity, rite, neutrality, virtue, education, and cultivation. None of these were believed to have any spiritual aspect – it was the most basic way of living a life.
For thousands of years, Confucius’ teachings have significantly impacted China. It won’t be wrong to say that China developed itself by following the teachings of the Great Sage Confucius.
Korea, Japan, and other East Asian countries also adopted Confucianism as the basis of their religions. Although they have separate religions, they hold Confucianism very important in their daily lives. They shaped their ethics and morals around Confucius’s teachings and progressed immensely.
One negative aspect of Confucianism was the portrayal of women. Confucius taught that women were meant to be bound inside the house, and they don’t have any role in the development of nations. He implied that men were wiser and only they have the power to change everything.
This image brought upon criticism among many. As time passed and with the advent of Neo-Confucianism, these concepts soon got obsolete.
Confucius – A Man of Morals
Confucius brought nothing but the message of peace in this world. His teachings were based on the moral and ethical values that should be everyone’s way of life. Although he did not get much recognition during his lifetime, his ideologies had a substantial impact on the superpower that is China today. He is not an unknown figure outside China as well, and many people follow his teachings even today.