Being Conscious of Confucius: An Analysis of Kongzi and His Analects
Confucius and His Analects
Confucius and His Analects
Experience shapes a man’s character, personality, and well-being. The sets of experiences which a person has will eventually turn him into what and who he is. These experiences can be traced, studied, cross-referenced, and even filed so that a person can be formed and evaluated. By utilizing all available resources where bits and pieces of experiences can be extracted from historical, religious, and even personal entries, people can define the true character behind a name. As a matter of fact, understanding any literary piece entails knowing the life of an author. This understanding means finding the significant experiences and the historical milieu in order to have a better or full appreciation of an author, painter, writer, composer, sculptor, or even a religious leader and his work(s). This is the case of Confucius. Why he chose to mentor, teach, preach, and lecture about critical, trivial, and essential principles can be traced back to his experiences. With this premise, it is therefore necessary to probe some of the relevant experiences of Confucius to highlight the connection between history and his life.
Confucius’ desire to create positive change can be seen in his meandering plight towards discipleship. In fact, his was a unique one. For this purpose, this paper will highlight the biographical and historical entries to prove the connection.
The Man behind the Golden Rule
Discipleship such as so defined in the Christian perspective is no different than what Confucius had in mind. Known as Kongzi yet eventually became popular as Confucius, he was also born around 500 – 400 BC in Zou, Lu to an officer in the Lu military (Creel, 1949). He belonged to the class of shi or the middle of aristocracy and common people mainly due to his father’s status as a soldier. In his life, Confucius is remembered as a shepherd, clerk, book-keeper, and a cow-herd before rising to fame and power in China in 500 BC (Dubs, 1946).
Challenges Shaping the Man
His life was marked by many struggles and a gradual rise to prominence in a small elite circle of students. When he was only three years old, his father was killed in battle. As a result, he and his mother were thrown into poverty thus he had to take menial jobs to make ends meet to support the family. He was able to obtain education although there was little or no evidence as to how he was able to do so. With his good character and learning, he attracted followers and students (Riegel, 1986). What is special about him is that he never shuns anyone who wanted to learn from him and be his disciple. He is known for taking in all regardless of their social class or wealth. As a matter of fact, one of his standards for a student is the actual character of a person rather than his social standing. As the number of his students and disciples increase so does his popularity (Creel,1949).
A Band of Students and the Struggles Continues
Taking advantage of Confucius gradual rise to fame among the small elite circle of students, the aristocracy appointed him magistrate of justice in Lu. His good character drove him to resign as a sign of protest government corruption. After which he traveled in China searching for someone who would want to try his philosophy to practice yet he was unsuccessful and had to later return to Lu. In Lu, he was given minor government jobs, but his disciples and students have attained prominence and high positions in Lu and other places. After his death, his disciples collected all his teachings which became a book known as the Analects (Dubs, 1946).
While many would sulk in the negativity in life, Confucius took the chances in all positivism. Although he was a victim of poverty and misfortune, he learned from this as he advocated to his students that the solution to poverty is an orderly society. Perhaps speaking from first-hand experience, he taught that by focusing on prioritizing those which are most important such as peace and order, standards, and virtues, people can have development of both body and mind. Although he is only seen as a teacher, mentor, and philosopher, he wanted society to be orderly, so he made theories and thought of principles for good governance. He was after the development of society in the macro level. To do this, Confucius was focused on making rules and policies on how to properly govern people. Success for Confucius is seeing that the majority or all people working together harmoniously for the common good. Confucius must be remembered as the one who theorized and successfully develop a merit-reward system for governance. He instituted civil service so that only the most qualified will serve the public. His teachings have influences in all Chinese countries: Vietnam, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and China. His teachings are still studied and used in today’s modern world. His name has become a way of teaching, a subject, and a philosophy. He has become immortal (Muesse, 2010).
The Confucian Philosophy
The Confucian political philosophy is grounded on the ideology of being a role model. For him, leaders should not be chosen due to birth right or appointment; they should be tried and tested before they can be chosen. He advocated that all leaders especially those who will serve the public in political offices must have the highest of ideals and are exemplars. A leader should be an exemplar of self-discipline and virtues so much so that his way of life is a living example of self-governance. By using these beautiful attitudes and virtues, he believed that a person can exercise righteous dominion among many followers. He was a strong advocate of the power of example. He also explained the importance of law and punishment. He reiterated that “if the people be led by laws, and uniformity among them be sought by punishments, they will try to escape punishment and have no sense of shame. If they are led by virtue, and uniformity sought among them through the practice of ritual propriety, they will possess a sense of shame and come to you of their own accord” (Lunyu 2.3; 13.6.). Initially, one can easily understand why Confucius’ teachings earned followers ----- the truth was just blatantly staring at their faces. It is common sense to see why; there were too many corrupt officials who were not fit to govern and the results of their decisions or lack of intervention have had grand negative effects to the well-being and welfare of almost all Chinese then. Confucius then gave the road map to finding the true leaders for his time and the guiding factors towards achieving reforms and development through virtuous service. He also advocated that the best way to instilling law and order would be by enforcing punishments.
The Confucian Philosophy of Law and Order
Law and order are the main agenda and should be the mission of virtuous government leaders according to Confucius. He taught that if the very institutions designed to promulgate, uphold, and seek after laws for the welfare of the people are corrupt or compromised, then everything will be in vain. This idea of corruption and perversion of law for personal gain is rooted in the lack of merit and the greed for power when in fact the would-be-leaders are unqualified or even unfit to govern. He described his present condition with “good government consists in the ruler being a ruler, the minister being a minister, the father being a father, and the son being a son” (Lunyu 12.11). His motive was to stress the difference between duties and responsibilities attached to a title and the actual performances of the leaders to which he gave no approval or appreciation for very few were doing their assigned tasks. He painted a picture of a dreary and bleak China where the political foundations were rotten and that rare are the people who should be in their proper places of governance. He capped this with a voice of warning which reads “if your desire is for good, the people will be good. The moral character of the ruler is the wind; the moral character of those beneath him is the grass. When the wind blows, the grass bends” (Lunyu 12.19). This, according to Confucius, should be the standard of a good leader.
The Confucian Standard of Leadership
The standard of true leadership is manifested in the dictates of the heart and never by the mind. What he wanted was governance is earned through righteous desires and dominion. He stressed the power of virtue with the lines “he who governs by means of his virtue is, to use an analogy, like the pole-star: it remains in its place while all the lesser stars do homage to it” (Lunyu 2.1). For him, leadership and governance should only have one standard ---- virtues. These virtues are to be shown in ceremonies and rituals exemplifying the highest of ideals in the form of exchanges, bowing, gift-giving, and ceremonial toasts which will engender respect, gratitude, and humility. Through these, any person can show the gentleman attitude thus becoming virtuous and instilling a sense of support from others. This will be the foundation of good governance since a powerful impression of a gentleman attitude can have a strong impact on subordinates and lower classes. Aside from this, this attitude also breeds supporters and followers thereby infecting others to follow suit.
The development of the gentleman attitude stems from practice and education. Confucius espoused this with “he who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger” (Lunyu 2.15). Notice that the first foot forward is about thinking. Thinking for him involves the identification, location, and studying under the tutelage of a proper teacher or tutor. In Lunyu 2.15, he described that the “ideal mentor or good teacher is someone older; who is familiar with the ways of the past and the practices of the ancients. (Lunyu 7.22). Again, the common denominator is still virtue which can be developed through the act of studying and learning with the right teacher.
The small number of students under Confucius during his time may be attributed to the problem of trust. Remember that there were relatively very few or rare good leaders and few were aware or at least doing something about their situation so it was difficult for him to trust and isolate who can keep secrets. Another possible reason may be the lack of hope since he knew that whatever he was doing may have little to no immediate effects to his people, so he chose not to go public. Suffice to say, he was a staunch protester for good governance so much so that he left his office in protest of the unrighteous dominion he has been seeing and experiencing. In order to weed out the dregs from the essentials, he suggested a civil-service test for government workers and officials so that there is a form of check-and-balance or a screening for qualification. In fact, what he was really after was the secret intrinsic values of any applicant or official who will serve the people. Issues on nepotism were to be avoided alongside illegal appointments and political dynasties especially of individuals and/or families with ulterior motives. In a time and place where there was too much uncertainties, too many loose ends, too many vague laws, practices, policies, and punishments plus a people who would opt to be living without a government, Confucius saw the many potentials that a good government can do.
To conclude this, Confucius lived a millennium ahead of his prime, yet he was born at the right place at the right time for the right purpose and reason. He is an example of the adage ‘leaders are born and made.’ Perhaps it is discrediting to mention that any sensible person would have done the same thing since there could have been many in Chinese history to this day who may be enjoying the same attention as Confucius. The fact that there are few speaks otherwise. The legacy that was Confucius can be felt and understood from the love and respect which his former students had done ----- kept, compiled, and embodied his works. The fact that there were few students belonging to the privileged elite who later kept and preserved his records show that even during those days, there were some who were thinking outside the box and were longing for a better China. It is safe to say that whatever Confucius did, many benefited from the act. Even if the world may not admit to, civil service examinations which are used to screen public workers especially in the government offices all owe their system of qualification and selection from the pioneer ----- Confucius. He emphasized the significance of virtue yet never gets the credit for being a pioneer in such literature. He was a pioneer in the mapping of the human psyche and a mentor to the principle of student management and supervision. He inculcated law and punishment only as an extension of order and peace for an educated society. The Western world may not have seen the true impact of his contributions because it is too afraid to admit that it is learning from a man back in millenniums past. He instituted the art of being a gentleman and he died as one. His Analects or Lunyu gives a psychological and practical tour of what needs to be done in mapping out the human virtue and character. In a time when morality is at its lowest point, the likes of Lunyu can have a lasting impression to the soul and give value to one’s character. The reality that any good tree brings forth good fruit is a simple analogy of the Analects: virtue leads to all that is good, gentle, happy, and righteous. This is the true legacy of the mentor, gentleman, and philosopher named Confucius.
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