THOUGH Confucius (Kung-Fu-Tzu) lived five centuries before the Christian era, his teachings are of the ancients. Most of his life was spent in learning and teaching what the ancients taught, most of his labor was bestowed on gathering together and codifying the metaphysics and philosophy, history and folk-lore of his predecessors. In his life and labor we see the wisdom and the discipline practised in China for thousands of years. Confucius did not teach a new philosophy, much less establish a new religion. Even today Confucianism is more a practice of ethics and observance of manners than a religious ritual. Confucius is not unique in reiterating that he is only a transmitter; but hardly any other transmitter was so scrupulous as to introduce in his codes only such teachings for which authentic records were available.
He arranged the scattered Shu King records with meticulous care. One of his descendants of the second century B.C. says that "he examined and arranged the old literary monuments and records, deciding to commence with Yao and Shun, and to come down to the times of Chau." His own grandson says that Confucius "handed down Yao and Shun as if they had been his ancestors, and elegantly displayed Wan and Wu, whom he took for his model." He conscientiously followed the Chinese tradition to which he himself makes pointed reference -- "a recorder would leave a blank in his text, rather than enter anything of which he had not a sufficient evidence."
He said on one occasion that he could describe the ceremonies of the dynasties of Hsia and Yin (2205-1123 B.C.) but would not do so because the records before him "could not sufficiently attest his words." In the Confucian Analects (Lun Yu) we find the following (Translation by Lionel Giles, p. 84): "The Master said, 'My function is to indicate rather than to originate. Regarding antiquity as I do with trust and affection, I would venture to compare myself with our ancient patriarch P'eng Tsu'." This Legendary Figure is said to have been 800 years old when he disappeared into the West (i.e., Tibet) in the eleventh century B.C. Mr. Giles adds that the last words in the text are taken by some to mean "our patriarchs Lao Tzu and P'eng Tsu"; Lao Tzu also is reported to have disappeared at an advanced age into the West.
On one occasion when he was very ill a disciple proposed the offering of prayer. "Is there a precedent for this?" asked Confucius. "There is. It is written, 'We pray unto you, O Spirits of Heaven and Earth'." "Oh! that," he replied, "my prayers began long ago." Confucius was antagonistic to prayer as the Christian world knows it. On another occasion in his own state of Lu the authorities were proposing to reconstruct the Long Treasury. A disciple of Confucius remarked, "Why not restore it, rather, in the ancient style? Why is it necessary to renovate it altogether?" Whereupon Confucius thus -- "This man is no talker, but when he does speak, he speaks to the purpose." Such was Confucius, desirous on every occasion "to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors."
Confucius is like the sun -- a focal point at which Primordial Light which is Darkness becomes visible. China had reduced itself to a condition of chaos, and he arose as if in answer to the agony of his ancient land, to restore order. As Mencius writes, "Again the world fell into decay, and principles faded away. Perverse speakings and oppressive deeds waxed rife again." Confucius was both teacher and ruler, and as such modelled his precepts and his practices on the idea -- "let us now praise famous men, and our Fathers that beget us." He did not contribute new ideas and practices to the inherited religio-philosophy of his land; but without him the old ideas would not have survived. The Confucian Texts, with but one solitary exception, are all faithful compilations from and of old records: that one, Chun Chin or the Spring and Autumn is a very brief chronicle of the history of his own native state of Lu for 242 years; he is the original author of this.
The mergence of Confucius in the Wisdom of his elders is so deep that a student perforce has to content himself with Confucianism; and this particular "ism" is thoroughly devoid of any personality, including that of the sage whose name it bears. All the ancient lore of his ancient people is what we know as Confucius -- the former is embodied in the latter, who has given it name and form. But also like the Sun, Confucius passes on the light. Since 500 B.C. China has reflected Confucian thought in her social polity and racial institutions.
In compiling and recording, Confucius has preserved due silence on esoteric matters; but to the intelligent Theosophist it is fully evident that he was a Chun Tzu -- an Adept of Wisdom and Compassion. Chun Tzu is variously rendered as "the superior man," "the higher type of man," "the princely man," because our modern sinologists are not familiar with the Theosophical concept of Masters and Mahatmas, of Adepts and Chelas. Because he was one such, he refused to explain what he means by the Great Extreme or to give the key to the divination of his Straws. Therefore, too, did he not believe in or teach a personal god, and discouraged prayer and worship. He did not found a religion. He advocated more an ethical system of life based on real tradition, copying the great examples of the old world and the precepts of the ever-new Nature. Family and state ceremonies, however formal they may have become now, were for him and his pupils but a means of expression of the innate virtues of individuals. Thus:
Ceremonies, forsooth! Can ceremonies be reduced to a mere matter of silken robes and jade ornaments? Music, forsooth! Can music be reduced to a mere matter of bells and drums? Men who are grave and stern in appearance, but inwardly weak and unprincipled -- are they not comparable to the lowest class of humanity -- sneaking thieves that break into houses by night? Your goody-goody people are the thieves of virtue.
