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     Volume 2 Issue 135 | September 6 , 2009|


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Confucius, the Great Chinese Philosopher

Dr. Salehuddin Ahmed

THE other day I was in a discussion with some young and old people in a gathering in Dhaka. I was just checking how many people knew the name and the person of Confucius. Several did not hear the name at all. So I thought, though I know barely about this great philosopher, I should write a short note about him and his works. Hope our knowledge base will enhance a little .

Confucius (Chinese : Kung-Fu-Tzu) was born in 551 BC and died in 479 BC. He is also known as “Master Kong” in China. Kong was his nick-name. Confucius was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher, whose teachings and philosophy have deeply influenced Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese thought and life.

His philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. His teachings may be found in the Analects of Confucius, a collection of "brief aphoristic fragments", which was compiled many years after his death. Modern historians do not believe that any specific documents can be said to have been written by Confucius, but for nearly 2,000 years he was thought to be the editor or author of all the Five Classics, such as the Classic of Rites (editor), and the Spring and Autumn Annals (author).

Confucius' social philosophy largely revolves around the concept of “ren”, meaning “compassion” and “loving others”. Cultivating or practising such concern for others involved deprecating oneself or being self-critical. This meant being sure to avoid artful speech or an ingratiating manner that would create a false impression and lead to self-aggrandisement. Those who have cultivated “ren” are on the contrary “simple in manner and slow in speech”. For Confucius such concern for others in demonstrated through the practice of the Golden

Rule : “What do you not wish for yourself, do not do to others. Since you yourself desire standing, then help others achieve it. Since you yourself desire success, then help others attain it.” He regards devotion to parents and older siblings as the most basic form of promoting the interests of others before one's own and teaches that such altruism can be accomplished only by those who have learned self-discipline.

Confucius was born in or near the city of Qufu (pron. Chhufu), in the Chinese State of Lu (now part of Shandong Province). Early accounts say that he was born into a poor but noble family that had fallen on hard times.

As a child, Confucius was said to have enjoyed putting ritual vases on the sacrifice table. He married a young girl named Qi Guan at 19 and she gave birth to their first child Kong Li when he was 20. Confucius is reported to have worked as a shepherd, cowherd, clerk and book-keeper. His mother died when Confucius was 23, and he entered three years of mourning.

Confucius is said to have risen to the position of Justice Minister in Lu state at the age of 53. The Duke of Lu indulged himself in pleasure and did not attend to official duties. Confucius was deeply disappointed and resolved to leave Lu and seek better opportunities. At one point Confucius left both his post and the state of Lu.

According to tradition, after Confucius' resignation, he began a long journey (or set of journeys) around the small kingdoms of northeast and central China, including the states of Wei , Song , Chen and Cai. At the courts of these states, he expounded his political beliefs but did not see them implemented.

When he was 68, Confucius returned home. The Analects depicts him spending his last years teaching disciples and transmitting the old wisdom via a set of texts called the Five Classics.

Burdened by the loss of both his son and his favorite disciples, he died at the age of 72 or 73.

Let me also share some of Confucius' remarkable aphorisms :

1. Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.

2. Forget injuries, never forget kindness.

3. He who will not economise, will have to agonise.

4. Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.

5. I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.

6. Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon and star.

7. It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.

8. Men's natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart.

9. Respect yourself and others will respect you.

10. Study the past if you would define the future.

11. To be able under all circumstances to practise five things constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness.

12. To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage or of principles.

13. When anger rises, think of the consequences.

14. He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make his words good.

15. I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity and earnest in seeking it there.

(The writer is Pro-Vice Chancellor, BRAC University)


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