Confucianism is generally characterized as a method of social and ethical philosophy versus a religion. Actually, Confucianism constructed on an ancient religious foundation to establish the social values, organizations, and transcendent ideals of old-fashioned Chinese culture. It was exactly what sociologist Robert Bellah called a «civil religion,» (1) the sense of religious identity and common moral understanding at the foundation of a society's central institutions. It's also just what a Chinese sociologist called a «diffused religion»; (3) its organizations are not another church, but those of society, household, college, and state; its priests were not separate liturgical specialists, but moms and dads, teachers, and officials. Confucianism had been the main Chinese social material and lifestyle; to Confucians, everyday activity ended up being the arena of faith.

The creator of Confucianism, Master Kong (Confucius, 551-479 B.C.E.) didn't want to receive a new religion, but to interpret and revive the unnamed religion of the Zhou dynasty, under which lots of people thought the ancient system of religious rule had been bankrupt; why could not the gods prevent the social upheavals? The burning issue of the afternoon ended up being: In case it is not the ancestral and nature spirits, exactly what then is the foundation of a reliable, unified, and suffering social purchase? The principal view of the time, espoused by Realists and Legalists, had been that strict legislation and statecraft had been the bases of sound policy. Confucius, but believed that the basis lay in Zhou religion, in its rituals (li). He interpreted these never as sacrifices seeking the blessings of the gods, but as ceremonies done by human agents and embodying the civilized and cultured patterns of behavior developed through generations of peoples wisdom. They embodied, for him, the ethical core of Chinese society. Moreover, Confucius applied the definition of «ritual» to actions beyond the formal sacrifices and religious ceremonies to incorporate social rituals: courtesies and accepted requirements of behavior-- that which we today call social mores. He saw these time-honored and traditional rituals because the foundation of human being civilization, and he felt that just a civilized culture may have a reliable, unified, and enduring social order.

Therefore one side of Confucianism ended up being the affirmation of accepted values and norms of behavior in primary social institutions and basic human relationships. All human relationships involved a collection of defined functions and shared obligations; each participant should comprehend and conformto his/her appropriate role. Beginning individual and household, people acting rightly could reform and perfect the culture. The blueprint of the process was described in «The Great Learning,» a section of the Vintage of Rituals:

Only if things are examined is knowledge extended; only once knowledge is extended are thoughts honest; only when ideas are sincere are minds rectified; only if minds are rectified will be the figures of individuals cultivated; only if character is cultivated are our families controlled; only when families are managed are states well governed; only if states are very well governed is there comfort worldwide.(3)

Confucius' ethical vision ran from the grain of the legalistic attitude of their day. Only under the Han Emperor Wu (r. 140-87 B.C.E.) did Confucianism become accepted as state ideology and orthodoxy. From the period regarding imperial state promoted Confucian values to keep law, purchase, plus the status quo. In late old-fashioned China, emperors sought to ascertain village lectures on Confucian ethical precepts and to provide civic honors to filial sons and chaste spouses. The imperial family members along with other notables sponsored the book of morality books that encouraged the training of Confucian values: respect for moms and dads,loyalty to federal government, and maintaining to one's place in society—farmers should remain farmers, and practice the ethics of farming. This side of Confucianism ended up being conservative, and served to bolster established institutions and long-standing social divisions.

There was, but another part to Confucianism. Confucius not only stressed social rituals (li), and humaneness (ren). Ren, sometimes translated love or kindness, is not any one virtue, but the supply of all virtues. The Chinese character literally represents the connection between «two persons,» or co-humanity—the prospective to reside together humanely in the place of scrapping like birds or beasts. Ren keeps ritual types from becoming hollow; a ritual done with ren hasn't just form, but ethical content; it nurtures the inner character of the individual, furthers his/her ethical maturation. Therefore if the «outer»side of Confucianism had been conformity and acceptance of social roles, the «inner» side ended up being cultivation of conscience and character. Cultivation involved broad training and expression on one's actions. It was a lifetime dedication to character building carving and polishing the stone of one's character until it absolutely was a lustrous gem. Master Kong described their own lifetime:

