“Our knowledge is a receding mirage in an expanding desert of ignorance.”
— Will Durant
By Alex P. Vidal
NEW JERSEY — He was a pride of Asia.
Before being adjudged as the No. 1 “greatest thinker of all time” by Dr. Will Durant, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Medal of Freedom, the great American historian-philosopher acknowledged that the choice of Confucius had sparked doubts and quarrels.
“By what canon shall we include Confucius and omit Buddha and Christ?” Durant inquires in The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time.
“By this alone: that he was a moral philosopher rather than a preacher of religious faith; that his call to the noble life was based upon secular motives rather then upon supernatural considerations; that he far more resembles Socrates than Jesus.”
Born (552 B.C.) in an age of confusion, in which the old power and glory of China had passed into feudal disintegration and factional strife, Kung-fu-tse undertook to restore health and order to his country.
In the book compiled and edited by John Little, Durant describes Kung-fu-tse’s speech as “a sound moral and political philosophy within the compass of a paragraph. It was a highly conservative system; it exalted manners and etiquette, and scorned democracy; despite its clear enunciation of the Golden Rule it was nearer to Stoicism than to Christianity.”
GOOD FOR EVIL
A pupil having asked him should one return good for evil, Confucius replied: “With what then will you recompense kindness? Return good for good, and for evil, justice.”
He did not believe that all men were equal; it seemed to him that intelligence was not a universal gift.
As his pupil Mencius put it: “That whereby man differs from the lower animals is little. Most people throw it away.” The greatest fortune of a people would be to keep ignorant persons from public office, and secure their wisest men to rule them.
A great city, Chung-tu, took him at his word and made him magistrate. “A marvelous reformation,” we are told, “ensued in the manners of the people…There was an end of crime…Dishonesty and dissoluteness hid their heads. Loyalty and good faith became the characteristic of the men, chastity and docility of the women.”
It is too good to be true, and probably it did not last very long.
But even if his lifetime Confucius’ followers understood his greatness and foresaw the timeless influence he was to have in molding the courtesy and poise and placid wisdom of the Chinese.
“His disciples buried him with great pomp. A multitude of them built huts near his grave and remained there, mourning as for a father, for nearly three years. When all the others were gone, Tse-Kung,” who had loved him beyond the rest, “continued by the grave for three years more, alone.”