Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.
Confucius was born about 551 BCE. with the family name K'ung. The respect he gained for his teachings led to his being referred to as Grand
Master K'ungK'ung Fu-tzu. The Western version of his name comes from this. He said that at fifteen he bent his mind to learning, and he continued
to express a deep admiration for learning throughout his life. Confucius married at 19, his son being born a year later. Subsequently he had two
daughters, one of whom died when she was quite young.
In his twenty-second year, Confucius started his career as a public teacher, and his house became a gathering place for young people who wished
to learn from the lessons of the past. He was concerned with opening up education to all, with an emphasis on character building rather than
vocational training. In his fifties he became a magistrate and a minister of justice. At 56 he sought to spread his doctrines by traveling extensively with
some of his students. After 13 years he returned somewhat disappointed to his own state, where he is believed to have written down his philosophy and
compiled the Chinese Classics. He died in 479 BCE.
Confucius lived in times when there was constant warfare between neighboring states and local warlords had little concern for the high moral
principles enunciated by an itinerant teacher. While his goal was to bring peace and order to states his words had little effect during his lifetime. His
ideas subsequently became the foundation for most of the concern for humanity found in subsequent Chinese philosophy. Unfortunately, his name has
often been used as a cloak for despotic rule, by a false analogy between a dictator and the head of a family.
Some primary aspects of Confucius's thought are to be found in The Great Learning and in The Doctrine of the Mean (referred to here as the Doctrine of Equilibrium and Harmony). Parts of these are given her, followed by extracts from The Analects, a large collection of sayings of and about Confucius.
The Doctrine of Equilibrium and Harmony
1 The heavens have conferred a human nature on mankind alone. Acting according to our humanity provides the true path through life. Wisdom
from the past helps us learn how to follow this path.
It is wrong to leave this path for an instant. A path which you are free to leave is not the true path. On this account, the superior man is cautious
and careful with respect to where he focuses his attention and how he is regarded; he is anxious to give his mind to only what is worth listening to and
what is worth saying.
Secret thoughts and minute expressions of concealed feelings may be transparently obvious. Therefore the superior man is watchful over himself
even when alone.
When there are no stirrings of pleasure, anger, sorrow, or joy, the mind may be said to be in a state of equilibrium. When those feelings are stirred
and act in their due degree, there ensues what may be called a state of harmony. Equilibrium is the great root from which grow all acts of humanity;
harmony is the universal path that guides them.
Let the states of equilibrium and harmony exist in perfection, and a happy order will prevail throughout the heavens and earth, and all things will be nourished and flourish.
The Great Learning
2 The path for learning greatness is to illuminate the goodness in man, to bring out what is best in people, and to achieve the highest excellence.
Once the true point of departure on this path is found, thought becomes clear. A calm imperturbability yields the tranquility needed for careful
deliberation. That deliberation will achieve the desired goal.
3 Things have their roots and their branches. Affairs have their ends and their beginnings. To know what is first and what is last will lead near to
what is taught in The Great Learning.
4 The ancients wishing to exhibit goodness throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their own states. To order well their own states, they first
brought order into their families. To bring order into their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first
rectified their hearts. To rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first
extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.
The investigation of things rounded out knowledge. Their knowledge being rounded out, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere,
their hearts were then rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated. Their persons being cultivated, order was brought into their
families. Their families being in order, their states were rightly governed. Their states being rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and
5 From the supreme ruler down to the mass of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything else. When the root is neglected, what springs from it cannot be well ordered. What is of great importance cannot be slightly cared for, nor can what is of slight importance be greatly cared for.
6 When the disciple Tsze-lu asked to hear his wishes, Confucius replied, "They are, in regard to the aged, to give them rest; in regard to friends, to
show them sincerity; in regard to the young, to treat them tenderly."
7 When Tsze-kung asked for one word that may serve as a rule of practice for all one¹s life. Confucius asked, "Is not reciprocity such a word?
What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."
8 Confucius remarked to Tsze-yu, "My doctrine is that of an all-pervading unity." When Confucius went out, the other disciples asked what these
words meant. Tsze-yu replied, ³The doctrine of our master is to be true to the principles of our natures and to exercise them benevolently towards
others‹ this and nothing more.²
9 His disciples listed four things that their Master taught‹letters, ethics, devotion of soul, and truthfulness. They said he was entirely free of four
things‹foregone conclusions, arbitrary predetermination, obstinacy, and egoism.
10 Frequent themes for Confucius were the Chinese Odes, history, and maintaining rules of propriety. He said, "It is by the Odes that the mind is
aroused. It is by the Rules of Propriety that the character is established. And it is from Music that the finish is received."
11 Confucius said, "Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men." He remarked that three hundred pieces in the Book of Odes
could be summed up in one sentence"Have no twisted or depraved thoughts." Of language itself , he said, "It is simply required that it convey the
12 His disciples recall that Confucius did not talk about extraordinary things, feats of strength, disorder, or spiritual beings. When Tsze-lu asked
about serving the spirits of the dead Confucius responded, "While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve their spirits?"
Tsze-lu went on, "May I ask about death?"
