More generally, living a genuinely human life is an art, involving the exercise of the virtues of human-heartedness, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, trustworthiness, sincerity, reverence, loyalty, and filial piety. As in all kinds of artful practice, learning through modeling is an effective method. Hence Confucianism's emphasis on the role of the sage as an exemplar of virtue and the consequent high esteem in which teachers are held. What is important is not what the sages said, but their exemplary actions that others can emulate and internalize as part of themselves. Tradition is to be valued for being the repository of practices constitutive of humanity.
Confucius warned that without human-heartedness, propriety is worse than nothing. For the practice of proper conduct to be an effective means of selfcultivation, mindfulness arising from sincerity and reverence, two other Confucian virtues, is essential. The same attitude applies to all actions. Thus, learning as a spiritual path involves dwelling in what is being learned until it becomes part of one's being and a guiding source of one's action. It is in this sense that Confucius held that learning is for the sake of oneself, not for others' sake. Confucius's description of his own lifelong spiritual development exemplifies this nicely. At 15, he devoted himself to learning. At 30, he was able to take his stand. At 40, he no longer harbored any doubts. At 50, he grasped the will of Heaven. At 60, his ear was attuned to truth. At 70, he could freely follow his heart's desires without transgressing what was right.
The ultimate goal of learning is to become one with Dao (the Way) and its embodiment. This allows one to realize one's authentic nature, which means that self-transcendence is at the same time a return to the source. However, from another perspective, it is also an outward movement in the sense that one's spiritual progression enables, and indeed requires, one to extend the harmony and order in oneself to one's community, both by providing an exemplar and by active service. The Great Learning expresses this ideal of "inward sageness and outward kingliness" by describing the progression from establishing a sincere will, through properly aligning the heart-mind, cultivating the self, regulating the family, and governing the state, to finally bringing peace to the world, with each step serving as the enabling condition for the next. This exemplifies on another level the holistic integration of the inner and the outer.
Although Confucius mentioned the will of Heaven, in practical matters he mostly held an agnostic attitude toward the supernatural domain. Confucianism's humanistic character is evident in its focus on human effort rather than supernatural intervention or guidance for achieving self-transformation. In fact, humans are thought to be interrelated to Heaven and Earth in a sort of spiritual resonance, because everything is made of the same primordial stuff-qi, a sort of matter-energy of dual spiritual and material nature-so that the ethical quality of human actions would have widespread ramifications, not only for human society, but also for nature. According to Mencius, through self-cultivation a person's qi is nurtured and strengthened, until it pervades all between Heaven and Earth.
This, and some of Mencius's other views, for example, that all things are complete within ourselves, are now interpreted as expressions of mystical experiences. Similar mystical utterances are frequently found in subsequent Confucian writings, especially after the introduction of the spiritual practice of "quiet-sitting" in the Song Dynasty under the influence of Buddhist meditation. Self-reflective journal keeping was another neo-Confucian practice, developed in response to the importance given to self-reflection in the Analects. These are not to be mistaken as hermitic practices. To Confucians, immortality is sought through bequeathing to posterity one's exemplary character, wisdom, or benevolent deeds.