Confucianism – A General Summary of the Religion
Author: William Bailey
Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) is a well-known philosopher who is known for his work in governmental and personal morality, sincerity, justice, and the correctness of social relationships. He is known as a Chinese thinker and philosopher during the Spring and Autumn Periods, which corresponds to the first half of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771 to 476 BC). Confucianism is an ancient Chinese religion with approximately 6 million followers worldwide, and named after the well-known philosopher, Confucius. The religion involves the worshiping of the spirits of the forefathers, the great God of Heaven, and the consecrating angles. In addition to the religious values and traditions that were inherited from their forefathers, Confucius added moral values and his own philosophy. The sum of these ideals equaled sound behavior, which is one of the main attributes of Confucianism.
Confucianism is centralized around the core concept of humanism. Humanism is a philosophy or practice that is based on human values and concerns. It’s believed that humans are able to improve themselves through teachings and self-creation. Confucianism focuses on the refinement of one’s ethics and personal virtue, specifically ren, yi, and li. Li deals with one’s overall demeanor within a community. Ren is caring for the welfare of others within one’s society, and Yi is the adherence to one’s moral principles that benefit the community from within. A true Confucianist must be willing to give their life while upholding their virtues and moral ethics. Confucianism doesn’t involve the belief of a God or the supernatural world, therefore is a non-theistic religion.
Confucianism originated in mainland China and spread throughout other territories including Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan. Themes of Confucian thought are elements such as modesty, reverence, righteousness, loyalty, honesty, shame, bravery, cleanliness, gentleness, frugalness, and kindheartedness.
Relationships are a key concept in the religion of Confucianism. There are numerous stages of relationships in one’s life. As a junior, one has relationships with parents and elders. Juniors owe reverence to their seniors. As a senior, one has relationships with juniors. Seniors are required to have loyalty and care for the welfare of juniors. This loyalty and feelings of benevolence are present, even in today’s East Asian’s society. This harmonic social class order is only possible when each individual of the society are both aware and plays a part in his or her social role.
A key concept within the Confucianist society is “The Great Learning” teachings. The following six principles and key aspects are essential concepts of the religion:
Tao – Is a metaphysical concept meaning the underlying natural order of the universe, and the state of refining your moral self and achieving balance.
The path will be reveled to one, after the proper rest, reflection, and calmness is achieved.
Focusing properly will allow one to set priorities that are essential to one’s goal, thereby allowing achievement of the goal attainable.
Education is both comprehensive and imperative to one’s future.
Confucianist must utilize the trickle-down theory in reference to one’s personal relationships, organization, and product. When one’s personal or home life is in order the positive results will reflect in their professional activities.
Confucianism believes in the concept of effort over knowledge. Political influence, financial compensation, or social status has no bearing on one’s capability of learning.
Beginning in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), Confucianism regulated gender roles as the cornerstone of its religion, thus shaping social life and societal stability in East Asia. Confucius regulated the following female and male roles in society:
Women remained dependent to their father prior to marrying.
Women became dependent on their husband after marriage.
Women became dependent on their child if in fact their husband passed away.
In ancient times, successful men had many side relationships (concubines) with women who they were not married to.
Men had the option to remarry, whereas women were supposed to retain their vow of chastity when their husbands were lost.
Ban Zhao (45 – 116CE) was born in Fufenganlin (in current day it’s called Shanxi Province). Ban Zhao followed in her father’s (Ban Biao) footsteps and became a famous historian. She has the honor of being the first known female Chinese historian. In the Han dynasty period, Ban Zhao wrote the important Confucian text titled “Lessons for Women”, or “Nujie”. These lessons were written by a woman and for women. The book listed the following proper roles for women:
All women should be hard working, follow instruction, and remain silent.
Ban Zhao enforced the yin-yang theory of how opposites are interdependent. She utilized this theory by showing how men and women are equally dependent upon one another however, she points out the fact that the yang-male is dominant.
In contrast to typical Confucianism practices, Ban Zhao maps out a solid educational plan for all females of all ages.
The question of the Confucianism religion being secular or non-secular dates back to the 16th Century. When Europeans (Christian Jesuits) arrived in China, they researched Confucianism and came to the conclusion that it was a non-religious based ethical system, however compatible with Christianity. The debate of Confucianism being a religion continues today. That said, two aspects of the religion have been agreed upon. Confucianism is both humanistic, and a non-theistic religion.
Confucianism deals with the here and now. The cornerstone and root of its religion is moral values. The moral values include, reciprocating harmony, the act of turning the other cheek when receiving an unwelcome statement or hypocrisy.
Analects of Confucius are records of acts, words, and discussions of Confucius and his disciples. The Analects are considered the core belief system of Confucianism. These records were written around 500 BC with the vast majority written approximately 40 years after his death. Confucius began writing the Analects in the Spring and Autumn Period. It is believed that Confucius’s disciples and “second generation” disciples wrote the vast majority of the Analects, and completed the records during the Warring States Period, with the content being Confucius’s theories, ideas, and thoughts. “I transmit but do not create, I place my trust in the teachings of antiquity.”
Written by – Confucius, Analects VII