Confucianism The religion of Confucianism is and interesting and unique religion. The various parts of this belief system deal more with humanity than with deities or supernatural occurrences. It is this fact that leads many to believe that Confucianism is more a philosophy or way of life than a religion. There are, however, various ceremonies and beliefs that those who follow Confucianism observe. In short, Confucianism has had more impact on the lives of the Chinese than any other single religion.
Confucius was born in the province of Lu (now known as Shantung), in 551 BC, the youngest of eleven children, in the period of China’s history when the nation was divided into feudal states. Confucius saw the time in which he lived as a low point in China’s history so he set out to teach his philosophy in an effort of improving his society. He was born into a noble class, but his family had been stripped of its nobility by the time he was born. By the age of 21 he had been so well educated that he already had disciples and by 22, he had opened a school. He became known later in life as K’ung Fu Tzu (which was later Latinized in the west as Confucius), meaning Great Master Kung, for his teaching.
It is known that he had a wife , a son, and a daughter, and that he held a few governmental offices. The teachings of Confucius were to lead people to achieve a status known as Chun Tzu, or superior man, to become Chun Tzu you must reach a perfect balance and awareness in political and social situations. In the time of Confucius, only the aristocracy was educated, which meant that the Chun Tzu was exclusively the wealthy, however, he devoted his life to teaching everyone regardless of their financial standing, provided they were intelligent enough to learn his teachings. Confucius did not make his teachings easy, he provided only a portion of theinstruction, and if his pupils were unable to complete it, he would not teach them. There are six major works which are considered the classics of Confucianism. They are The Shu King (Cannon of History), the Shi King(Cannon of Poetry), the I King (Cannon of Changes), the Li Ki (Book of Rites), the Chun Chiu (spring and Autumn Annals) and the Hsiao King ( Book of Filial Piety).
Other books composed of his teachings after Confucius’ death include The analects of Confucius, Ta Hsio (Great Learning) and Chung Yung (Doctrine of Steadfast Men). The center of Confucius’ beliefs was Jen or human love and Li, the importance placed on ceremony in China. He believed that everyone already has Jen but, a person must live a virtuous life for their Jen to truly flourish. He believed that Jen can be experienced or encountered in different ways. The young first experience it as the love they feel for their parents or Hsiao.
Another is known as Yi or the love of friends. Confucius felt that formality was lacking in his society and that each person should respect what is it be respected. By combining Li and Jen, he felt that China’s social and ceremonial standards could be improved. Confucius also held ideas such as sincerity and benevolence to be of great importance. He believed that one must be sincere, trustworthy, honest, and committed to their promises. Confucius also believed that you should treat others in the same manner that you would expect to be treated.
He believed in caring for the well-being of others and helping those who need help. In Confucianism there truly is no one way to worship. The very nature of the religion (being more a philosophy than religion) inhibits any special type of worship. Many Chinese practice Confucianism as their day-to-day moral code, and then practice Taoism to provide nature and ancestor worship and Buddhism to give them answers for why they suffer. Confucius did advocate ancestor worship as well as honoring T’ien, or Heaven, but he did not create these practices, he merely promoted them as adding the formality and ceremony that he felt was necessary for a well ordered society. It is very difficult to distinguish between Confucianism and Taoism.
Both religions teach the same basic ideas and originated at the same general time. It is even documented in both religions that there were several dialogs between Confucius and Lao Tze the founder of Taoism. Confucianism has so profoundly affected Chinese culture that the entire societies rites of passage are based on Confucianist teachings. An expected mother is given a considerable rest period before and after the birth of her child to protect the well being of both the mother and child. In these periods it is left to the family to care for the mother and provide her with clothing, food, and other things, which are often symbols for good luck.
When a child is born, the family waits a months to be sure that the ills that often kill newborn children have passed and then they present the child to the community which is cause for a great celebration in which the entire community often participates. Chinese marriages take place in six steps: 1.) The couple are carefully screened by checking horoscopes to be sure that they are suitably matched, this is done by checking each one’s year, month, day and hour of birth. 2.) The Bride’s family announces the engagement 3.) The bride’s family delivers a dowry to the groom’s home 3.) The bride is escorted by formal procession from her old home to the home of her groom. 4.) The couple then goes to the place where they will take their wedding vows which is often a Christian Church. 5.) The Couple take their vows followed by a banquet 6.) The bride serves the parent’s-in-law breakfast the next day then they in turn serve the bride breakfast, as a fertility celebration, and then gifts are exchanged.
As a Confucian nears death, they are moved nearer to an ancestral Shrine. After their death, funeral rites are performed by either a Buddhist,Taoist, or Christian priest and sometimes all three. While the ceremonies are occurring things such as paper houses and money are burned to aid the deceased as they enter the spirit world. Because of the belief that physical happenings have effects on the spirit world, it is very important that the burial location is well maintained. The teachings of Confucius were spread during the 260 years after his death, but it was during the Han Dynasty that Confucianism was instituted as the official state religion of China.
It was during this time that his teaching were taught in schools and the philosophies of Confucius were broadly accepted and followed. In the years following this era, Taoism and Buddhism gained a large following, with Buddhism competing directly against Confucianism (Taoism, due to it’s similarities coexisted with Confucianism without much conflict). Eventually, Chinese political leaders came to believe that foreign religions (one of which was Buddhism) were eroding their traditional way of life, and this resulted in the persecution of many who followed these foreign religions, thus revitalizing Confucianism. In the past century, Confucianism has suffered greatly. due to industrialization and science, it has been seen as outdated and as abridging personal freedoms.
Today it has finally began another resurgence. The current ideals of society have turned toward more spirituality and respect for other religions has once again breathed new life into this old philosophy. Bibliography Aspects of Religion CD-rom, Interactive Learning Productions, 1994.