Confucius (KUNG-TZU)[1]
551/550 - 479 BC
Ancient Chinese philosopher; The founder of Confucianism.


Family. Confucius – is a Latin version of Chinese name Kung Fu-Tzu, which means the master Kung, a philosopher. He was born into an aristocratic family, though poor, but having an old genealogy. The founder of the clan was Wei-Tzu, a ruler of the Sung Kingdom. Confucius's ancestor in the fourth generation was forced to flee to the kingdom of Lu, where his family had to start from scratch.

Confucius's father Shuliang He – was a valorous officer and the commander of a small town who had a modest income. He had nine daughters from his first wife. Still hoping for a worthy successor, at the age of 66, he married a virtuous girl, for a second time. They had a son and named him Kev, but the world knows him as Confucius. He was not yet two years old when his father died. Because of poverty, the boy had to earn his living from doing many things considered despicable. When he was 17, his beloved mother died.

Life and work:From the age of 15 he started taking private lessons and practicing self-education, and studying the literature of his favorite ancient sages. At the age of 19, the young man got married. When his son was born, he joined governmental service. Although corruption among officials was commonplace in those days Confucius carried out his position as a supervisor of food supplies and all his other works in all honesty, selflessly, penetrating into all details and in a quality manner. Confucius completed his education at the age of 30. At that time, an educated person in China had to be able to read, to count, to perform rituals and know about music, as well as archery and how to wield a chariot. At the age of 22, he had already founded his own school, where he taught morality, history, music and the art of being a master. He believed that music was the best way to correct bad habits and customs. The teacher charged a modest fee from his listeners. His fame began to grow.

As a researcher of antiquity and an inquiring thinker, Confucius traveled to the residence of the emperor, where he became acquainted with the treasures of the Royal library. Here he studied music, which, while at the Royal Court, underwent the greatest improvements. The Thinker had no relations with the Court, but he met with the greatest thinker of that time - Lao Tzu, a founder of the philosophical and religious school. The meeting made a deep impression on the young thinker.

When Confucius returned home in Lu, there were certain events, which showed that the lifeworks of the sage conformed to his teachings. The governor of Lu was expelled by sovereign officials and had to flee to the neighboring province of Qi. He was followed by Confucius and his disciples, and Confucius did not wish with his authority to support the ones who expelled his governor. However, soon the sage's advice was burdensome to the governor of the province of Qi and Confucius returned home.

Here he continued the lessons with his disciples and developed his teaching. “Confucius has always been characterized by genuine modesty. He was always courteous, attentive and affable; he wore simple black and yellow clothes. Among his disciples he was warm-hearted and natural, and extolling and arrogance were alien to him. He never showed off his learning and was able to listen to advice. The disciples had great influence on him. Time and again, he changed his decision upon their advice...

But when Confucius was appearing at the Court, he was being transformed… All his manners, bows and ceremonial poses were calculated and driven by strict rules… All that did not come from pride or arrogance, but was done for the revival of traditions.” (6. - p. 44, 45)

Confucius, followed by Plato, believed that for the state to benefit depends on the wisdom and justice of its governor. He dreamed of realizing this idea. However, at the age of only 51he was called up for the service by the governor of Lu. In just a few years of successful work, Confucius became the closest adviser of the governor, and promoted the prosperity of the kingdom to such an extent that all this became worrisome to the neighboring states. The neighbors did not fail to embroil the governor with the wise adviser, and to that end, using his weaknesses they sent the governor 81 beauties and 30 carts drawn by four thoroughbred horses, as a gift. The governor was tempted. In order not to reject such a gift, he deliberately placed the adviser in a difficult situation, fragrantly violating one of the ritual norms. As a sign of protest, Confucius with a few dozen of his disciples left the state of Lu.


Wanderings: At the age of 55, Confucius in fact was exiled. For 14 years he was moving from one province to another together with his disciples, hoping to meet a governor, led by whom, he could realize his dream of a new state, a state of high morality and humanness, which provided fair and decent life for its fellow citizens. Everywhere he was greeted with honor and granted a good income, but he was not called up for governmental service. At last, when Confucius was 64, the governor Chu Gong offered the philosopher a post of the first dignitary. Once again, Confucius remained committed to his beliefs. He refused the flattering post, as the governor took the throne illegally, bypassing his father.

