Confucius was a Chinese philosopher and politician of the Spring and Autumn period, a period in Chinese history from 771 to 476 BC. The philosophy of Confucius, often referred to as Confucianism, emphasized kindness and correctness of social relationships. He is attributed with creating the well-known principle, "Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself." This phrase is a bit wordy and confusing, which we'll come to find is (ironically) a common trait of Confucius.
The father of Confucius, Kong He, died when he was three years old, and Confucius was raised by his mother Yan Zhengzai in poverty. His mother would later die at the early age of forty.
At the age of 19, Confucius married a woman named Qiguan, and a year later they had their first child. They would go on to have two children together, one of them believed to have died at some point in childhood.
Confucius would go on to study at normal schools. He lived in a class between aristocrats and the common people, and he held many jobs within the government throughout his 20's, using the proceeds to give his mother a proper burial.
When his mother died, Confucius was 23, and it is said that he had mourned her for three years after her death, as was the tradition.
By the year of 501 BC, Confucius had built up a considerable reputation for his teachings, and he came to be appointed to the minor position as governor of a town. Eventually, he rose to the position of Minister of Crime. We can see that early on, Confucius had a predisposition to consider moral issues.
During most of his political career, Confucius had a set goal in mind. He aimed to unite the three branches of government and decree one duke to rule all. He made many efforts in order to push this agenda. At the peak here of his political career, Confucius had convinced one branch of the government to attack the other, but their mission failed and thus many found out Confucius was behind this raid.
In 497 BC, after his failed attempt of dismantling the current government, Confucius left his position without resigning, and left civilization in self-exile, unable to return as long as the current government was thriving.
After Confucius abandoned his post, he began a long journey, or rather a series of journeys, around the north-east and central portion of China. He stopped by several cities, speaking to their governments and expounding his political beliefs, but none of them were implemented.
Years later, at the age of 68, Confucius returned to his home city of Lu after being invited by the chief minister.
Confucius is said to have spent his last years teaching either 72 or 77 disciples and transmitting his wisdom into old texts, which have been named the Five Classics. He also acted as an advisor to the Lu government regarding governance and crime.
Burdened by yet more loss, this time those of his son and favorite disciples, he died at the age of 71 or 72 from natural causes.
The life of Confucius was one of loss and deep introspection. Indeed, he spent most of his time mourning his loved ones or traveling on the road. This time spent alone helped him develop his philosophy, and he refined it by proposing it to the governments of others. Though, the real development came in the latter years of his life, when he had disciples to teach, learn from, and care for.
Confucianism is often followed in a religious manner, but by no means is it viewed as a religion, as it's values are less concerned with souls and the after-life, than they are with proper moral judgement.
Perhaps one of the deepest teachings of Confucianism is the attainment of skilled moral judgement, rather than the knowledge of rules, emphasizing strength of the mind and honesty. Confucianism stood most prominently for virtues of the self, believing that these then trickled outward into society.
Virtuous actions toward others begins with virtuous and sincere thought, which begins with knowledge. Virtuous disposition without knowledge, is susceptible to corruption, and virtuous actions without sincerity is not true righteousness. Confucius teachings say that cultivating knowledge and and sincerity is important for one's own sake; for the superior person loves learning for learning's sake.
Despite promoting self-growth, Confucianism was based upon empathy and understanding others, rather than divine rules given by a God. It encouraged one to develop their spontaneous responses to be those of benevolence and humaneness, so one would naturally act in a selfless manner. The doctrine asserts that virtue is a mean between extremes. For example, a generous person will not give too much or too little, but just the right amount.
The Story of
As a man who experienced quite the amount of death in his life, Confucius handled himself quite well. We can see a contrast in his behavior with Muhammad, when Confucius chose to exile himself for his wrongdoings, whereas Muhammad chose to feed his anger.
Yet there are similarities between these two stories, and also the stories of Christ and Buddha. Confucius chose to right his wrongs, and went on to preach words to encourage others in a positive direction, much like Muhammad. Moreover, he preached similar words as Christ and the Buddha, in that one should practice selflessness and cultivate empathy and sincerity.
And perhaps that's what we need to keep from these stories. Not that these are the words of the Gods, but of our elders, who dedicated their imperfect lives to better the struggle of others, in a quest for the proper way to live in the world.