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Confucius

"Do not do to others what you do not want done unto yourself."

Confucius is the source of many of today's most well-known and highly regarded ideologies. The popularity of his teachings has extended far beyond his time, as there are still long-standing temples that serve as a dedication to both his contributions and person. His teachings have not only become an ideological system and culture in China, but they have also gained significance world-wide. All that the world knows about Confucius and his teachings are through written records that have been penned by his many disciples. It is rumored that the master philosopher never wrote down a single word of his beliefs or his conversations. However, despite not writing down a word, his teachings had flourished during his time all due to the establishment of his teachings as China's state philosophy and his accumulation of ardent and devoted followers. With such initial reverence, Confucius gained unbridled cause célèbre as one of the most beneficial individuals to philosophical thought.

Early Life

konfuzius.jpg Confucius, born as Kong Qui, was born in the Lu state of China in 551 B.C. Due to the lack of preservation techniques and an ambiguous childhood, there is little known about Confucius's early life. The most detailed preserved record that provides historians any significant inkling as to Confucius's early life is a book called Records of the Historian, written by Ssu-ma Chi'en. Records of the Historian posits that Confucius was a child of the Chou Dynasty, and thus of royal birth. However, modern day research conducted by historians currently disputes such claims, as it conflicts with assertions that Confucius was actually born into poverty, rather than privilege. In terms of lineage, what is known today is that Confucius's father had died when he was three, leaving his mother as his sole caregiver. Upon coming of age, Confucius had begun undertaking odd vocations in order to support himself. Regardless, one belief apropos to Confucius's early life that has an unparalleled basis is that he was born during an area of great volatility.

Education

With most of Confucius's work containing a strong underpinning of the importance of education, it is not surprise that Confucius himself had some semblance of an education. His pursuits had lead him to studying various subjects, such as ritual with Daoist Master Lao Dan, the lute with Xiang, and music with Chang Hong. Each of these individuals where highly versed and knowledgeable in their respective fields, thus providing Confucius with an apt array of knowledge. Upon reaching his educational pursuits, Confucius began delving into the world of political and philosophical matters, both of which were esoteric subjects of the time. Few individuals had the means, or the study to dedicate themselves to such subjects. However, despite these conditions, Confucius had gathered a number of loyal disciples who found themselves enamored by his views on both personal and state affairs.

One of the main catalysts that lead to Confucius's teachings taking such precedence in Chinese society is the social upheaval that was taking place. At the time of Confucius's philosophical development, China was immersed in social and political strife, essentially leading to an unavoidable restructuring of traditional thoughts and values. The foundation of Confucius's philosophical teachings is mired in etiquette, veneration of the deceased, and proper social interaction.

Philosophy

As traditional Chinese values deteriorated, Confucius merged his own philosophy with the most prominent values that coincided with his beliefs. In addition, due to its strong stringency on values, ethics, and social interaction, it took precedence over many religious beliefs. Essentially, for those that practiced Confucianism, the principles taught became a way of life.

Social Interaction

To Confucius, proper social interaction was a vital element to conducting a proper way of life. Relationships and their status were ultimately dependent upon the status of the other individual in the relationship. For example, one's mother would receive a higher degree of reverence and honor than a simple everyday companion, or a family elder would deserve a more nuanced treatment. Fundamentally, according to Confucius, relationships operate upon a hierarchy. As a society is distinctly defined, so is the relationships one has during their lifetime.

Confucius was highly devoted to his mother, a respect that continued throughout his lifetime and even into his philosophical teachings. Another element of social interaction that was vital to Confucius's teachings was what is known as, “filial piety.” Filial piety refers to a one's respect and obedience to their parents, among other familial relationships. Confucius's five cardinal relationships were: ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, elder and younger brother, and between friends. Each of these relationships would command a different type of interaction and duty.

Ethics

A second prominent theme of Confucius's philosophy was ethics, supported by the initial quote presented. Regardless of one's position in society, from ruler to worker, each wrung was required to act in an ethical manner. Every action undertaken was meant to be done so with a humane regard. According to Confucius, ethical treatment and humane actions begin at the highest level of society, which is at the ruling level. If a ruler cannot treat his or her subjects in a humane manner and rule with an ethical intent, then the head of the state cannot expect the people to do so. Therefore, no part of society was mutually exclusive of the other, as every level intertwined with the other.

Values

Confucius had 5 values core values, each broken into their own distinct categorization. The five are: Li which is propriety, Hsiao which is love within the family, Yi which is righteousness, Xin which is honesty and trustworthiness, Jen which is benevolence, and Chung which is loyalty to the state. These five values transcend throughout Confucius's philosophy and teachings, and each of these elements is strictly adhered to today by many devoted followers.

Writings

Many of the held beliefs and practices adhered to by Confucius and his many followers are recorded in a number of writings. The core texts by Confucius are known as, “The Four Books and the Five Classics.” In addition, there is also what is commonly referred to as, “The Analects.” As stated earlier, as Confucius did not personally write himself, these books are basically a compile created by his followers. Most listeners would record his teachings and manage to create full texts of pertinent literature. Furthermore, there may be additional literature related to Confucius's teachings. However, historians speculate that these pieces of literature have been burned by Qin Shi Huang during the emperor's major revolt against Confucius teachings. This revolt took place nearly two centuries after Confucius's death, but even then, it had failed to reduce the overall influence that continues to permeate Chinese culture, lifestyle, and world beliefs today.

Conclusion

Overall, Confucius was a man who had risen himself from a humble lifestyle, flourishing into one of the most well-known philosophers of today. His contribution has not only reached the western world, but it has also become a prominent symbol and way of life in Chinese Culture. Today, those that visit China can view the Temple of Confucius, which is devoted to the revered philosopher and his many great teachings. It may not be realized by many, but a great deal of the wisest and most ethnical sayings are those that have been taught by Confucius, and still continue to be taught today.

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