What did the sage teach the governors and dignitaries?
According to Confucius, a state – is a pyramid. The Son of the Heaven, that is, the governor is on its top. The dignitaries and the managing apparatus are in the middle of the pyramid. The basis of the pyramid is people. The main focus – is the middle of the pyramid. As the pyramid behaves, so do the people. It is only a noble man that can govern the people. “The morality of the noble man is like the wind, and the morality of unworthy man is like grass, where the wind blows there the grass bows down.” The thinker taught the governors that the state is like a big family. A tribal family is united by the common work for the welfare of everyone. All the members of the family help each other and a deep feeling of reverence for the senior members from the younger ones and the seniors caring for the younger members lives there. In fact, such a family is built on the hierarchical principle, which is the basis of the universe: a service of the highest to the lowest and a subordination of the lowest to the highest.

Last years of his life: He returned then to his native kingdom of Lu, where he continued to teach, being highly respected and enjoying unquestioned authority. He also continued his activities for the systematization of ancient books. “A collection of ancient songs” – is the book, which appeared due to the fact that Confucius collected and processed ancient poems. About two years before his death, he wrote a brief story about the state of Lu for 240 years: during the period 721- 481 BC.

The great sage Confucius went from hence into the other world at the age of 73, having survived the death of his wife and his son, and his favorite disciple Yan Hui, shortly before his transition. His disciples lived in a hut near his grave for three years, making funeral ceremonies in accordance with the ritual, consecrated by their teacher.

Confucius preached his teaching orally. We learn about the ideology of the great philosopher from the notes made by his disciples, mainly from the book “Lun Yü” - “The Analects”.
According to Confucius's teaching, the ideal of human existence resides in ancient times, which sets the norm and pattern of decent behavior. Therefore, it is necessary to study ancient books and the life of great ascetics. “Confucius believed that enlightenment and the propaganda of life canons do its own part ... but it /the returning to the golden times past/ should be done consciously. Everyone should be demanding of himself and to observe the rules and canons; and only then will the whole society be healed from its infirmity” (6. - p. 46, 40).

The central concept of Confucius's Teaching is “Ren” - humanness or love for people. This concept represents the characterization of a person and the purpose of his moral perfecting, and the law of the relations between people in society. The correct attitude towards people is in reciprocity. “Do not do unto others what you would not have others do unto you” – is the Golden rule of ethics of relations. The teacher calls us to love people. If people's hearts burn with love, then people will be like a family. “So, you must love others as yourself... you should wish for others all the good things that you wish for yourself” - he said. “Confucius believed that people must learn to follow the rules of humanness and etiquette without punishment”. He said: “If you guide people by means of laws, although they (people) will try to avoid them, they will not have a sense of shame” (6. - p. 46). The concept “Ren” was interpreted very broadly by the thinker and included many qualities: love for people, sincerity, loyalty, unselfishness, justice, dignity, truth, courage. It was the union of perfection, the ideal that was possessed only by the ancients. “Ren” people were actually ascetics, the bearers of the highest ethics. Philanthropy embodied the general principles of the relations between people, and a ritual; the observance of ceremonies and rites, that is, the rules or etiquette, became its concrete realization.

Confucius's ritual of “Li” is not related to the external ceremonies. Through the ritual a person shows his respect and understanding of the other person. The ritual is valuable as a means to achieve harmony in a family and in society. The ritual allowed for the establishing of reciprocity between people of different ages and social status. The ethics of the ritual is based on the belief that human harmony is more important than abstract truths. Although the ritual and humanness are closely related, humanness is the core of everything. “If a person is not humane, what is the use of the ceremonies?” (6. - p. 48). What the teacher called the ritual, was in fact aimed at developing a sense of proportion, so that the leaders cannot exceed their authority and abuse their position.

Confucius believed that “Xiào” – a filial piety and general respect for parents and elders - is the basis of “Ren” and “Li”. The reverence of a son for his father – is the highest primary principle, and a whistle-blowing on fathers is immoral. This ethical principle was secured by the law in China in 66 B.C. Confucius understood the cult of ancestors “as a part of universal moral and political order ...” He said: “If we are not diligent in the performance of our duty towards ancestors, then the morality of the people will not improve” (6. - p.42).

His teaching on the rectification of names had the same function. The formula of Confucius states: “An Emperor must be an Emperor, a dignitary – a dignitary, a father – a father, a son – a son”. If people are not what they pretend to be, if their deeds are contrary to their words, then harmony is replaced by discord in their relationships with each other. Rectification of names – is a measure of responsible attitude to words and an essential condition for harmony.

