Posted by: Randall Niles | May 30, 2009

Philosophy of Confucius

K’ung Ch’iu was born in northeastern China in 551 BC. It was a time when China was being sliced into feudal states by the warlord “princes” who raised armies, waged battles, oppressed slave laborers, and heavily taxed subjects. Ch’iu was a self-educated youth, raised by a poor family in the state of Lu. In his teenage years, he had an administrative position with the local noble, managing his agricultural accounts. It was here that Ch’iu started developing a passion for ethical philosophy.

As an adult, Ch’iu left his homeland and began wandering from state to state in China. His ambition was to share his philosophy with the ruling princes, believing that these powerful leaders had an obligation to lead their people with virtue. Rather than leading for power, control, money, or ego, the princes of China must understand their higher purpose, which was to do “right” and lead by selfless example.

Over the years, Ch’iu was (understandably) rejected by the entrenched warlords. However, during his travels, Ch’iu (understandably) won the hearts of the oppressed people. He ultimately returned to his home state and started an informal school where he taught his principles to a growing number of followers. He taught in areas of ethics, leadership, history, psychology, and the arts. His strategy was to train-up young men in virtuous education and then watch them take positions in government throughout China, where they could have a true impact on transforming the land.

As a teacher, Ch’iu became known as K’ung Fu-tzu (K’ung the Master). He trained many “disciples” over the years, and helped install many of them in state government positions. The Master viewed political systems as the broadest way to apply his transformational ethics across China. By the time he died in 478 BC, K’ung Fu-tzu was considered, alongside Buddha, as one of the two greatest ethical minds in the East.

At a time when Aeschylus and Socrates were spawning the ethical philosophies of the Greek world, and Haggai and Zechariah were encouraging the Jews to return to Jerusalem, K’ung Fu-tzu (later Latinized as “Confucius”) was popularizing a philosophy of ethical humanism that would have a huge impact on the social, political, and philosophical structure of China for years to come.   

Confucius said: “When the Empire is well governed, ceremonies and music and warlike operations are controlled by the Son of Heaven. When the Empire is in disorder, these things are controlled by the feudal princes, and will seldom outlast ten generations.” 

The ethical system developed by Confucius is truly remarkable considering the tumultuous time in which he lived. Even more remarkable are some of his conclusions, these from a man who lived in a world of ancestor worship and territorial gods, with no knowledge of Greek thought or the ancient Jewish scriptures. 

The Master said: “He who does not understand the Will of God can never be a man of the higher type. He who does not understand the inner law of self-control can never stand firm. He who does not understand the force of words can never know his fellow-men.”

Just Thinking,

Randall Niles


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