Previously on Confucius. And now, Robert K. Douglas.
Time: 551 BC - 479 BC
Of the early years of Confucius we have but scanty record. It would seem that from his childhood he showed ritualistic tendencies, and we are told that as a boy he delighted to play at the arrangement of vessels and postures of ceremony. As he advanced in years he became an earnest student of history, and looked back with love and reverence to the time when the great and good Yaou and Shun reigned in:
"A golden age, fruitful of golden deeds."
At the age of fifteen "he bent his mind to learning," and when he was nineteen years old he married a lady from the state of Sung. As has befallen many other great men, Confucius' married life was not a happy one, and he finally divorced his wife, not, however, before she had borne him a son.
Soon after his marriage, at the instigation of poverty, Confucius accepted the office of keeper of the stores of grain, and in the following year he was promoted to be guardian of the public fields and lands. It was while holding this latter office that his son was born, and so well known and highly esteemed had he already become that the reigning duke, on hearing of the event, sent him a present of a carp, from which circumstance the infant derived his name, Le ("a carp"). The name of this son seldom occurs in the life of his illustrious father, and the few references we have to him are enough to show that a small share of paternal affection fell to his lot. "Have you heard any lessons from your father different from what we have all heard?" asked an inquisitive disciple of him. "No," replied Le, "he was standing alone once when I was passing through the court below with hasty steps, and said to me, 'Have you read the Odes?' On my replying, 'Not yet,' he added, 'If you do not learn the Odes, you will not be fit to converse with.' Another day, in the same place and the same way, he said to me, 'Have you read the rules of Propriety?' On my replying, 'Not yet,' he added, 'If you do not learn the rules of Propriety, your character cannot be established.'" "I asked one thing," said the enthusiastic disciple, "and I have learned three things. I have learned about the Odes; I have learned about the rules of Propriety; and I have learned that the superior man maintains a distant reserve toward his son."
At the age of twenty-two we find Confucius released from the toils of office, and devoting his time to the more congenial task of imparting instruction to a band of admiring and earnest students. With idle or stupid scholars he would have nothing to do. "I do not open the truth," he said, "to one who is not eager after knowledge, nor do I help any one who is not anxious to explain himself. When I have presented one corner of a subject, and the listener cannot from it learn the other three, I do not repeat my lesson."
When twenty-eight years old Confucius studied archery, and in the following years took lessons in music from the celebrated master, Seang. At thirty he tells us "he stood firm," and about this time his fame mightily increased, many noble youths enrolled themselves among his disciples; and on his expressing a desire to visit the imperial court of Chow to confer on the subject of ancient ceremonies with Laou Tan, the founder of the Taouist sect, the reigning duke placed a carriage and horses at his disposal for the journey.
The extreme veneration which Confucius entertained for the founders of the Chow dynasty made the visit to Lo, the capital, one of intense interest to him. With eager delight he wandered through the temple and audience-chambers, the place of sacrifices and the palace, and having completed his inspection of the position and shape of the various sacrificial and ceremonial vessels, he turned to his disciples and said, "Now I understand the wisdom of the duke of Chow, and how his house attained to imperial sway." But the principal object of his visit to Chow was to confer with Laou-tsze; and of the interview between these two very dissimilar men we have various accounts. The Confucian writers as a rule merely mention the fact of their having met, but the admirers of Laou-tsze affirm that Confucius was very roughly handled by his more ascetic contemporary, who looked down from his somewhat higher standpoint with contempt on the great apostle of antiquity. It was only natural that Laou-tsze, who preached that stillness and self-emptiness were the highest attainable objects, should be ready to assail a man whose whole being was wrapt up in ceremonial observances and conscious well-doing. The very measured tones and considered movements of Confucius, coupled with a certain admixture of that pride which apes humility, must have been very irritating to the metaphysically-minded treasurer. And it was eminently characteristic of Confucius, that notwithstanding the great provocation given him on this occasion, he abstained from any rejoinder. We nowhere read of his engaging in a dispute. When an opponent arose, it was in keeping with the doctrine of Confucius to retire before him. "A sage," he said, "will not enter a tottering state nor dwell in a disorganized one. When right principles of government prevail he shows himself, but when they are prostrated he remains concealed." And carrying out the same principle in private life, he invariably refused to wrangle.
Continued on Sunday, December 7th.
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