Confucius on his deathbed


When Confucius fell seriously ill, Zilu asked permission to pray. Confucius said: “Does such a practice exist?” Zilu replied: “Certainly. The liturgy says: ‘We pray to the spirits from above and the spirits from below.’” Confucius said: “If that’s the case, my prayers began a long time ago.”

There’s no dramatic deathbed confession or conversion from Confucius. He parries Zilu’s offer to pray for him with a deft dose of sarcasm and stays true to his own beliefs to the very end.

Confucius was very suspicious of the malign influence that talk of spirits and ghosts had over people and thus avoided discussing the subject as much as possible. For him, it was much more important to focus on improving the here and now rather than worrying about the unknowable mysteries of the other world.

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