When out of doors, behave as though you were entertaining a distinguished guest; in ruling the people, behave as though you were officiating at a solemn sacrifice.
From the age of 21 to 51 Confucius taught in a school started by himself. It had some 3,000 pupils. He taught the art of government, history, natural science, music, poetry, proprieties, -- this outwardly; but who can tell what sacred and secret teachings he imparted to the select few? H.P.B. mentions the existence of such schools in different countries of the old world, among them China, and instances "Confucius, the Atheist."
For four years he held high offices of state, and labored for his people on the principle, "the prime requisite in government should be not revenue but proper performance of function by all persons." And again -- "To govern a country of a thousand chariots, there must be reverent attention to business, and faithfulness, economy in expenditure, and love for the people." He fell prey to political intrigue and became a wanderer -- preaching his wisdom, which according to Mencius struck terror into the hearts of rebellious ministers and villainous sons.
Confucianism is founded on the five King and the four Shu-books: (1) Shu (2) Shi (3) Yi (4) Hsiao (5) Li Chi; and (6) Lun Yu -- Analects (7) Ta Hsio -- the Great Learning (also to be found as Book 39 of Li Chi): (8) Chung Yung -- Doctrine of the Mean (written by the grandson of Confucius) and (9) the Works of Mencius, a famous expounder of Confucian lore. Voluminous commentaries exist, but are not available to the western world.
Not only did Confucius labor with the ancient records, but himself set the example of paying them due homage. Thus, in reference to the Shi King: Confucius, on hearing that his son had not read the Odes, said "if you do not learn the Odes, you will not be fit to converse with."
Of Yi he said in the closing years of his life: "If some years were added to my life, I would give fifty to the study of the Yi, and might then escape falling into great errors."
Of Hsiao thus: "If you wish to see my aim in dispensing praise or blame to the feudal lords, it is to be found in the Spring and Autumn; the course by which I would exalt the Social relations are in the Hsiao King.
Of Li Chi he said: "Without the Rules of Propriety, respectfulness becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, timidity; boldness, insubordination; and straightforwardness, rudeness."
The influence of Confucius has permeated China, but has not gone beyond. H. P. Blavatsky writes:
Whereas the principles and doctrines of Christ and Buddha were calculated to embrace the whole of humanity, Confucius confined his attention solely to his own country, trying to apply his profound wisdom and philosophy to the wants of his countrymen, and little troubling his head about the rest of mankind.
From the work he did and the philosophy he taught it is evident that this Fifth-Round Man was purposely sent to the Chinese. In more than one place he has referred to his "heaven-sent mission," but very guardedly andhumbly; and after his departure his followers, due to his own example, were less unwise than those of Jesus, for instance, in making extravagant claims, though such statements as the following appear:
The wisdom of other men is like hills and mountain-peaks, which however high can still be scaled. But Confucius is like the sun or the moon, which can never be reached by the foot of man. A man may want to cut himself off from their light, but what harm will that do to the sun or the moon? It only shows very plainly that he has no notion of the measurement of capacity.
Of himself Confucius said:
At fifteen, my mind was bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I was free from delusions. At fifty, I understood the laws of Providence. At sixty, my ears were attentive to the truth. At seventy, I could follow the promptings of my heart without overstepping the mean.
We get an indication of the knowledge and power of the inner man in Confucius if we remember some of his pregnant statements. He said that he did not practice "the first order of Wisdom" -- he was not great enough for that. "In me knowledge is not innate." And again, "I used to spend whole days without food and whole nights without sleep, in order to meditate. But I made no progress. Study, I found, was better." His self-discipline and method of acquiring knowledge, his mode of disciplining and teaching others are also indicative:
If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.
My disciples, do you think that I have any secrets? I have no secrets from you. It is my way to do nothing without communicating it to you, my disciples.
