"Work to become, not to acquire."
Some ideas of my own on the quote:
The common need to collect possessions to ensure one's future survival will sadly all too easily grow into level of overpowering greed. All too often people just want to acquire more and more of things that they do not really need. This happens often even after all their real needs have been already satisfied.
This was, in fact, one of the central ideas of the Greek philosopher Epicurus also. All in all, this is a strikingly Epicurean thought. The difficult part, of course, is to know when your real needs have been satisfied. It is often very hard to tell when you are, in fact, just chasing after the pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow, that cannot really be ever reached.
Epicurus had his ideas about how to differentiate the real human needs form those that come from, for example, just envy, pursue of status or simply greed. Of course, also the latter motives are quite common and even valid motives for doing things.
However, Epicurus thought that diminishing their effect can really increase the level of human happiness. In the end, endless greed or the need of to grow one's status can just never really be fulfilled and satisfied.
A human who is driven by pure envy will all too easily remain forever in a state of not reaching any real satisfaction in life. There just always will be richer and more famous people to envy. If one could really get rid of or even diminish the feeling of envy, one very real source for disturbance would be gone or at least lessened in ones life.
It seems that Confucius really had some very Epicurean thoughts. Also Epicurus had some very Confucian thoughts. This happened, even if quite certainly neither of them could ever had heard of the ideas of the other. One should also remember that also Buddha did present some very similar ideas at roughly the same time period.
The most probable answer for this mystery for me at least, however, is that they were all reacting to a very similar phases in the development of their respective societies. These societies were becoming more and more trade- and commerce-based. At the same time the individual division of labor did become more and more marked.
However, there was also a rise in a new kind of class of free intellectuals. They had time to think how humans should cope with the demands of the new kind of commercial societies. It is not so surprising that they did end up with some very similar thoughts on the issue.
The real reason for this just could be that underneath all of the barriers that are created by differences in culture, language and history all humans are in the end so very similar.
We just will react to similar pressures in similar ways, even if the great differences in culture, language and history will so often make things seem so different on the surface.
(This piece was completely refurbished on 27th of November, 2012)
"Confucius, literally "Master Kong", (traditionally 28 September 551 BC – 479 BC) was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher. The philosophy of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. Confucius' thoughts have been developed into a system of philosophy known as Confucianism. Because no texts are demonstrably authored by Confucius, and the ideas most closely associated with him were elaborated in writings that accumulated over the period between his death and the foundation of the first Chinese empire in 221 BC, many scholars are very cautious about attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself."