The Wisdom of Confucius

Edited by Epiphanius Wilson

Confucius (c. 550-478 BC), which means “Master K’ung”, has had more influence on the Chinese than any other person. His statue stands in most Chinese villages to this day. He was a student of Lao Tzu, the father of Taoism (pronounced Dow-ism), and the inspiration of Mencius, another beloved guru of the Chinese. The Mongol rulers burned nearly all of China’s books in 1320 AD or so but Confucius’ teachings were re-recorded by those with good memories (a process common among ancient texts). Confucianism was taught in China until the Communists took control in the 1950’s and has been allowed to return to public acclaim in recent decades and remains widespread today. To be devoid of exposure to Confucius it to accept ignorance.

Confucius was not concerned with the afterlife or with divinities, and never mentioned any god, but, rather, concentrated on man’s conduct on earth. Many believe that he was the first to preach The Golden Rule,

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

He gave a code of personal deportment (a form of “Commandments”), rules for etiquette and the ceremonies of life (for which the Chinese are renowned). He believed that people are basically good and the best way to teach is by example, not by words. He maintained that the most important relationships are with spouses, parents, siblings and friends, in that order, and, like all Chinese, he revered the elderly, as the source of the most wisdom.

He stressed these primary virtues: love, justice, wisdom and sincerity.

The list of sayings and admonishments attributed to him is inexhaustible;

“The longest journey begins with the first step… “Have no associates who are less than yourself… “It does not concern me that others do not know me; my concern is that I don’t know them… With the people’s trust, anything can stand… Do not look for speedy results, as quick results are not long lasting… It is difficult to bear wealth without becoming arrogant… “Wisdom is knowledge of man…

Confucius was the son of a governor of a region. He lived in an era of Emperors and made his living as a public official, as a Chief Judge for a time. He wrote extensively about “duty” to self, family, friends and authority. He became so popular that he was feared by some feudal lords, nonetheless (as were Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed, et al), and he was driven into a form of exile, traveling in the out-regions for his middle and later years. For his own safety and that of others, he preached obedience to the rulers, and this, of course, endeared him to Chinese governments over the ages. Above all else, like his quasi-contemporary, Socrates,

Confucius revered knowledge.

He avoided using the word “I” wherever possible.

He endeavored to convey his views through questions.

For example, when asked if he believed in a god, he said,

“If we cannot know men, how can we know spirits?”

Wilson’s Wisdom of Confucius is not my favorite work about this Great Master. I have two versions of The Analects of Confucius, which I much prefer to Wilson’s work. However, there is so very little data from Confucius, I commend this work to your attention, along with The Analects of Confucius.