Eastern Philosophy - Confucius

Eastern Philosophy - Confucius


This great Chinese philosopher believed in everything we ignore nowadays: tradition, institution, obedience and order. That’s why he matters.

7 Profound Lessons Eastern Philosophy Teaches Us about Life

Eastern philosophy does not differ from other philosophic teachings in its overall objective. This is to teach us to be wiser individuals and to ultimately provide guidance as to how to live well.

Therefore, Eastern philosophical ideas are no different from Western philosophy is this sense. The distinction lies in how it suggests we can achieve these goals.

You may study the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume or Nietzsche to name a few across various academic disciplines. The teachings of such abide by the central doctrine of western philosophy. It’s about using reason and logic as a means to analyse, understand and think more deeply about our lives. But it can be useful to gain a different perspective to find the answers and guidance in life that we quietly yearn for.

Eastern philosophy places focus on the individual or the self and the individual’s role in society. It explores how to reach inner peace and our relationship with nature and the wider cosmos.

There are many branches of eastern philosophy. But as a whole, it asserts and presents general and useful ideas to us about how to live a good life on the basis of these themes.

These simple ideas have the potential to enlighten and enrich us when we grapple with some of the biggest questions in life that so often seem so elusive.

Life of Confucius

Confucius was born near the end of an era known in Chinese history as the Spring and Autumn Period (770–481 BCE ). His home was in Lu, a regional state of eastern China in what is now central and southwestern Shandong province. Like other regional states at the time, Lu was bound to the imperial court of the Zhou dynasty (1045–221 BCE ) through history, culture, family ties (which stretched back to the dynasty’s founding, when relatives of the Zhou rulers were enfeoffed as heads of the regional states), and moral obligations. According to some reports, Confucius’s early ancestors were the Kongs from the state of Song—an aristocratic family that produced several eminent counselors for the Song rulers. By the mid-7th century BCE , however, the family had lost political standing and most of its wealth, and some of the Kongs—Confucius’s great-grandfather being one—had relocated to the state of Lu.

The Kongs of Lu were common gentlemen (shi) with none of the hereditary entitlements their ancestors had once enjoyed in Song. The common gentlemen of the late Zhou dynasty could boast of their employability in the army or in any administrative position—because they were educated in the six arts of ritual (see below Teachings of Confucius), music, archery, charioteering, writing, and arithmetic—but in the social hierarchy of the time they were just a notch higher than the common folk. Confucius’s father, Shu-liang He, had been a warrior and served as a district steward in Lu, but he was already an old man when Confucius was born. A previous marriage had given him nine daughters and a clubfooted son, and so it was with Confucius that he was finally granted a healthy heir. But Shu-liang He died soon after Confucius’s birth, leaving his young widow to fend for herself.

Confucius was candid about his family background. He said that, because he was “poor and from a lowly station,” he could not enter government service as easily as young men from prominent families and so had to become “skilled in many menial things” (Analects [ Lunyu], 9:6). He found employment first with the Jisun clan, a hereditary family whose principal members had for many decades served as chief counselors to the rulers of Lu. A series of modest positions with the Jisuns—as keeper of granaries and livestock and as district officer in the family’s feudal domain—led to more important appointments in the Lu government, first as minister of works and then as minister of crime.

Records of the time suggest that, as minister of crime, Confucius was effective in handling problems of law and order but was even more impressive in diplomatic assignments. He always made sure that the ruler and his mission were well prepared for the unexpected and for situations that might put them in harm’s way he also knew how to advise them to bring a difficult negotiation to a successful conclusion. Yet he held his office for only a few years. His resignation was the result of a protracted struggle with the hereditary families—which, for generations, had been trying to wrestle power away from the legitimate rulers of Lu. Confucius found the actions of the families transgressive and their ritual indiscretions objectionable, and he was willing to fight by fair means or foul to have the power of the ruler restored. A major clash took place in 498 BCE . A plan to steer the families toward self-ruin backfired. The heads of the families suspected Confucius, and so he had no choice but to leave his position and his home.

