The Shih Chi, or historical records, of Ssu-ma Ch'ien say that Confucius was born in the town of Tsou, in the county of Ch'angping, in the country of Lu. He was born in the twenty second year of Duke Hsiang of Lu (551 B.C.) in answer to his mother's prayer at the hill of Nich'iu.
At birth there was a prominent convolution on his head, and so he was called Ch'iu, which means "hill." His real name was given as Chungni and his surname as K'ung. His father would die a short time after his birth but his mother was able to see that he was given a good education. At the age of fifteen he had devoted himself to scholarly pursuits with an interest in history, music and poetry and at seventeen he was given a minor governmental post in his native state of Lu.
He married at nineteen and had a son a year later, but in his mid twenties his mother died and this had a devastating effect on him. He mourned at her graveside for 27 months. He left his family and became a public teacher, wandering throughout the country in an ox cart and gathering as many as 3,000 students. The subject, usually inspired by events observed on the road, included civics, ethics, literature, music, and science. The strength in his teachings, and their lasting influence was of an historical nature which is somewhat of a contrast to others who offered something more along the lines of opinion in their teaching.
Though history was a prominent subject in his teaching he placed the value of his work on ethics and morals. It was his true purpose to try and incorporate these through governmental and social order. He and some of his most trusted disciples traveled from Lu to other states in order to accomplish this.
The Shih Chi doesn't give a favorable report of his progress of the next fourteen years, it says: "Finally he left Lu, was abandoned in Ch'i, was driven out of Sung and Wei, suffered want between Ch'en and Ts'ai." He returned to Lu to work on his Four Books and Five Classics:
1. The Great Learning, a program of education for young gentlemen;
2. The Doctrine of the Mean, a dissertation on the development of human nature through moderation;
3. The Analects, main source of Confucian thought.
4. The Book of Mencius, writings and expressions of Confucius' most prominent disciple, Meng-Tzu, or Mencius.
1. The Book of Poetry, 305 poems on daily life in early Chou times (1000 - 600 B.C.E.);
2. The Book of History, seventeen centuries of Chinese history from the Chang dynasty (1766 - 1122 B.C.E.);
3. The Book of Changes, divination involving 64 possible combinations of six lines;
4. The Book of Rites, a collection of rules on ritual and ceremonies;
5. Annals of Spring and Autumn, a history of the state of Lu from 721 - 478 B.C.E.
Confucius died at the age of 73 in the year 479 B.C. E.
Though many consider Confucianism to be more philosophy than religion, the fact is that to Confucius there was a reverence for a supreme cosmic spiritual power, of T'ien (Heaven) as the source of all virtue and morality which directed all things. He also was a meticulous observer of ceremonial rites in the worship of Heaven and ancestral spirits.
In Confucianism the concept of li, which is the propriety, courtesy and order of things including ritual, reverence and ceremony, is foremost important. Proper worship, conduct and social and familial relationships, even on a spiritual level, is gained through knowledge and cultivated through the self. The family, nation and world benefits from the ancestral spirit of the King to the common man. The father, mother, sister, brother, child etc.
The effects of this can be seen throughout Oriental culture, and this reflects itself in the popularity of Confucianism. It seems to have had a positive unifying effect on the feudal states of China after the Emperor Wu Ti made Confucianism the state religion.
Only those well versed in the Confucian classics served in government positions. Temples were erected in every province throughout the empire, bringing loyalty to the Royal throne until dynastic rule in China ended in 1911. More recently Confucianism has been criticized for having the opposite effect, even being labeled as feudalistic itself. As promoting the repression of people, especially in application to women. Yet, as is often the case with religion, the roots run deep.
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