Legend has it that when Lao-tse was very old, a young scholar named Confucius showed up on his doorstep to inquire of the aged man. Confucius had studied much of the ancient literature of China and commented upon these Classics. The Analects are stories of Confucius and his life observations. Both men believed in a previous "Golden Age" where all lived together in harmony. How to recapture that? Harmony was the ideal for both men, but each approached it differently.

Lao-tse took the introverted approach, looking for ways that the "inner person" could find Tao in his life. Confucius, more the extrovert, saw man as a social being: the answers to providing harmony had something to do with community. Confucius loved the ancients and their literature, their ways of dealing with life. He fleshed the vital principles out and imparted this "conventional wisdom" to those who would listen. This Chinese "wisdom literature" is not unlike the Hebrew wisdom literature, expressed mainly in the Proverbs of Solomon. The cause and effect, practical nature of all wisdom literature is seductive and alluring to those who think they can simply "choose" their way to happiness.

Confucius saw disorder within society and believed the way out was to reaffirm a code of living as first presented by the ancients. His axioms are familiar to many and his one-sentence, pithy statements seem to confront every point of human conduct. Later Confucianists esteemed their lists of rules for human conduct, breaking these down to include even dress, posture and the way one might carry on a conversation with another. One adept at rule-keeping was a "Superior Man." Such people lived out the "Five Constant Virtues." These include,

1. Right Attitude. This includes a heart that seeks to be in harmony with other people. All people have the seed of this within them (1) but it must be helped to develop fully. This attitude is also one of inner self control.

2. Right Procedure. Such a person has studied the rules of conduct and seeks to implement them in his life. But to do this Confucianists also understand, "A man without charity in his heart, what has he to do with ceremonies?"

3. Right Knowledge. Memorized rules must become right behavior. The Chinese Classics are the basics of education in China. They teach history and literature and such education is thought to teach cultural refinement. Leaders, especially, were encouraged to develop a strong moral example for the people. How else could they learn to govern rightly and with kindness? The Golden Age could not occur again until all people understood and implemented right moral behavior.

4. Right Moral Courage. The Superior Man had to be faithful to ones self, developing an inner sense of moral courage and virtue. If everyone did this, how smoothly society could operate!

5. Right Persistence. Doing ones duty must be sustained. Because the Superior Man is at harmony with himself he can be at harmony with all humanity and with the universe. Right behavior has become engrained within ones character. This must be lived out faithfully.

Mencius, a later Confucianist, believed in and taught the native goodness of each individual. But right habits and behaviors had to be developed. Leaders and teachers taught by rote as well as example. The Confucian "Golden Rule" is expressed in the negative: "Do not unto others what you would not they should do unto you."

Confucianists list five relationships that must be attended to, nourished and developed if the "Golden Age" is to return to earth. These include: husband and wife, father and son, elder brother and younger brother, ruler and subject, friend and friend. Chinese have been traditionally taught to respect older family members.

In addition to these relationships is the ancient Chinese reverence for departed relatives. Gifts are often offered to them out of respect regardless if the "spirit" of that relative is there or not. Westerners can think it odd, this apparent "ancestor worship." But it really isn't worship, exactly. Confucius believed that developing an inner sense of reverence for the lives of those who have died blesses the person who does this as well as society as a whole.

Confucius would not have considered himself a theologian. He was more interested in how the spirituality found in China's religious past could apply to the Chinese in the living out their lives "now." Confucius did not think of himself as a religious teacher but more of a social reformer. He dreamed of a society that lived and worked harmoniously. The example was that of "Heaven" which he considered a just "place" and one that moved naturally and creatively according to the Tao.

Confucianism calls for social responsibility and is intensely concerned for humanity. In this regard it is more "community" oriented than Buddhism or Taoism that tends to be more a search inward. Self-fulfillment is to be found in helping and knowing others-also a dominant principle within Christianity.


(1)The belief that all humans have the seed of goodness within them represents a fork in the road in Christian thinking. Some Christians hold the Calvinist belief of "total depravity"-there can be no good within anyone until that person receives the nature of deity through the "Holy Spirit." Other Christians believe that the life and nature of deity is within all and that each may encourage the growth of that "divine nature" through prayer, connection with healthy community and the making of right moral choices.