The self-exile took Confucius on a long journey: first to Wei, the state just west of Lu, then southward to the state of Song, and finally to the states of Chen and Cai. The journey lasted 14 years, and Confucius spent much of that time looking for rulers who might be willing to accept his influence and be guided by his vision of virtuous government. Although his search was ultimately in vain, he never gave up, because he was eager for someone to “put me to use” (Analects, 17:5). He said to those who found his ambitions suspect, “How can I be like a bitter gourd that hangs from the end of a string and can not be eaten?” (Analects, 17:7).

Confucius was emboldened to think that he could set things right in the world, because he was born at a time when such aspirations were within the reach of men living in circumstances similar to his. By the mid-6th century BCE the Zhou dynasty was approaching its 500th year. The political framework that the dynastic founders had put in place—an enfeoffment system held together by family ties—was still standing, but the joints had been giving out since the beginning of the Spring and Autumn Period, and so the structure, if not shored up, was in danger of collapse. The regional rulers, who were relatives of the Zhou king, should have been his strongest supporters, but they preferred to pursue their own ambitions. In the century before Confucius’s birth, two or three of them simply acted on behalf of the king, and under their watch the empire managed to hold itself together and to keep enemies at bay. By Confucius’s time, however, such leaders had disappeared. No one among the regional rulers was interested in the security of the empire or the idea of the greater good. Petty feuds for petty gains consumed most of their time, while lethargy took up the rest. The same could be said of the members of the aristocratic class, who had once aided their ruler in government. Now they were gaining the upper hand, and some were so brazen as to openly compete with their ruler for wealth and women. Their apathy and ineptitude, however, allowed the common gentlemen—men like Confucius, who had once been in their service—to step in and take charge of the administrative functions of the government.

The common gentlemen, at this point, still could not displace the aristocrats as the society’s elite. Yet, if they worked hard enough and were smart, they could exert influence in most political contests. But the more discerning among them set their goals higher. They saw an opportunity to introduce a few new ideas about worth (xian) and nobleness (shang)—which, they felt, could challenge assumptions that had been used to justify the existing social hierarchy. They asked whether ability and strength of character should be the measures of a person’s worth and whether men of noble rank should be stripped of their titles and privileges for incompetence and moral indiscretion. Those who posed such questions were not merely seeking to compete in the political world. They wanted to change unspoken rules so as to favour the virtuous and the competent. This, in part, explains what Confucius was trying to teach. He believed that the moral resolve of a few could have a beneficial effect on the fate of the many. But integrity alone, in his view, would not be enough. Good men had to be tested in politics: they should equip themselves with knowledge and skills, serve their rulers well, and prove their worth through their moral influence.

The man Confucius looked back to for inspiration and guidance was Zhougong (the Duke of Zhou)—a brother of the founder of the Zhou dynasty and the regent of the king’s young son Chengwang. Despite the temporal distance between them, Confucius believed that he and the Duke of Zhou wanted the same thing for the dynasty: social harmony and political stability grounded in trust and mutual moral obligations, with minimal resort to legal rules. But the Duke of Zhou was royalty and Confucius was a professional bureaucrat, which meant that he had limited political authority. And even the authority he possessed was transient, depending on whether he had a government job. Without an official position, Confucius also would not be entitled (for example) to host a feast, to assist a ruler in a sacrifice, or to take part in any of the occasions that were the living components of the political order that the Duke of Zhou had envisioned and Confucius strongly endorsed. Thus, Confucius was distressed when he was unemployed—anxious about not being of use to the world and about not having material support. Men who knew him on his travels wondered whether his eagerness for a political position might have led him to overplay his hand and whether he had compromised his principles by allowing disreputable men and women to act as his intermediaries. His critics included the three or four of his disciples who accompanied him on his exile.