He received the answer, "While you do not know life, how can you know about death?"
Confucius remarked, "The study of strange doctrines is injurious indeed!"
13 The things in reference to which Confucius exercised the greatest caution were‹fasting, sickness and war.
14 Tsze-lu asked, "If you had the conduct of the armies of a great State, whom would you have to act with you?" Confucius replied, "I would not
have him to act with me who will unarmed attack a tiger, or cross a river without a boat, dying without any regret. My associate must be the man who
proceeds to action full of thoughtfulness, who is fond of carefully laying out his plans, and then carries them into execution."
15 The stable was burned down when Confucius was at court; on his return he asked, "Has any man been hurt?" He did not ask about the horses.
16 When any of his friends died, if he had no relations who could be depended on for the necessary offices, he would say, "I will bury him." When
he saw any one in a mourning dress, his countenance would become grave. When Confucius was eating by the side of a mourner, he never ate to the
full. He did not sing on the same day in which he had been weeping.
17 Confucius said of Kung-ye Chang that he could become married: although he was put in bonds, he had not been guilty of any crime. Accordingly,
he gave him his own daughter to wife.
18 Confucius valued filial piety. He suggested, "In serving his parents, a son may remonstrate with them, but gently; when he sees that they do not
incline to follow his advice, he shows an increased degree of reverence, but does not abandon his purpose; and should they punish him, he does not
allow himself to murmur."
19 He said, "A youth is to be regarded with respect. How do we know that his future will not be equal to our present? If he reach the age of forty or
fifty and has not made himself heard of, then indeed he will not be worth being regarded with respect."
20 The Music-master, Mien, having called upon him, when they came to the steps, Confucius said, "Here are the steps." When they came to the
mat for the guest to sit on, he said, "Here is the mat." When all were seated, he told him, "So and so is here; so and so is there."
The Music-master, Mien, having gone out, Tsze-chang asked saying, "Is it the rule to tell those things to the Music-master?"
Confucius replied, "Yes. This is certainly the rule for those who lead the blind."
21 At one time Confucius was depressed and lamented, "My doctrines make no way. I will get upon a raft, and float about on the sea. He that will
accompany me will be Yu, I dare say".
Yu hearing this was glad.
Upon which Confucius observed tartly, "Yu is fonder of daring than I am. He does not exercise his judgment upon such matters."
22 The Master said, "In letters I am perhaps equal to other men, but the character of the superior man, carrying out in his conduct what he
professes, is what I have not yet attained to."
23 "I will not be afflicted at men's not knowing me; I will be afflicted that I do not know men."
24 Confucius said, "The sage and the man of perfect virtue‹how dare I rank myself with them? It may simply be said of me, that I strive to
become such without satiety, and teach others without weariness."
Kung-hsi Hwa said, "That is just what we disciples cannot imitate in you."
25 A man of the village of Ta-hsiang scoffed, "Great indeed is the philosopher K'ung! His learning is extensive, and yet he does not render his name
famous by any particular thing."
Hearing the gibe, Confucius asked his disciples, "What must I do to please this man? Shall I go in for archery contests? Shall I become a charioteer? That's it, I will take up chariot racing!"
26 Confucius summed up the importance of knowledge this way, "Those who are born with the possession of knowledge are the highest class of
men. Those who learn and readily gain possession of knowledge are the next. Those who are dull and stupid, and yet manage to learn are another class
next to these. As to those who are dull and stupid and yet do not learn‹they are the lowest of the people.
"But", he warned, "Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous."
27 To Yu he said, "Lack of love of learning is at the heart of six sources of confusion.
"There is the love of being benevolent without the love of learning‹the confusion here leads to a foolish simplicity. There is the love of knowing without the love of learning‹the confusion here leads to dissipation of mind. There is the love of being sincere without the love of learning‹the confusion here leads to an injurious disregard of consequences. There is the love of straightforwardness without the love of learning‹the confusion here leads to rudeness. There is the love of boldness without the love of learning‹the confusion here leads to insubordination. There is the love of firmness without the love of learning‹the confusion here leads to extravagant conduct."
28 Chi K'ang asked which of the disciples loved to learn. Confucius replied to him, "There was Tsze-yuan. He loved to learn. Unfortunately his
appointed time was short, and he died. Now there is no one who loves to learn, as he did."
When Tsze-yuan died, Confucius bewailed him exceedingly, and the disciples who were with him said, "Master, isn't your grief excessive? "Is it excessive?" he asked. "If I am not to mourn bitterly for this man, for whom should I mourn?"
29 The duke of Sheh asked Tsze-lu about Confucius, and Tsze-lu did not answer him. Confucius asked, "Why did you not say to himHe is
simply a man, who in his eager pursuit of knowledge forgets his food, who in the joy of its attainment forgets his sorrows, and who does not perceive
that old age is coming on?"
30 "When I walk along with two others, they may serve me as my teachers. I will select their good qualities and follow them, know their bad
qualities and avoid them."
31 "When we see men of worth, we should think of equaling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine
32 He said, "There may be those who act without knowing why. I do not do so. Hearing much, selecting what is good and following it; seeing much
and keeping it in memory‹this is the style of knowledge I prefer."
