'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

18 September 2010


551-479 BCE
Little is known for certain but- 

Master Kung (K'ung Fu-tzu) known as Gong Qui was born to a poor family in the village of Zou in the country of Lu - modern day Shantung (some say he came from fallen Nobility). The name Confucius is the Latin version of his name. His father was a soldier of a district in Lu and died three years after Confucius' birth. He is said to have been tall and received a good education, perhaps in the capital Zhou where he met Lao Zi, the founder of Daoism. He married at the age of 19, having one son and two daughters, but soon divorced and his teachings speak little of women. He worked in a market, as a farm worker and at 20 he worked as an accountant for the governor of his district. In 527 his mother died, and shortly after he became a teacher, gathered a group of disciples and travelled the countryside discussing ethical problems. 

'To study and from time to time to repeat what one has learned - is it not a pleasure? A friend comes from far away - is it not a joy? To be unknown and not to be angry about it - is it not the conduct of a wise man?' 

He had a great reverence for Chinese tradition and his fame spread as a great man of learning and noble character. Deploring the state of corruption and disorder, he taught the old ways and the Golden Rule- 

"A man should practice what he preaches, but a man should also preach what he practices." 

When he was 35, Duke Zhao of Lu fled to the country of Qi. Confucius followed him and is said to have been an advisor to the Duke. When other nobles began plotting against him he returned to Lu and retired from public life to concentrate on teaching and studying. At 52, he became a magistrate in Chung-tu, and then a successful and just Grand Minister of Justice and then Chief Minister of the state of Lu. He left this position in 496, and wandered about China for 13 years searching vainly for an true and worthy ruler until 484, when he returned to Lu. He is also said to have spent some time in goal. After three years, at the age of 69 or 72 he died in Lu in 479 BCE. He was buried with great ceremony in a grave in the city of Ch'uFu, Shandong. This is now the beautiful K'ung Forest and a place of pilgrimage. 

Like Socrates, who was born nine years after the death of Confucius, he never committed his teachings to writing and his philosophy was handed down through records of his followers. The Lun YŸ (Analects), a work compiled by his disciples, is the great source of information about his life and teachings. He considered himself only to be reviving the ancient customs and books rather then instigating anything new, but when he died, temples were erected in every city in China to honour Master Kung. Confucianism was a term invented by nineteenth century Christians - its teachings and philosophy became the education for China for over 2,000 years. It was still compulsory at universities until the mid twentieth century and his influence spanned China, Japan and Korea. 

He was an ethical philosopher, not the founder of a religion and taught nothing of the nature of God or an afterlife. 'We don't know yet about life, how can we know about death? ' However, although not deified, he is prayed to just as in ancestor worship - this being a fundamental part of the ancient teachings. It is however often described as a religion of self control although the Master thought little of a deity. He was also a contemporary of the Buddha. Confucius maintained that society depends on authority, obedience and mutual respect within the family and the state and his principles were simple - to love others - to honour one's parents - to do what is right instead of what is advantageous - to practice reciprocity - to rule by moral example instead of by force and violence. 
'Let the prince be a prince and the subject be a subject! Let the father be a father and the son be a son! ' 

Tzu-kung enquired about good government. The Master said: 'Enough food, enough soldiers, and the trust of the people are what is required.' Tsu-kung asked again: 'If you had to renounce one of these three things, which would it be?' Confucius replied: 'I would renounce the soldiers." Tzu-kung continued: 'And if you had to renounce one of the other two things ?' Confucius replied: 'I would renounce the food. From the earliest times death has been the common lot of all men; but a people that has no faith in its governors cannot survive.' 

'To be able under all circumstances to practice five things constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness.' 

'They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.' 

'I am not sad because men do not know me. I am sad because I do not know them.' 

Throughout The Middle East, Europe, India, China, the Americas and elsewhere the first manifestations of the divine were many. Some remain and some narrowed the field to a single deity and to many there are no gods, but still we see the search for understanding. Some substitute secular ideas for that of a god, but still the questions remain the same. How do we explain life, how should we behave, where did we come from and what happens when we die?

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