Confucius’s disciples were considerably younger than him. He did not actively recruit them when he was a counselor in Lu. He did not found any school or academy. Young men from a wide range of backgrounds—sons of aristocrats, children of common gentlemen, merchants, farmers, artisans, and even criminals and sons of criminals—chose to attach themselves to him in order to learn from him skills that might get them started on a path toward an official career. In the process, they acquired a lot more: in particular, a gentleman’s refinement and moral acuity, which in Confucius’s mind were essential to a political profession. Confucius was the “master” (zi) to these followers, who called themselves his “disciples” or “apprentices” (tu). Among his earliest disciples, three stood out: Zigong, Zilu, and Yan Hui.

Zigong had been a merchant before becoming Confucius’s disciple. He was articulate and shrewd and quick on his feet. Confucius observed in him a resolve to improve his lot and the promise of becoming a fine diplomat or a financial manager. He enjoyed Zigong’s company because Zigong was someone with whom he could share his thoughts about the world and the people they knew and about poetry and ritual practices (Analects, 11:3 1:15 11:19 5:9).

Zilu, unlike Zigong, was rough and unhewn, a rustic man. Confucius knew that Zilu would do anything to protect him from harm: “wrestle a tiger with his bare hands” or “follow him on the open sea in a bamboo raft.” Yet, Confucius felt, simply being brave and loyal was “hardly the way to be good,” because, without the advantage of thought and a love for learning, people would not be able to know whether their judgment had been misguided or whether their actions might lead them and others onto a perilous road, if not a violent end (Analects, 5:7 7:11). Still, Confucius took Zilu in, for he was someone “who did not feel ashamed standing next to a man wearing fox or badger fur while himself dressed in a tattered gown padded with silk floss” and who was so reliable that “by speaking from just one side of a dispute” in a court of law he could “bring a legal dispute to a conclusion” (Analects, 9:27 12:12). Besides, Confucius did not deny instruction to anyone who wanted to learn and was unwilling to give up when trying to solve a difficult problem. In return, he expected nothing more than a bundle of dried meat as a gift (Analects, 7:7).

Yet even that modest offer was probably beyond the means of another disciple, Yan Hui, who was from a poor family and who was content with “living in a shabby neighborhood on a bowlful of millet and a ladleful of water” (Analects, 6:11). No hardship or privation could have distracted him from his love of learning and his desire to know the good. Yan Hui was Confucius’s favourite, and, when he died before his time, Confucius was so bereft that other disciples wondered whether such a display of emotion was appropriate. To this their teacher responded, “If not for this man, for whom should I show so much sorrow?” (Analects, 11:9 11:10).

It was these three—Zigong, Zilu, and Yan Hui—who followed Confucius on his long journey into the unknown. In doing so, they left behind not only their homes and families but also career opportunities in Lu that could have been gainful.

Their first stop was the state of Wei. Zilu had relatives there who could have introduced Confucius to the state’s ruler. There were others, too—powerful men in the ruler’s service—who knew of Confucius’s reputation and were willing to help him. But none of these connections landed Confucius a job. Part of the problem was Confucius himself: he was unwilling to pursue any avenues that might obligate him to those who could bring him trouble rather than aid. Also, the ruler of Wei was not interested in finding a capable man who could offer him counsel. Moreover, he had plenty of distractions—conflicts with neighbouring states and at home in Wei—to fill his time. Still, Confucius was patient, waiting four years before he was granted an audience. But the meeting was disappointing: it only confirmed what Confucius already knew about this man’s character and judgment. Soon after their encounter, the ruler died, and Confucius saw no further reason to remain in Wei. Thus, he headed south with his disciples.

