Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Confucius molded Chinese civilization in general and judging by the Analects, one can see that he exerted great influence on Chinese philosophical development. There is a humanistic tendency in Confucius’ thought; he did not care to talk about spiritual beings or even about life after death. Instead, he believed that we can make the Way (Tao) great. Confucius concentrated on man. 

His primary concern is a good society based on good government and harmonious human relations. Confucius believed in the perfectibility of all men and in this connection he radically modified a traditional concept, that of the “superior man” or ch√ľn-tzu. One can broadly sum up Confucius system in a handful of principles: 

1- T’ien (or heaven) is purposive, the master of all things. Tian is immanent: “Heaven sees through the eyes of the people, Heavens listens through the ears of the people.” Not necessarily anthropomorphic but anthropogenic, T'ien is embodied in the people and exemplified by the people. Heaven is a principle and that relates to human as that of part/whole relationship. 2- The Mandate of Heaven or T’ien-Ming consists of a Supreme Being who institutes a moral principle which then operates all by itself. That’s the principle of Heaven, T’ien Tao (later on called T’ien-li).

2- Jen (also pronounced as “ren” means indistinctly, altruism, humanity and fairness and appears more than 100 times in the Analects. Jen requires compassion. 

3- “Do not impose to others what you don’t want.” This is a negative form of the Golden Rule, which is essential in Confucianism. “If you want to establish yourself, establish others. If you want to promote yourself, promote others.” To be able to apply the golden rule one has to follow a method, 

4- “Shu,” which means to be empathetic, i.e., to be able to understand the circumstances. Shu necessitates 

5- “Xue” or learning. Not an achievement verb, but rather a stronger sense of affecting oneself whether by improving one’s sensitivity, understanding or ability. With “xue’ one appropriates what’s learned, a process of becoming transforming. Xue is accompanied by 

6- “Si,” that is, reflecting. “Learning without thinking, one will be perplexed, thinking without learning, one will be in peril.” (A, 2:15). 

7- The Doctrine of the Mean or “Zhong-Yong.” It means centrality, not to be “one-sided.” It doesn’t mean staying in the middle regardless or no matter what. The idea is to stay between two vices, not between excellence and vice. “Excess is as bad as deficiency.” (A, 20:1). One very important element in Confucianism is the idea of 

8- Li which is the idea of ritual propriety. Li can be seen as the embodiment of refinement that rules one’s life. If jen is the internal quality that makes a person an authentic person, then li is the body of external behavior that allows jen to be manifested and applied publicly. When li is properly performed, it becomes "yi,” a word that can be translated as righteousness. Li provides the fabric of social order. It’s the proper social behavior of a person embedded in a community of equals. Li is also a vital constituent of education: Humans are like raw materials, they need to be carved, chiseled, grounded and polished to become authentic individuals. By doing li one learns and instills oneself in the practice of li

Finally, there’s an aesthetic dimension to the cultivation of li. Elegance and aptness has a beauty to it, i.e., the cultivation of oneself that is expressed through the individual’s actions.