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Introduction to Confucius

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To listen to Sanderson Beck reading the Introduction and Higher Education, please click on the play triangle below.


Kong Fu-zi (Latinized as Confucius) was born in the state of Lu in 551 BC and died in 479. He was born into a family of impoverished lower aristocrats. Confucius studied the classics and music. According to Mencius he was at one time a keeper of stores and at another in charge of pastures. Confucius had a lifelong devotion to learning and summarized his development this way: "At fifteen my mind was set on learning. At thirty my character had been formed. At forty I had no more perplexities. At fifty I knew the will of heaven. At sixty I was at ease with whatever I heard. At seventy I could follow my heart's desire without transgressing moral principles." He thought if he had fifty years to study the YI JING (THE BOOK OF CHANGES) he might be free of great mistakes. He married, and had a son and a daughter. Confucius accepted gifts or money for teaching adults and is considered the first professional teacher of higher education in Chinese history.

In his late fifties he left the state of Lu to travel in order to see if he could advise other rulers to put his principles into practice. In the state of Wei Confucius was not afraid to talk with the infamous Nan-zi, a woman who had been involved in incest, adultery, and political intrigue. When the Duke of Wei asked his advice on military strategy, Confucius replied that he had not studied warfare; the next day he left Wei to go to Chen. While he was traveling through Song, Huan Tui, the Song Minister of War, attempted to intercept and assassinate him. Confucius responded calmly, "Heaven produced the virtue that is in me. What do I have to fear from such a one as Huan Tui?" Nevertheless Confucius still accepted Huan Tui's brother Sima Niu as one of his regular students.

Although eager to give political advice, twice he renounced invitations by rulers, because they were involved in civil wars. Confucius was also trapped at Kuang, and for a while thought that his favorite disciple Yen Hui was dead. By the time they got to Chen they were weak and short of supplies. After talking with the Minister of Crime about propriety, Confucius decided to go back to Lu, because his disciples were becoming "headstrong and careless."

Again in Wei he advised the Minister Kong Yu for a while; but when Kong asked Confucius how he should attack a man who had married his daughter but was still seeing a concubine, Confucius advised against it and prepared to leave. When the minister apologized, Confucius was ready to stay; but then messengers from Lu arrived inviting him to return to his own state.

In his last years Confucius worked on editing such classics as Shi Jing (Book of Odes), Spring and Autumn Annals, and the Yi Jing (Book of Changes). The wisdom of Confucius is best known to us through the Lun-Yu or Analects, which contains numerous conversations of Confucius and his students. The Analects was combined with the Da Xue (Higher Education), Zhong Yong (Center of Harmony), and the Book of Mencius to form the four great Confucian classics studied for centuries by the Chinese for civil service examinations.

According to the historian Sima Qian The Center of Harmony was written by Zi-si who was the grandson of Confucius and possibly the teacher of Mencius. The following text Higher Education is the portion of the Da Xue which is supposed to be the words of Confucius handed down by Zeng-zi. The remainder of the Da Xue which is a commentary by Zeng-zi on this text has not been included in this collection.

by Confucius

English version by Sanderson Beck

The Way of higher education is cultivated and practiced by
manifesting the enlightening character of spiritual power,
loving the people as they grow,
and living in the highest good.

By knowing how to live in the highest good,
purpose is directed.
When purpose is directed, calm clarity results.
Calm clarity leads to peaceful poise.
Peaceful poise leads to careful deliberation.
Careful deliberation leads to success.
Living things have their roots and branches;
human events have their beginnings and endings.
To understand what is first and last
will lead one near the Way.

The ancients who wished to manifest
the enlightening character of spiritual power to the world
would first bring order to their government.
Wishing to bring order to their government,
they would first bring harmony to their families.
Wishing to bring harmony to their families,
they would first cultivate their personal lives.
Wishing to cultivate their personal lives,
they would first set their hearts right.
Wishing to set their hearts right,
they would first make their wills sincere.
Wishing to make their wills sincere,
they would first extend their knowledge to the utmost.
Such extension of knowledge comes from investigating things.

When things are investigated, knowledge is extended.
When knowledge is extended, the will becomes sincere.
When the will is sincere, the heart is set right.
When the heart is right, the personal life is cultivated.
When personal lives are cultivated,
families become harmonious.
When families are harmonious,
government becomes orderly.
And when government is orderly,
there will be peace in the world.

From the Son of Heaven down to the common people,
all must regard cultivation of the personal life as the root.
A disordered root cannot grow into ordered branches.
If what is near is neglected,
how can one take care of what is far away?
This is the root and foundation of knowledge.

Copyright 1996, 2002 by Sanderson Beck

This has been published in the WISDOM BIBLE as a book. To hear the audio recording please go to Wisdom Bible Audios.


Confucius, Mencius and Xun-zi ETHICS OF CIVILIZATION

Life of Confucius
Attitudes of Confucius
How Confucius Taught
What Confucius Taught
Did Confucius Practice It?
Influence of Confucius

BECK index