Before reaching the state of Chen, his next stop, two incidents along the road nearly took his life. In one, a military officer, Huan Tui, tried to ambush Confucius as he was passing through the state of Song. In another, he was surrounded by a mob in the town of Kuang, and for a time it looked as though he might be killed. These incidents were not spontaneous but were the machinations of Confucius’s enemies. But who would have wanted him dead, and what could he have done to provoke such reactions? Historians in later eras speculated about the causes and resolutions of these crises. Although they never found an adequate explanation for Huan Tui’s action, some suggested that the mob of Kuang mistook Confucius for someone else. In any event, the Analects, the most reliable source on Confucius’s life, records only what Confucius said at those moments when he realized that death might be imminent. “Heaven has given me this power—this virtue. What can Huan Tui do to me!” was his response after he learned about Huan Tui’s plan to ambush him (Analects, 7:23). His utterance at the siege of Kuang conveyed even greater confidence that Heaven would stand by him. He said that with the founder of the Zhou dynasty dead, this man’s cultural vestiges “are invested in me.” And since “Heaven has not destroyed this culture” and does not intend to do so, it will look after the cultural heirs of the Zhou. Thus, Confucius declaimed, “What can the people of Kuang do to me?” (Analects, 9:5).

Emboldened by his purpose, Confucius continued his journey to Chen, where he spent three uneventful years. Eventually, a major war between Chen and a neighbouring state led him to journey west toward the state of Chu, not knowing that another kind of trial was awaiting him. This time, “the provisions ran out,” and “his followers became so weak that none of them could rise up on their feet” (Analects 15:2). The brief account in this record prompted writers in later centuries to speculate about how Confucius might have behaved in this situation. Was he calm or vexed? How did he talk to his disciples? How did he help them come to terms with their predicament? And which disciple understood him best and offered him solace? None of these stories could claim veracity, but, taken together, they humanized the characters involved and filled, if only imaginatively, the gaps in the historical sources.

Confucius and his companions went only as far as a border town of Chu before they decided to turn back and retrace their steps, first to Chen and then to Wei. The journey took more than three years, and, after reaching Wei, Confucius stayed there for another two years. Meanwhile, two of his disciples, Zigong and Ran Qiu, decided to leave Confucius in Wei and accept employment in the government of Lu. At once Zigong proved his talent in diplomacy, and Ran Qiu did the same in warfare. It was probably these two men who approached the ruler and the chief counselor of Lu, asking them to make a generous offer to Confucius to entice him back. Their plan worked. The Zuozhuan (“Zuo Commentary”), an early source on the history of this period (see below Classic works), notes that, in the 11th year of the reign of Duke Ai of Lu (484 BCE ), a summons from the duke arrived along with a gift of a handsome sum. “Thereupon, Confucius returned home.”

After his return, Confucius did not seek any position in the Lu government. He did not have to. The present ruler and his counselors regarded him as the “state’s elder” (guolao). They either approached him directly for advice or used his disciples as intermediaries. The number of his disciples multiplied. The success of Zigong and Ran Qiu must have enhanced his reputation as a person who could prepare young men for political careers. But those who were drawn to him for this reason often found themselves becoming interested in questions other than how to advance in the world (Analects, 2:18). Some asked about the idea of virtue, about the moral requisites for serving in government, or about the meanings of phrases such as “keen perception” and “clouded judgment” (Analects, 12:6 12:10). Others wanted to know how to pursue knowledge and how to read abstruse texts for insights (Analects, 3:8). Confucius tried to answer these questions as best as he could, but his responses could vary depending on the temperament of the interlocutor, leading to confusion among his students when they tried to compare notes (Analects, 11:22). This way of instructing was wholly in tune with what Confucius believed to be the role of a teacher. A teacher could only “point out one corner of a square,” he said it was up to the students “to come back with the other three” (Analects, 7:8). To teach, therefore, is “to impart light” (hui): to provide guidance to students and to entice them forward, so that even when they are tired and dispirited, even when they want to give up, they cannot. In a similar vein, Confucius said of himself, “I am the sort of man who forgets to eat when trying to solve a problem, who is so joyful that I forget my worries and do not become aware of the onset of old age” (Analects, 7:19).

