The Life of Confucius

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The Life of Confucius
Of all eastern philosophers, Confucius, born in 550 B.C., is considered the greatest. His teachings are foundational to Asian cultures. His writings, The Five Classics, the collection of ancient Chinese literature, and The Four Books, a collection of Confucius' and his disciple's teachings, was for centuries the standard curriculum for Chinese education. Confucius' teachings and biography were written many years after his death and were edited by his disciples. Although historians present various accounts of his life, there are some basic facts that we are reasonably sure of, and from which we can outline the major events of his life. Confucius was born in the province of Lu, in northern China. He was born into a family of humble circumstance, and his father died at a young age. He began studying under the village tutor and at the age of fifteen he devoted his life to study. At twenty, he married but soon divorced his wife and had an aloof relationship with his son and daughter. In his twenties, he became a teacher and gathered a group of loyal disciples. Confucius lived during the Chou Dynasty (1100 B.C. to 256 B.C.). At this time, the land was divided among feudal lords. The moral and social order was in a state of decay. Confucius sought a way to restore the cultural-political order. He believed that reform would come through educating the leaders in the classics and in his philosophy. He therefore sought a political position of influence, from which he could implement his principles. Tradition teaches that the Duke of Lu appointed him to a cabinet position at the age of fifty. Several historians believe he eventually ascended to higher positions of public office. Due to political disagreements and internal conflicts, he resigned his post at fifty-five and left the province of Lu. He then traveled for thirteen years from state to state seeking to persuade political leaders to adopt his teachings. Although many lords respected him, no one gave him a position. Discouraged from the response, he devoted his final years to teaching and writing. Before his death in 479 B.C., he expressed his discouragement and disillusionment regarding his career. However, his disciples were able to gain significant positions in government after his death. They modified his teachings and added their own insights. Centuries later, Confucianism became the official religion of China, shaping Chinese culture. The values he espoused--education, family loyalty, work ethic, value of traditions, conformity to traditional standards, honoring of ancestors, and unquestioning obedience to superiors--remain entrenched in Asian culture. There is much to appreciate regarding the life and teachings of Confucius. Christians would agree on several points with his philosophy of ethics, government, and social conduct. However, there are some major differences between Christianity and Confucian thought, which we will investigate in the following sections. The Metaphysics of Confucius

Confucianism, as its founder taught, is not a religion in the traditional sense. It is an ethical code. Chinese culture was steeped in the religion of animism, a belief that gods and spirits dwell in natural formations. Along with an animistic world view, there was a belief in ancestor worship. The spirits of the dead needed to be honored and cared for by the living family members. However, in his teachings, Confucius avoided spiritual issues. He can be categorized as an agnostic who believed in spirits and the supernatural but was not interested in them. He was humanistic and rationalistic in his outlook. "His position on matters of faith was this: whatever seemed contrary to common sense in popular tradition and whatever did not serve any discoverable social purpose, he regarded coldly."{1} The answer to the cultural and social problems was found in humanity itself, not in anything supernatural. A...
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