Adherence to the highest principles is the duty of “Jun-zi” - a noble man. This is an image of human perfection. He seeks to know the “Tao” - the right path. “He cannot become a noble man without knowledge of freedom (heaven)”. He loves mankind. “A noble man possesses kindness for mankind even during meals. He must follow philanthropy, even being extremely busy. He must follow philanthropy, even suffering set-backs”. He knows how to build relationships between people. “Noble people live in harmony (with others), but do not follow them”. He borrows only good points from the people and comes close to the best ones; he treats everyone equally, “without showing preferences”. He learns constantly, for only “these who learn the new, reviewing the old, can be people`s mentors”. He took it from the belief that the only way to positively impact people and state affairs, is to become perfect himself. “If you cannot improve yourself, how you can improve other people”. “A noble man thinks of his duty, an unworthy man look after his own interests”, - taught by Confucius.

Confucius taught that “improvement of a person is the beginning of everything”, and if neglect is the root of any manifestation, there cannot be good that could grow out of it. He had constantly striven to demonstrate all his life as an example of how to be a noble man.

Vitality of the Teaching:
“Confucius's concerns for the destiny of his teaching were in vain, it was not lost. His followers had not only collected his sayings and developed his heritage, but also had formed a cohesive community which became a serious spiritual power in China” (6. - p. 55).

In the III century, when the Emperor Qin came to power, and united a scattered China in a powerful empire, the persecution of Confucius' followers had begun. All his books were burned, and hundreds of Confucian scholars were killed or exiled to the construction of the Chinese wall. Even under these circumstances, the devotees of his Teaching saved the manuscripts or learnt them by heart.

With the arrival of the Han Dynasty, the Teaching of Confucius was revived again. “Confucius was officially proclaimed the greatest sage of the nation, the Messenger of Heaven; his Teaching was a part of Chinese culture until the epoch of Mao Tse-tung” (6. - p. 57).
Since the seventeenth century, the Teaching of Confucius became known in Europe and caused a wide resonance. Montesquieu and Voltaire admired his morality.

Many attempts have been made (as it is now) to show the Teaching of Confucius as purely earthly ideal, and to prove that morality can be fortified, regardless of religion, from the highest demands of the spirit, and a harmonious society can be created without the help of the Heaven. Only the person who is superficially familiar with his Teaching speaks like that. And Confucius, the great Messenger of Heaven said, “No one knows me ... I am known only in Heaven”. Helena Roerich wrote: “I remember a story about the great Confucius. Once he was very ill, and his friends, thinking that he was about to die prompted him to say his prayers. The sage smiled and said, “My prayer started long ago”. And indeed, was not all his life an unceasing service to the Great Ideal, which is the true prayer to the Highest?” (4. - vol.1 - p.182)

Now, both the name and the Teaching of the great sage Confucius have become the heritage of all cultural people, wherever they live. As stated in the “Supermundane” (p. 310): “The thoughts of Confucius, Pythagoras, and Marcus Aurelius are recorded in the pages of history”.



1. Vasilyev L.S. The History of Eastern Religions (Religious and Cultural Traditions and the Society). A textbook for universities, specialization “History” - М: Vysshaya shkola, 1983. (In Russian, unpublished.)

2. Guseynov A. A. “Great Moralists”. - Moscow, 1995 (In Russian, unpublished.)

3. Veryovkina I.Y. “Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed” / One hundred great men of the world / Confucius - Kiev: “Muza” 1991. (In Russian)

4. Letters of Helena Roerich, 1929-1938, July 21, 1934, vol. 1, p. 182. Available at:

5. N. K. Roerich “Altai-Himalaya” / A travel diary, Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York, 2013. Available at:

6. Svetlov E. “At the Gates of Silence”- The spiritual life of China and India 500 years before Christ./ In Search of the Way, the Truth and the Life, vol. 3, Brussels: 1971 – (In Russian, unpublished.)

7. Glossary of Ethics / Edited by Guseynov A. A. and Kon I.S. - M: Politizdat 1989. - Ed.6 (In Russian)

8. Spirina N. D. and oth. “Confucius” / Spirina N. D, Grebennikova N. E, Yushkov A. P. Lights of the World: Collection. - Siberian Roerich Society, Novosibirsk, 1994 - part 1, p. 34-45. (In Russian)

9. Philosophical Encyclopedic Dictionary. [Filosofskii entsiklopedicheskii slovar'] – M. 1983.




[1] The material from the book “The Great Moralists - the Founders of World Religions” by V. I. Polyan (Russian version)