When old age did arrive, Confucius discovered that the act of holding his conduct and judgment to the right measure no longer bore him down. “At 70,” he said, “I followed what my heart desired without overstepping the line” (Analects, 2:4). This, however, did not mean that Confucius was free of care. Historians and philosophers in later centuries typically portrayed a careworn Confucius in his final days. Yet he still rejoiced in life because life astonished him, and the will in all living things to carry on in spite of setbacks and afflictions inspired him. It was the pine and the cypress Confucius admired most, because “they are the last to lose their needles” (Analects, 9:28). He died at the age of 73 on the 11th day of the fourth lunar month in the year 479 BCE .

His ideas

His main idea is to administer the country with morals. Regarding personal relationships he once said that 'Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you'. He advocated the syncretism of nature and human beings and suggested that people live harmoniously with nature.

In addition, he thought that a country should develop culture and economy at the same time. People should not only be benevolent to others but also cherish every object. In short, he aimed to establish a world of great harmony. For over two thousand years, Confucianism has guided numerous people's behavior and has been the mainstream of Chinese culture. In recent years, his great ideas have been accepted by many people all over the world.

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About the series

Arcturus Publishing presents the World Classics Library series, featuring stunning hardcover anthologies which bring together masterful works of iconic authors and thinkers. From ancient epics to modern philosophy and science fiction, these collections showcase the wit and wisdom of literary greats and are essential for any home library.

These collectible editions are presented with bright graphic cover designs , dust jackets and colored endpapers . Featuring writers such as H.G. Wells, Nietzsche, Homer and Plato, the titles in this series make perfect gifts for any classic literature lover.


We know very little for certain about the life of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (a westernised version of his name, which means ‘Master Kong’). He is said to have been born in 551 B.C. in China he may have been a student of the Daoist master Lao Tzu. According to tradition, he began government service aged 32 and served many roles, including Minister of Crime under Duke Ding in the state of Lu. However, when Confucius was 56, he and the duke fell out over the duke’s excesses, and so Confucius left the court and wandered for 12 years.

Confucius presented himself as a ‘transmitter who invented nothing’, because he believed he was teaching the natural path to good behaviour passed down from older, divine masters. Around the second century B.C., Confucius’s works were collected into the Analects (Lunyu), a collection of sayings written down by his followers. These are not always commandments, because Confucius didn’t like prescribing strict rules. Instead, he believed that if he simply lived virtuously, he would inspire others to do the same. For example, one of the short passages in the analects is:

The stable burned down when Confucius was at court. On his return he said, ‘Has any man been hurt?’ He did not ask about the horses.

In this simple three-sentence story, we are able to contemplate the implied value of human lives over objects or horses, and to wonder if we would have done the same.

An image of Confucius travelling in a wheelchair from a Confucian children’s book c. 1680

Some of the morals Confucius taught are easily recognisable – most notably his version of the ‘Golden Rule’: ‘Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself’. But some of them also sound very strange or old-fashioned to modern ears (especially to western ones). 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 remember:

Ceremony is important

The Analects are a long and seemingly disorganised book of short events, filled with strange conversations between Confucius and his disciples, like this one:

‘Tsze-kung wished to do away with the offering of a sheep connected with the inauguration of the first day of each month.

The Master said, ‘Tsze, you love the sheep I love the ceremony’.

At first this is baffling, if not also humorous. 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 a lack of pretension. Many of us seek informality and would like nothing more than to be told ‘just make yourself at home!’ when visiting a friend. But Confucius insisted on the importance of rituals. The reason he loved ceremonies more than sheep is that he believed in the value of li: etiquette, tradition, and ritual.

This might seem very outdated and conservative at first glance. But in fact, many of us long for particular rituals—that meal mum cooked for us whenever we were sick, for example, 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 understand how to behave. Confucius taught that a person who combines compassion (‘ren’) and rituals (‘li’) correctly is a ‘superior man’, virtuous and morally powerful.