At fifteen, I set my heart on learning. At thirty, I became firmly founded. At forty, I had you can forget doubts. At fifty, I knew the might of heaven. At sixty, I was ready to tune in to it. At seventy, i possibly could follow my heart's desire without transgressing the thing that was appropriate. Analects, 2:4

The inner pole of Confucianism had been reformist, idealistic, and religious. It created a top ideal for family members conversation: users had been to treat both with love, respect, and consideration the needs of all of the. It prescribed a lofty ideal for hawaii: the ruler was to be a father to his individuals and appearance after their fundamental needs. It required officials to criticize their rulers and will not serve the corrupt. This internal and idealist wing spawned a Confucian reformation known into the West as Neo-Confucianism. The motion produced reformers, philanthropists, committed instructors and officials, and social philosophers from eleventh through nineteenth centuries.

The idealist wing of Confucianism had a religious character. Its ideals were transcendent, perhaps not in the sense that they had been other worldly (the Confucians weren't enthusiastic about a far-off heavenly world), but in the feeling of the transcendent ideal—perfection. In the one hand, Confucian values are incredibly closely linked with everyday life they sometimes appear trivial. Every day life is really familiar that individuals cannot simply take its ethical content really. We're each a pal to some body, or aparent, or undoubtedly the child of a parent. Having said that, Confucians remind us that the familiar ideals of friendship, parenthood, and filiality are definately not trivial; in actual life we only seldom achieve these ideals. We all too often just go through the motions, too preoccupied to give our full attention to the relationship. If we regularly and wholeheartedly knew our possible to be the very best friend, moms and dad, son, or daughter humanly feasible, we'd establish an amount of caring, of ethical quality,that would approach the utopian. This is certainly Confucian transcendence: to take those things of everyday life seriously whilst the arena of ethical and religious fulfillment.

The outer and internal aspects of Confucianism—its conforming and reforming sides—were in stress throughout Chinese history. Moreover, the tensions between social and political realities additionally the high-minded moral ideals of this Confucians had been an ongoing way to obtain concern for the leaders of this tradition. The threats of ethical sterility and hypocrisy were always present. Confucianism, they knew well, served both as a conservative state orthodoxy and a stimulus for reform. Great Confucians, like spiritual leaders every-where, desired occasionally to regenerate and renew the moral, intellectual, and spiritual vitality for the tradition. Before the 1890s, serious-minded Chinese saw Confucianism, despite its failures to understand its perfect society, because the way to obtain hope for China additionally the core of exactly what it meant to be Chinese.

Although because the revolution, the public ideology of the individuals Republic has abandoned Confucian teachings, one can say that there surely is a continuity of kind: like Confucianism before it, Maoism teaches a commitment to changing the planet through the use of the classes of autopian ideology towards actions and organizations of everyday life. This is simply not to declare that Mao had been a «closet Confucian,» but to emphasize that the Confucian means ended up being practically synonymous with the Chinese method.

Robert Neelly Bellah, The Broken Covenant: United states Civil Religion in an occasion of test, New York: Seabury Press, 1975.
C. K. Yang, Religion in Chinese community, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961, pp. 20-21.
Excerpted and adapted from de Bary, Sources, I: 115-16.
For a somewhat fuller philosophical (but readable) conversation, see Herbert Fingarette, Confucius—The Secular as Sacred, nyc: Harper and Row, 1972, chapter one.

Note: This article and also the one on Dao/Taoism were written during the Indiana Religion Studies venture Institute for Teaching about Religion into the Secondary Social Studies Curriculum. The drafts had been critiqued by the social studies instructors whom attended with an eye fixed to supplementing and fixing the information in textbooks as well as other materials used by teachers. The 2 articles should read as some; they complement both in quite similar way those two religions complemented one another throughout Chinese history.

Author: Judith A. Berling.

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