Generally a sage has not only students, but immediate disciples plus later followers. In the case of ancient sages, these individuals often maintained the lessons of the master via an oral tradition or as scribes of his teachings. The Analects (or Lun yü) contains conversations and aphorisms recorded by the disciples of Confucius. Some pearls include the following: 5

  1. “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
  2. “They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.”
  3. “What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.”
  4. “When anger rises, think of the consequences.”
  5. “To be able under all circumstances to practice five things constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.”
  6. “To see what is right, and not to do it, is want of courage or of principle.”
  7. “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.”
  8. “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
  9. “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
  10. “Silence is a true friend who never betrays.”
  11. “Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.”
  12. “Have no friends not equal to yourself.”
  13. “A superior man is modest in his speech but exceeds in his actions.” .
  14. “Recompense injury with justice and recompense kindness with kindness.”
  15. “When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not, to admit the fact –this is knowledge.”
  16. “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work  a day in your life.”

Confucius developed a humanism based on several powerful principles of social virtue: li – ritual or social order, jen –human-heartedness or benevolence (or ‘true manhood’), shu – reciprocity, and  Hsiao – a broad vision of filial piety (including respect for society). He often speaks of ritual and music in his understanding of li, a poetic analogy of social order and harmony. He appears to have been unapologetically agnostic. “To give one’s self earnestly to the duties due to men, and, while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom.”6

Confucius shows us the incredible power of the great thinker; influence which extends beyond one’s immediate circle and time. But the sage is more than a thinker; he or she also influences others through actions and conduct. The wisdom of the sage also endures through the periodic reinvigoration of later masters and disciples. In the case of Confucius, about a century after his death, a follower named Mencius appeared expanding and reinforcing his teachings, adding an emphasis on yi or righteousness distinguishing good from right, and asserting an innate goodness of all people, but the challenge to convert it into right actions. Later thinkers such as Tung Chund-Shu and Chou Tun-I blended Confucianism and Taosim to form Neoconfucianism (as a response to Buddhism) and succeeded in making it a national philosophy.

Next time we will integrate the significance of the sage in the meaningful life in our synopsis of this section.


6Durant, Will, Our Oriental Heritage, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1954, page 667.

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