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We know very little for certain about the life of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (a westernised version of his name, which means ‘Master Kong’). 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. in China; he may have been a student of the Daoist master Lao Tzu.

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.This, more than anything else, is what prevents us from becoming truly intelligent, accomplished, and wise. 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. 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.After travelling for many years, Confucius returned to his homeland at the age of 68 and devoted himself to teaching. (They also kept his genealogy, and more than two million people alive today claim to be his direct descendants! Perhaps most importantly, Confucius’s thought has been a huge influence on eastern political ideas about morality, obedience, and good leadership.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.

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