A little girl at a ‘brush-opening’ ceremony at a Confucian temple, in celebration of the girl beginning her education

We should treat our parents with reverence

Confucius had very strict ideas 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 sacrifices in their memory thereafter. ‘In serving his parents, a son may remonstrate with them, but gently’, he said. ‘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’. He even said that we should not travel far away while our parents are alive and should cover for their crimes. This attitude is known as filial piety (‘xiào’).

A detail from a 1795 eight-panel painting shows the Korean Confucian King Jeongjo’s yearly procession to his parents’ tomb

This sounds strange in the modern age, when many of us leave our parents’ homes 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.

We should be obedient to honourable people

Modern society is very egalitarian. We believe that we’re born equal, each uniquely special, and should ultimately be able to say and do what 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 worth 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 also should practice 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.

A second-century A.D. depiction of Confucius showing respect to the his elder, Lao Tzu

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 the aforementioned compassion (‘ren’) and ritual propriety (‘li’) among three other virtues: justice (‘yi’), knowledge (‘zhi’) and integrity (‘xin’). These were known as the ‘Five Constant Virtues’. While Confucius believed that people were inherently good, he also saw that virtues like these must be constantly cultivated just like plants in a garden. He told his followers, ‘At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.’ 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!)

Scholars in a garden–a painting from between the 7th and 10th century A.D.

Of course, a burst of inspiration may well be what we need to start our business or redo our rough draft or even 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 becoming truly intelligent, accomplished, and wise.

After travelling for many years, Confucius returned to his homeland at the age of 68 and devoted himself to teaching. He is said to have died in 479 B.C. at the age of 72–an auspicious and magical number. He died without reforming the duke and his officials. But after his death, his followers created schools and temples in his honour across East Asia, passing his teachings along for over 2,000 years. (They also kept his genealogy, and more than two million people alive today claim to be his direct descendants!) At first, Confucian scholars were persecuted in some areas during the Qin dynasty (3rd century B.C). But in the later Han dynasty (3rd century B.C. to 3rd century A.D.), Confucianism was made the official philosophy of the Chinese government and remained central to its bureaucracy for nearly two thousand years. For a time, his teachings were followed in conjunction with those of Lao Tzu and the Buddha, so that Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism were held as fully compatible spiritual practices. Perhaps most importantly, Confucius’s thought has been a huge influence on eastern political ideas about morality, obedience, and good leadership.

Today millions of people still follow Confucius’s teachings as a spiritual or religious discipline, and even observe Confucian rituals in temples and at home. He is called by many superlatives, including ‘Laudably Declarable Lord Ni’, ‘Extremely Sage Departed Teacher’, and ‘Model Teacher for Ten Thousand Ages’. He is still a steadfast spiritual guide.

A visitor at a Confucius shrine in Nagasaki, Japan

We might find Confucian virtues a bit strange or old-fashioned, but this is what ultimately makes them all the more important and compelling. We need them as a corrective to our own excesses. The modern world is almost surprisingly un-Confucian – informal, egalitarian, and full of innovation. So we are conversely at risk of becoming impulsive, irreverent, and thoughtless without a little advice from Confucius about good behaviour and sheep.

Confucius's teachings

Although we cannot be certain that Confucius wrote any of the works he is credited with, it is still possible to know something about the general nature of his philosophy. Shortly after his death his disciples compiled a work known as the Lun yü, commonly translated as the Analects but more accurately rendered as the Edited Conversations . This work consists of conversations between Confucius, his students, and an occasional ruler.

The primary emphasis of the Lun yü is on political philosophy. Confucius taught that the primary task of the ruler was to achieve the welfare (well-being) and happiness of the people of his state. To accomplish this aim, the ruler first had to set a moral (good character) example by his own conduct. This example would in turn influence the people's behavior.

