Confucius on Heaven, Earth, and Humanity

confucius and the analects on bg by aisha abdelhamid

Continuing with EdenKeeper’s Saturday series on creation and nature in Sacred Scriptures, this week’s focus is on Confucius and Confucianism. The Analects, Mencius, The Great Learning, and The Doctrine of the Mean are the four books commonly referred to as the Confucian Canon.

Three of the four books within the Confucian Canon are traditionally attributed to Confucius, whose actual name was K’ung Fu-tzu. The Latinized name “Confucius” is derived from the phonetic pronunciation of his name, as recorded by 16th-century Jesuit missionaries to China. Born in 551BC, scholars have established that Confucius did not write a single word of them, but in fact his words were written down later by his students after his death in 479 BC.

The Chinese Emperor Ch’in Shih Huang burned most of the ancient Chinese texts in 213 BC. Only a few of the Chinese classics survived this disaster. Among the fortunate few were the key texts of Confucianism, the traditional state religion of feudal China.

In the late twelfth century AD, Confucius’ words were put into their present form by Chu Hsi, and became known as the Confucian Canon. By the 14th century, passing the civil service exam was the key to employment in Imperial China, and the exam was based on these four books of Confucius’ profound enlightenment on heaven, earth, and humanity.

Dispelling Stereotypes Helps Us See More Clearly

Sometimes what we think we know about “the other” is incredibly mistaken, and often downright wrong. Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of genuine respect for “the other” to take a closer look, to really hear what they are saying, and really see our similarities.

For example, western media often portrays Confucianism as “humanism,” devoid of spirituality. Referred to in the earliest western literature as a philosophy, Confucianism was disregarded as a religion by zealous missionary prejudice. In fact, Confucianism’s high regard for Heaven leaves little room for doubt regarding its status as a religion.

image (Image note and source: Life and Works of Confucius by Jesuit priest Prospero Intorcetta, 1687. wikicommons, colored and framed by A.A.)

Confucius’ Relationship With Heaven and Nature

The following is taken from a 2013 address given by Professor Tu Weiming of the International Confucian Ecological Alliance (ICEA), presented at an Alliance of Religion and Conservation (ARC) meeting in Trondheim, Norway:

“Confucianism sees humankind to have a deep and cosmic significance. This significance manifests itself in partnership with both Heaven and Earth forming the classic Chinese trinity of Heaven Earth and Humankind, together manifesting the true embodiment of nature itself. The Doctrine of the Mean succinctly captures the essence of this cosmological thinking:

“Only those who are the most sincere [authentic, true and real] can fully realize their own nature. If they can fully realize their own nature; they can fully realize human nature. If they can fully realize human nature, they can fully realize the nature of things. If they can fully realize the nature of things, they can take part in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth. If they can take part in the transforming and nourishing process of Heaven and Earth, they can form a trinity with Heaven and Earth.”
[–Confucius, The Doctrine of the Mean]

“Confucians believe that our human nature comes from Heaven and that the Way of Heaven is accessible through self-knowledge. They also believe that to understand the Mandate of Heaven we must continuously cultivate ourselves. This completes the triad of Heaven, Earth and humankind. Nature is as an unending process of transformation rather than a static presence, and as such is a source of inspiration by which we understand the dynamism of Heaven. As the first hexagram in the Book of Change symbolizes, Heaven’s vitality and creativity are without end and we humans must emulate its ceaseless vitality and creativity.”

Verses From Confucius’ The Doctrine of the Mean

The following verses from Confucius’The Doctrine of the Mean are illustrated by inspirational images from the public domain ( The images bring modern illumination to the profound depth of symbolism in the ancient words of Confucius, especially regarding Heaven, Earth, and human happiness:
image “The way of Heaven and Earth may be completely declared in one sentence: They are without any doubleness, and so they produce things in a manner that is unfathomable.”
image “Heaven, in the production of things, is sure to be bountiful to them, according to their qualities. Hence the tree that is flourishing, it nourishes, while that which is ready to fall, it overthrows.”
image “All things are nourished together without their injuring one another. The courses of the seasons, and of the sun and moon, are pursued without any collision among them. The smaller energies are like river currents; the greater energies are seen in mighty transformations. It is this which makes heaven and earth so great.”
image “Let the states of equilibrium and harmony exist in perfection, and a happy order will prevail throughout heaven and earth, and all things will be nourished and flourish.”
image “Even though you have only coarse grain for food, water for drink, and your bent arm for a pillow, you may still be happy. Riches and honours without justice are to me as fleeting clouds.”

For more beautiful verses and images, see the previous articles in this series:

Water’s Beauty in Nature and Islam

Creation & Stewardship in the Hebrew & Christian Bible With Images

Creation in the Christian New Testament Bible

Sikh Hymns Illuminate Creation and Creator

Verses in Buddhism on Humankind and Creation

Hinduism Verses on God, Creation, and Mother Nature

Jainism’s Tattvartha Sutra Verses on Creation

more to come, God Willing…

Please feel free to download and share these images, and don’t forget to hit the social media share buttons, as well. Also, please leave a comment below with your favorite verses on Nature or Creation and be sure to include its source, so it can be considered in an upcoming article in this series. We are hoping to cover every faith possible, and your help is very welcome!
(Top image note and source: Chinese Statue of Confucius from pixabay, superimposed on image of The Analects, wikicommons, edited by A.A.)

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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid (Birth-name Kathleen Vail) is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, sustainable economics, corporate social responsibility, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.