33 Tsai Yu being asleep during the day time, Confucius observed, "Rotten wood cannot be carved; a wall of dirty earth will not receive the trowel.
This Yu!what is the use of my reproving him? At first, my way with men was to hear their words and give them credit for their conduct. Now my
way is to hear their words and look at their conduct. It is from Yu that I have learned to make this change."
34 "I do not open up the truth to one who is not eager to get knowledge, nor help out any one who is not anxious to explain himself. When I have
presented one corner of a subject to any one, and he cannot from it learn the other three, I do not repeat my lesson."
35 "When a man is not in the habit of saying, 'What shall I think of this? What shall I think of this?' I can indeed do nothing with him!"
The Superior Man
36 Tsze-lu asked what constituted the superior man. Confucius answered, "The cultivation of himself in reverential carefulness."
"And is this all?"
"He cultivates himself so as to give rest to others."
"And is this all?"
"He cultivates himself so as to give rest to all the people."
37 Confucius confessed, "The way of the superior man is threefold, but I am not equal to it. Virtuous, he is free from anxieties; wise, he is free from
perplexities; bold, he is free from fear."
38 Tsze-kung also asked what constituted the superior man. Confucius replied, "He acts before he speaks, and afterwards speaks according to his
39 "The superior man has nine things which are subjects with him of thoughtful consideration:
In regard to the use of his eyes, he is anxious to see clearly.
In regard to the use of his ears, he is anxious to hear distinctly.
In regard to his countenance, he is anxious that it should be benign.
In regard to his demeanor, he is anxious that it should be respectful.
In regard to his speech, he is anxious that it should be sincere.
In regard to his way of doing business, he is anxious that it should be reverently careful.
In regard to what he doubts about, he is anxious to question others.
When he is angry, he thinks of the difficulties his anger may involve him in.
When he sees gain to be got, he thinks of righteousness."
40 "The superior man wishes to be slow in his speech and earnest in his conduct. He is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions. In every
action he considers righteousness to be essential. He performs it according to the rules of propriety. He executes it with humility. He completes it
with sincerity. This is indeed the way of a superior man."
41 "The superior man is distressed by his want of ability. He is not distressed by men's not knowing him. He is correctly firm, and not firm merely."
42 "He does not promote a man simply on account of his words, nor does he put aside good words because of the man."
43 "He who does not anticipate attempts to deceive him, nor think beforehand of his not being believed, and yet apprehends these things readily
when they occurIs he not a man of superior worth?"
44 "There are three things which the superior man guards against. In youth, when the physical powers are not yet settled, he guards against lust.
When he is strong, and the physical powers are full of vigor, he guards against quarrelsomeness. When he is old, and the animal powers are decayed, he
guards against covetousness."
45 "In dealing with people, the superior man does not set his mind either for anything, or against anything; what is right he will follow."
46 When he was in Chan, their provisions were exhausted, and his followers became so ill that they were unable to rise. Tsze-lu, with evident
dissatisfaction, said to Confucius, "Has the superior man likewise to endure in this way?"
The Master said, "The superior man may indeed have to endure want, but the mean man, when he is in want, gives way to unbridled license."
47 Tsze-chang asked Confucius the source of perfect virtue. Confucius said, "To be able to practice five things everywhere under heaven constitutes
perfect virtue: gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness. If you are grave, you will not be treated with disrespect. If you are
generous, you will win all. If you are sincere, people will repose trust in you. If you are earnest, you will accomplish much. If you are kind, this will
enable you to employ the services of others. The firm, the enduring, the simple, and the modest are near to virtue."
48 When Tsze-ch'ih asked about perfect virtue Confucius replied, "³In retirement, it is to be sedately grave; in the management of business, to be
reverently attentive; in dealing with others, to be strictly sincere. Though a man go among rude, uncultivated tribes, these qualities may not be
49 "The man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to
To be able to judge others as we would wish to be judged ourselves: this may be called the art of virtue."
50 Tsze-kung asked, saying, "What do you say of a man who is loved by all the people of his neighborhood?"
Confucius replied, "We may not for that reason alone accord him our approval."
"And what do you say of him who is hated by all the people of his neighborhood?"
Confucius replied, "We may not for that reason conclude that he is bad. It is better than either of these cases that the good in the neighborhood love him, and the bad hate him."
The Mean Man
51 "The superior man cannot be known in little matters; but he may be entrusted with great concerns. The small man may not be entrusted with
great concerns but he may be known in little matters.
"The superior man thinks of virtue; the small man thinks of comfort. The superior man thinks of the enactions of law; the small man thinks of favors that he may receive.
"The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the mean man is conversant with gain.
"The superior man seeks to perfect the admirable qualities of men, and does not seek to perfect their bad qualities. The mean man does the opposite of this.
"What the superior man seeks, is in himself. What the mean man seeks, is in others."
52 "Respectfulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes timidity; boldness, without the rules of propriety, becomes insubordination; straight-forwardness, without the rules of propriety, becomes rudeness."