Confucius is the first Chinese thinker to introduce concepts that became fundamental not only to Confucian philosophy but to Chinese philosophy in general. The most important of these are jen (benevolence), yi (propriety, or being proper), and li (ritual, or ceremony). Confucius believed that the chün-tzu, or "gentleman," must set the moral example for others in society to follow. In the Lun yü jen, what has been translated as humaneness or benevolence (being kind) is a quality a chün-tzu should develop and attempt to encourage in others. Li is considered the rules and ritual that are observed in religious and nonreligious ceremonies and, as applied to the chün-tzu, composed rules of behavior. Yi represents what is right and proper in a given situation. The chün-tzu, by observing the ritual and because of his good nature, always knows what is right.

Confucius was basically a humanist and one of the greatest teachers in Chinese history. His influence on his immediate disciples was deep. His students continued to explain his theories until, in the first Han dynasty (206 B.C.E. 𠄸 C. E.), the theories became the basis of the state ideology, the body of ideas reflecting the social needs of a culture.

The Way of Zen

Alan Watts wrote and lectured on Zen Buddhism for much of his life. He had an incredible way of explaining its practices and principles to early curious Western readers in the mid-20th century. Watts considered Zen to be "one of the most precious gifts of Asia to the world." He wrote:

"Since opposed principles, or ideologies, are irreconcilable, wars fought over principle will be wars of mutual annihilation. But wars fought for simple greed will be far less destructive, because the aggressor will be careful not to destroy what he is fighting to capture. Reasonable – that is, human – men will always be capable of compromise, but men who have dehumanized themselves by becoming the blind worshipers of an idea or an ideal are fanatics whose devotion to abstractions makes them the enemies of life." Alan Watts, "The Way of Zen"

Watts explains the concept of Zen as far as he can take it before that switch clicks and you're in on the cosmic laugh. Although Zen is one branch of Buddhism, it is more concerned with the ideals of spontaneous action and thought. Emptiness, detachment from desire and even renouncing the idea of enlightenment are all tenets of Zen that Watts lays out in a playful and profound way.

Islamic philosophy

Early Islamic philosophy was influenced by Greek philosophy, Hellenistic philosophy, Iranian philosophy, Judaism, Christianity and Indian philosophy, and in turn, Islamic philosophy had a strong influence on Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy, Western philosophy, Iranian philosophy and Indian philosophy, hence many consider Islamic philosophy to be both an Eastern philosophy and a Western philosophy.

Al-Mu'tazilah (المعتزلة)

Mu'tazilite is a popular theological school of philosophy during early Islam. They called themselves Ahl al-'Adl wa al-Tawhid ("People of Justice and Monotheism"). They ascended dramatically during 8th and 9th century due to the support of intellectuals and elites. Later in the 13th century, they lost official support in favour of the rising Ash'ari school. Most of their valuable works were destroyed during the Crusades and Mongol invasion.

Averroism school of philosophy

One of the most influential Muslim philosophers in the West was Averroes (Ibn Rushd).

It is said that other influential Muslim philosophers include-:

  • al-Jahiz, a pioneer of evolutionary thought and natural selection
  • Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen), a pioneer of phenomenology and the philosophy of science and a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy and Aristotle's concept of place (topos)
  • Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy
  • Avicenna, a critic of Aristotelian logic ( see above )
  • Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, a critic of Aristotelian logic and a pioneer of inductive logic * Ibn Khaldun, considered the father of the philosophy of history and sociology and a pioneer of social philosophy.


Sufism (تصوف ta𞘺wwuf) is a school of esoteric philosophy in Islam, which is based on the pursuit of spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain. In order to attain this supreme truth, Sufism has marked Lataif-e-Sitta (the six subtleties), Nafs, Qalb, Sirr, Ruh (spirit), Khafi and Akhfa. Apart from conventional religious practices, they also perform Muraqaba (meditation), Dhikr (Zikr or recitation), Chillakashi (asceticism) and Sama (esoteric music and dance).

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