We know very little for certain about the life of the Chinese philosopher, Confucius He is said to have been born in 551 BC in China. He may have been a student of the Daoist master, Lao Tzu According to tradition, he began Government service, and served many roles, including: Minister of Crime, under Duke Ding in the state of Lu. However, Confucius and the duke fell out, after the duke received a present from a neighboring ruler: 80 beautiful women, and 124 horses. The duke spent all of his time riding the horses, and being entertained by the woman. Which Confucius found deeply improper for a ruler. So he left the court, and wandered for years. Around between the 3rd, and 5th century B.C, Confucius’ works were collected into the “Analects 论语 (Lunyu)”, a collection of sayings, written down by his followers. Some of the morals Confucius taught, are easily recognizable. Most notably, his version of the Golden Rule: “Do not do unto others what you don’t want done to yourself” But, some of them also sound very strange, or old-fashioned to modern ears. especially to western ones But we need his advice all the more for this. It serves as an antidote to the troubles we currently face. Here are a few examples, of what Confucius helps us to remember: One: Ceremony is important. The Analects are filled with strange conversations between Confucius and his disciples, like this one: Tsze-kung wished to do away with the offering of a sheep. Confucius said, “Ts’ze, you love the sheep; I love the ceremony.” At first, this is baffling, If not also humorous. Why not save the sheep? But, Confucius is reminding Tsze, and us, about the importance of ceremony. In the modern world, we tend to shun ceremony, and see this as a good thing, a sign of intimacy, or lack of pretension. But, Confucius believed in the value of ceremonies over sheep, because he valued what he called “Ritual Propriety 禮 (Li)” This might seem a very outdated and conservative idea but, in fact, many of us long for particular rituals. That meal mum cooked for us whenever we were sick, or the yearly birthday outing. Or our wedding vows. We understand that certain premeditated, deliberate, and precise gestures stir our emotions deeply. Rituals make our intentions clear and they help us to understand how to behave. 2 : We should treat our parents with reverence. In particular, Confucius had a very strict idea about how we should behave towards our parents He believed that we should obey them when we are young, care for them when they are old, mourn at length when they die and make huge sacrifices in their memory thereafter. He even said that we shouldn’t travel far away while our parents are alive, and should cover for them if they steal a sheep This attitude is known as “Filial Piety” This sounds strange now when many of us leave our parents’ home as teenagers and rarely return to visit. We may even see them as strangers arbitrarily thrust upon us by fate. After all our parents are so out of touch, so pitifully human in their shortcomings, so difficult, so judgmental, and they have such bad taste in music. Yet Confucius recognised that in many ways moral life begins in the family. We cannot truly be caring, wise, grateful and conscientious unless we remember mum’s birthday and meet dad for lunch. 3 : we should be obedient to honorable people Modern societies are very egalitarian – we believe that we are all born equal and should ultimately be able to say and do whatever we like. We reject many rigid hierarchical roles Yet Confucius told his followers: “Let the ruler be a ruler, the subject a subject, a father a father and a son a son”. This might sound jarring but it is in fact important to realise that there are people worthy of our deep veneration even our simple and humble obedience. We need to be modest enough to recognise the people whose experience or accomplishments outweigh our own We should also practise peaceably doing what these people need, ask or command Confucius explained: “the relation between superiors and inferiors is like that between the wind and the grass: the grass must bend when the wind blows across it.” Bending gracefully is, in fact, not a sign of weakness but a gesture of humility, and respect 4. Cultivated knowledge can be more important than creativity. Modern culture places a lot of emphasis on creativity unique insights that come to us suddenly but Confucius was adamant about the importance of the universal wisdom that comes from years of hard work and reflection He listed: benevolence, ritual propriety, righteousness, wisdom, integrity as the five constant virtues While Confucius believed that people were inherently good, he also saw the virtues like these must be constantly cultivated just like plants in a garden He spoke about moral character and wisdom as the work of a lifetime We can see now why he had such reverence for his elders Of course, a burst of inspiration may well be what we need to start out business or redo our rough draft or reinvent our life. But if we’re being very honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that we also need to devote more energy to slowly changing our habits. This, more than anything else, is what prevents us from becomming truly intelligent, accomplished and wise. Confucius died without reforming the decadent officials But after his death his follwers created schools and tempels in his honor across East Asia, passing his teachings along for over two thousand years. Today millions of people still follow Confucius’ teachings as a spiritual or religious discipline And his thought has been a huge influence on Eastern political ideas about morality obedience and good leadership. We might find Confucian virtues a bit strange or oldfashioned, but this is what ultimately makes them all the more important. We need them as a corrective to our own excesses. The modern world is almost surprisingly totally un-confucian, informal, egallitarian and full of innovation. So we’re conversely at risk of becomming impulsive, irreverent and thoughtless without a little advice from Confucius about good behavior and sheep.