Life and Times of Confucius: Chinese Philosopher and Teacher

by Jules on October 1, 2013

Each year on the 27th day of the eighth moon, Confucius’ Birthday is celebrated – this year the date falls on 1 October 2013.  The highly-acclaimed philosopher left a legacy of both ethical principles and ancient teachings that has inspired the world for the last 2,500 years. His teachings promoted the ‘Five Virtues’ of charity, loyalty, justice, wisdom and propriety. His learnings carry devotees along the path of self-enlightenment and his influences are still evident today within the traditional family practices in both China and across Asia.

Confucius is known as one of the wisest philosophers in the history of the world. He was born in 550 BC in Shang Ping, which was a town located in the old Chinese state of Lu. Interestingly, the real name of Confucius was Kong. His followers called him Kong Fu Tse, which literally translates as Kong the Master. When Jesuit priests were writing about him, they Romanised his name, Kong Fu Tse, into the now well-known name Confucius.

Confucius never knew his father, who died when he was just three years-old. Fortunately, he was raised by a very loving mother, Yan She, who instilled in Confucius a lifelong love of learning.

Confucius got married at the tender age of 19, but his marriage only lasted four years. When he was 23 years-old, Confucius had a couple of profound life changes. First, he divorced his wife so that he could focus on his learning as well as public service. Then, his mother died. Confucius publicly honoured his mother with tender burial rites that were both solemn and ancient. His neighbours were impressed, and the devotion that Confucius showed his ancestors by honouring his mother led to the extreme devotion to ancestors that is still practiced in China today.

After his mother died, Confucius spent three years of mourning to honour his mother. During these three years of mourning, he locked himself away in a room to study philosophy. He was especially interested in learning about the laws of morality with which all men’s actions must be guided. He used these laws of morality to create his own personal philosophy that would guide his actions for the rest of his life. His philosophy would go on to guide the Chinese people for centuries to come.

When Confucius finished his three-year period of mourning and study, he proceeded to instruct his fellow countrymen on his concepts of morality and duty. His wisdom was quickly embraced by most who heard it, and in short order Confucius found himself with legions of followers.

Many people embraced the moral teachings of Confucius because they were guided by secular thinking instead of religious doctrine. As the fame of Confucius spread, he began to travel around to the various states in China to spread his message. Many of the states he visited welcomed him with open arms, and he was widely embraced.

However, as time passed, many states were not as welcoming of Confucius. In fact, some of them actually persecuted him, and he was even thrown in jail at times for sharing his philosophy. These setbacks sent Confucius back to his home state a broken man. He spent the remaining years of his life in poverty, shut up in his home writing down his philosophy so that it might be passed down to future generations.

After his death in 479 BC at the age of 70, his teachings began to find favour in more states in China. Soon, his philosophy would become embraced all over the country, and it was in fact named as the official religion of the country shortly after his death.

Image Credit; Elmer B. Domingo

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