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A Reflection on Confucianism

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Confucianism teachings focus on three socially critical topics. These aspects are woven into the Confucian teachings called The Analects. The Analects can be broken down into the four main parts of focus, humanity, or Jen, word-deed, propriety and the superior man. These Analects are primarily concerned with the personal, and government morality of the people in a given society, the correctness of their social relationships, and the justice and sincerity within that society as well as within a person. This purpose of this paper is to analyze various confusion sayings in attempt to interpret and reflect on what is being said.

Jen can be a difficult thing to define for the sole reason that it can be interpreted in a variety of different ways. What is certain about Jen is that is a central to not only Confucian philosophy but Chinese philosophy as a whole. Jen is a virtue that the superior man harnesses. A person of Jen is someone who demonstrates the essence of the golden rule and a man who contains a benevolent heart. Jen is associated with humanity because Jen, in essence, is based on human action and human relationships. Jen is an all encompassing love for not only every other person but also of oneself. In 12:22 of the Confucian analects, “Fan Ch’ih asked about humanity. Confucius said, “It is to love men.” This excerpt demonstrates how the key to humanity is for everyone to essentially get along and love one another. Considering that humanity and Jen are closely related, it can be said that humanity and Jen are interchangeable in this piece as well as many other pieces of Confucian writing.

A key aspect in the Analects as well as being one of the most important aspects in Chinese culture is filial piety. Confucius focuses on how one should love and respect their parents, elders and ancestors and do as they are told to do. However, at the time this was directed at only the males in the family for another part of filial piety was to ensure a male heir. He focuses many of his teachings around this and even applies it to a world view of how a government should be like a family. To prove just how important filial piety was, Confucius taught it as being one of the roots to humanity. In 1:2 of the Analects, Yu-Tzu said, “…Filial piety and brotherly respect are the root of humanity (jen).” This proves just how important filial piety is to Chinese culture. This just drives home the point that Chinese culture is based on good and strong moral principles and it is this ingredient that enables humanity to strive.

The superior man is one who demonstrates all the other main qualities of being a man who is in touch with humanity, Jen, and propriety. It is difficult to say whether or not someone can possess all of these qualities and actually be a superior man, but the primary purpose is to provide a correct path to lead your life in the way of this. If one makes this attempt, they are already on their way and have bettered themselves as well as the people around him by demonstrating theses qualities. For example in 4:24 of the analects, Confucius said, “The superior man wants to be slow in word but diligent in action.” 4:24 of the analects provides us with example of not only an aspect of a superior man, but the Confucian teaching of word-deed. This can be interpreted in many ways, but what first comes to mind, from someone living in western culture, is the saying of “actions speak louder than words”.

I feel that Confucius is trying to show exactly this. I feel another great example of what a superior man is demonstrated through 15:20, Confucius said, “The superior man seeks room for improvement or occasion to blame in himself; the inferior man seeks it in others.” I feel this is an excellent example of what the superior man is at heart. He is a man of good value, strong character and righteousness. To compare this to western culture, I think of the story of George Washington and the chopping of the cherry tree. He confessed that he did it, blamed himself instead of finding a clever excuse or blaming someone else, just as a superior man would do. We use stories such as these to learn moral and how to behave, just as Chinese culture uses the Confucian analects to do the same. Another example of Confucian teaching and also how humanity is such a powerful and reoccurring theme in the analects demonstrated through word-deed. In 13:27 of the analects, Confucius said, “A man who is strong, resolute, simple, and slow to speak is near to humanity.”

I feel this teaching is essentially saying “think before you speak” or one should be diligent and careful with his speech. Humanity is recognized and one becomes closer to it when you exemplify these actions. It is through these teachings that we are constantly shown different examples of humanity, but shown from many different directions and points of view. One teaching that can be juxtaposed with this one is 1:3, Confucius said, “A man with clever words and an ingratiating appearance is seldom a man of humanity.” This demonstrates how one should go about being a man of good word and deed as well as being a man closer to humanity by showing the complete contrast of what is word-deed and humanity. I personally liked how Confucius provided us with the same key point but in completely different example from different view points. In the Confucian analects, a person from western culture recognizes one familiar aspect in the teachings, the Golden Rule. In 12:2 Chung-kung asked about humanity.

Confucius said, “When you go abroad behave to everyone as if you were receiving a great guest. Employ the people as if you were assisting a great sacrifice. Do not do to others what you do not what them to do to you. Then were will be no complaint against you in the state or in the family.” Chung-kung said, “Although I am not intelligent, may I put your saying into practice.” The Golden Rule in western culture and the one from Chinese culture express exactly the same thing. However, the literal wordings of these sayings are the complete opposite. Another point I think Confucius is making is when Chung-kung responds to Confucius’ golden rule. He says that he is not intelligent but he will put his saying into practice. I think what he is saying here is that this saying is so obvious, that someone who is not intelligent can even go about practicing its ways. This says a great deal about how much he stresses this rule in particular.

The Confucian analects cover topics consisting of great societal importance. It not only covers just how one should behave, but how that one person can affect the people around him or her. Confucius was not just talking to man, but he was also including the state, for this was also one of his focuses. Confucius wants us to constantly be striving to become the superior man, a man of Jen, a man of filial piety. These are they key factors in the analects and from these come many great virtues, like propriety, that are also emphasized in his works. From this essay I have come to the conclusion that his teachings are simple in word, but complex in meaning. I feel you can read one of his teachings one day, and the following week read it again and you will have a different interpretation of what it meant. This I feel proves just how complex and true his teachings are. These are my interpretations and reflections on the Confucian analects. I found it very interesting to go in depth and analyze these teachings. This was my first experience with philosophy and I look forward to learning and understanding more in my future.

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