The name “Confucius” is a Latinized form of the Mandarin Chinese term “Kong Fuzi” (孔夫子), meaning “Master Kong”. However, the name that he was given upon reaching adulthood and by which he would have actually been known to all but his older family members, was “Zhongni” (仲尼), with the “Zhong” portion indicating that he was the second son in his family. He was a rather peculiar little boy who was born in Ancient China in 551 BCE. Then, after his father died when he was only three years old, Confucius was privately homeschooled by his family and their friends. He learned about everything there was to know from history to poetry and beyond. In line with this, Master Kong grew up wanting to build on the nationality of his people through ritualistic ancestor worship. He sought to restore China to its former golden age of glory.
While other children were out playing games and having fun with their toys he was inside performing elaborate ceremonies in honor of the dead. Confucius took everything in life very seriously. Of course, he was very compassionate, along with being a bit pedantic. Confucius was an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist who would only sit on a mat if it was arranged in a very particular way. He was a stickler for fine detail. As part of this, he saw it as his personal duty to correct all the things in the world around him that he thought needed to be fixed. In this way, Confucius sought to bring about the radical transformation of self and society. He became a highly influential Eastern philosopher in the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history. For this and many other reasons, Confucius was a classic Chinese mystic, and he will always be the “Supreme Sage”.
Throughout his life, Confucius often attended the Temple of Heaven in Beijing which venerated a dualistic theology symbolized through an eternal struggle between two mythological creatures, namely a dragon and a phoenix. Eastern mysticism centers around the mystical notion of “yin” and “yang”. In regards to this, the term “yin-yang” literally translates to “dark-bright” (陰陽). One way to think about this is that “yin” is negative and “yang” is positive. Put another way, “yin” is feminine and receptive, while “yang” is masculine and projective. In traditional Chinese philosophy, these seemingly opposite forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent, and they even give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Such is the eternal interplay between the Earthly Phoenix and the Heavenly Dragon, which is to say, the yin and yang within us. This is represented by the classic yin-yang symbol. It is a diagram that describes “Taiji”, or the “Supreme Ultimate”, in both its monistic “wuji” and its dualistic “yinyang” aspects.
A few generations after his passing, some of the followers of Confucius compiled a rich collection of Confucianist essays known as the Analects, or “Edited Conversations”. The sayings in that sacred text are attributed to Confucius and his contemporaries, originally having been written down during the Warring States period (475 BCE–221 BCE). The book then achieved its final form sometime during the mid-Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). By the common era, the Analects was considered merely a commentary on the “Five Classics”, but the status of the Analects grew to be one of the central texts of Confucianism by the end of that period. The “Five Classics” consists of the Classic of Poetry, the Book of Documents, the Book of Rites, the Book of Changes (I Ching), and the Spring and Autumn Annals.
The Classic of Poetry is a collection of 305 poems divided into 160 folk songs, 105 festal songs sung at court ceremonies, and 40 hymns and eulogies sung at sacrifices to heroes and ancestral spirits of the royal house. The Book of Documents is a collection of documents and speeches alleged to have been written by rulers and officials of the early Zhou period. The Book of Rites describes ancient rituals, social conventions, and court ceremonies. The Book of Changes contains a divination system comparable to Western geomancy. Finally, the Spring and Autumn Annals are a historical record of the State of Lu, which was the homeland of Confucius. Along with this, the Classic of Music is considered by some to be the sixth classic. Sadly, it was lost during the “Burning of the Books”. Nonetheless, these are the main teachings of the Confucianists, which have heavily influenced the basic philosophies of China throughout the ages, thereby altering the course of history forever.
It’s quite possible that Confucius was the most influential person to ever live. He championed traditional family values. The whole thing really all centered on the religious veneration of one’s ancestors. There was a long legacy of revering the souls of the dead in Ancient China, and Confucius breathed new life into the old ways. Based on his teachings, there should be the respect of parents by their children and of husbands by their wives, and so on and so forth. Confucius even recommended the family unit serve as the basis for an ideal government. He encouraged leaders to rule with integrity, not brutality. In fact, from 497 BCE to 484 BCE Confucius and his disciples traveled far and wide trying to convince every ruler they could find to adopt the teachings of Confucianism. One of his most famous teachings was a variant of the “Golden Rule”, sometimes called the “Silver Rule” owing to its negative form:
What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.
The point is that Confucius clearly understood that virtuous actions begin with sincere thoughts, which begin with proper knowledge. In line with this, he believed that a wonderfully harmonious civilization could be achieved through duty, loyalty, and honesty, among other noble virtues. Undoubtedly, one of the most profound lessons of Confucianism is the superiority of personal exemplification over explicit codes of conduct. In the overall history of humanity, Confucius lectured about virtue ethics in Ancient China long before Aristotle taught about moral values in Ancient Greece. On top of that, Confucius was such a beloved figure in China that after his passing in 479 BCE, he began to be worshipped so much that he eventually became a full-blown god. Confucius is not only the founder of Confucianism he is also a Taoist deity. Confucius is as important in the East as Christ is in the West, if not more. He was undoubtedly one of the most important people of all time. Long live the legacy of Confucius!!!
Note: Although Confucianism was officially denounced by the Communist dictator Mao Zedong, there is a modern revival of classical culture under Xi Jinping and his administration. So, the customs of Confucius are alive and well in 21st century China. Confucianism could even become the official religion of a more humanistic People’s Republic. Only time will tell…