Confucius

   More than any other human being on the face of the earth, Confucius laid down a pattern of thinking followed by more people for more generations than one can even conceive. No matter what religion, no matter what form of government, the Chinese (and most other East Asian civilizations) and their way of thinking can in some way be shown to have Confucian elements about them. But Confucius was no religious leader nor did he claim any special divine status (nor was any divine status claimed for him). He was, in fact, a relatively ordinary person; his family was from the lesser aristocracy that had fallen on extremely hard times when he was born in 551 B.C. in the province of Lu. He was born into the family of K'ung and was given the name Ch'iu; in later life he was called "Master Kung": K'ung Fu-tzu, from which the Latin form, Confucius, is derived. He began a startlingly successful early political career as a young man, rising quickly in the administrative ranks, but fell out of favor fast. Although his intense personal goal was to restore peace and orderliness to the province, he found himself dismissed from government early on. He never returned to public life. Instead he turned to teaching, hoping that he could change the world by changing its leaders at a young age. We have many accounts of his teaching and all his students praise his natural talent for brilliant teaching. These students recorded these teachings and this is what comes down to us as the Analects. The Confucian method characterizes just about all Chinese learning down to the present day; its fundamental tenet is the unwavering belief in the perfectibility of human beings through learning.


Chinese Glossary
Jen
   Confucius had one overwhelming message: if we are to achieve a state of orderliness and peace, we need to return to traditional values of virtue. These values are based entirely on one concept: jen , which is best translated as "humaneness," but can also mean "humanity," "benevolence," "goodness," or "virtue." This humaneness is a relatively strange concept to Western eyes, because it is not primarily a practicable virtue. Rather, the job of the "gentleman," ch'ün tzu , was to concentrate on the highest concepts of behavior even when this is impractical or foolish. Like his contemporaries, Confucius believed that the human order in some way reflected the divine order, or the patterns of heaven. More than anything, for Confucius the ancients understood the order and hierarchy of heaven and earth; as a result, Confucius established the Chinese past as an infallible model for the present.


   What is incumbent on individual people is to determine the right pattern to live and govern by; this can be achieved by studying the sage-kings and their mode of life and government and by following rituals scrupulously, for the pattern of heaven is most explicitly inscribed on the various rituals, li , prescribed for the conduct of everyday life. Neglecting ritual, or doing rituals incorrectly, demonstrated a moral anarchy or disorder of the most egregious kind. These heavenly patterns were also inscribed in the patterns of music and dance, yüeh , so that order in this life could be attained by understanding and practicing the order of traditional and solemn music and dance. Music and dance are talked about constantly in the Confucian writings. Why? Because traditional music and dance perfectly embody the humaneness and wisdom of their composers, who understood perfectly the order of the world and heaven; one can create within oneself this wisdom by properly performing this music and dance.

Richard Hooker



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1996, Richard Hooker
Updated 9-14-97