There is no one, from the man who brings me dried meat as payment, upwards, to whom I have refused my instruction. But I do not expound my teaching to any who are not eager to learn; I do not help out any one who is not anxious to explain himself; if, after being shown one corner of a subject, a man cannot go on to discover the other three, I do not repeat the lesson.
Pursue the study of virtue as though you could never reach your goal, and were afraid of losing the ground already gained. A good man must have trained the people for seven years before they are fit to go to war. To take an untrained multitude into battle is equivalent to throwing them away. Alas! there are sprouting crops which never come into ear. There are others which, having come to ear, never ripen into grain. But all the same we ought to have a wholesome respect for our juniors.
Words of just admonition cannot fail to command a ready assent. But practical reformation is the thing that really matters. Words of kindly advice cannot fail to please the listener. But subsequent meditation on them is the thing that really matters. I can make nothing of the man who is pleased with advice but will not meditate on it, who assents to admonition but does not reform.
There were four words of which the Master barred the use: he would have no "shall's," no "must's," no "certainly's," no "I's."
In what is given above and in all his other teachings, we find Confucius was influenced, however indirectly, by Lao Tzu and the doctrine of the Tao. It was in 517 B.C., when Confucius was 34 and Lao Tzu was already famous as "the Old Philosopher," "the Old Gentleman," or what is regarded as a truer translation, "the Old Boy," that the two met. Confucius was then keeping school, his great labors were still to be undertaken, but he was already gaining fame as a resuscitator of the glory of ancient China, and as the coming historian. This interview had a lasting effect on Confucius. It must have made the hoary records more living, the ancient rituals more purposeful, and the old proprieties more practical for him. The Soul of Confucian thought so akin to Taoism was born out of this famous meeting of the two mighty souls. Like Plato, better known than his inspirer Pythagoras, Confucius has more followers than Lao Tzu; but the few words of the venerable sage fecundated the mind of Confucius, who, says H.P.B., "has not the depth of feeling and spiritual striving of his contemporary Lao Tzu."
Confucius sought this interview so that he might question the Sage on the subject of his own work. Here is the report given by a Chinese authority of the first century B.C.:
Lao Tzu to Confucius -- "The men about whom you talk are dead, and their bones are mouldered to dust; only their words are left. Moreover, when the superior man gets his opportunity, he mounts aloft; but when the time is against him, he is carried along by the force of circumstances. I have heard that a good merchant, though he have rich treasures safely stored, appears as if he were poor; and that the superior man, though his virtue be complete, is yet to outward seeming stupid. Put away your proud air and many desires, your insinuating habit and wild will. They are of no advantage to you; -- this is all I have to tell you. Why do you not obtain the Tao? This is the reason -- because you do not give it an asylum in your heart."
On his return to his disciples, Confucius said of Lao Tzu:
I know how birds can fly, fishes swim, and animals run. But the runner may be snared, the swimmer hooked, and the flyer shot by the arrow. But there is the dragon -- I cannot tell how he mounts on the wind through the clouds, and rises to heaven. Today I have seen Lao Tzu, and can only compare him to the dragon.
That which is the Soul of Confucianism; that which he himself calls "the one connecting thread on which all my knowledge is strung," and again, "a single principle runs through all my teaching"; that which is the Chung-Yung, the Doctrine of the Mean; that which is the basis and the modus operandi for the discharge of Filial Duty; -- that all is akin to the spontaneity, which is the Soul of Taoism. The two systems of thought are not antagonistic; each enlivens the other and taken together enable us to understand better the Chinese heart. Seeming rivalry disappears like a phantom with the advent of knowledge; to the Theosophist these two are but distinguished parts of a living whole.
The tomb of Confucius can be visited today in the K'iuh-fow district. Surrounded by many, many descendants, there lies the body of the sage; a great stone tablet bears the inscription, "Grave of the Most High." Unadorned simplicity is its garb; lonely in its own grandeur it stands, though during these centuries an immense cemetery has grown up. Adjoining it can be seen the Mourning House wherein his disciples assembled at and after the passing of their Master. There also exists the original temple of the four gates belonging to Confucius; and there is his statue of more than life-size; adorned with Imperial emblems he sits, below curtains of heavy, many-colored silk. But a holy man of China tells us that Confucius survives in a still more living temple and in a still more Animated Statue: the 73rd descendant in the direct line lives; born in 1919, he is a boy of seven this year, and during his minority his mother and his uncle act on his behalf.
The Tomb, the Temple, the Statue are symbols; the living descendant of Confucius also is a symbol; Confucius himself is a Symbol -- the Energy of Wisdom is transmitted through the ages.