What we can learn from Confucius to build our society and live our lives
Confucianism religion – to my mind – is not a religion and nor is Confucius a spiritual guru. It is a system of ethics, a way of life meant to promote social harmony and meant as a guide to governing classes to enable them to fulfill their duties towards society.
It is characteristic of the Chinese bent of mind that Confucianism religion was adopted as the state religion and not Taoism, which arose at about the same time and which deals with spiritual matters. Confucius died about 481 B.C and his system of ethics has survived nearly two and a half thousand years in China. A system, which has survived for so long and teachings, which have been venerated by a great nation for such a long duration of time is bound to have great merits. It is only now over the last hundred years, with increasing contact with the western world and the rise of the communists in China that the system has broken down.
The great English philosopher, Bertrand Russell visited China in the early part of the 20th century. He was struck by the open mindedness, rationalism and the lack of a dogmatic mindset that he found amongst the Chinese. He described China to be, in many ways, the greatest country that he had ever seen. There has never been a war fought over Confucianism religion. The teachings of Confucius were not regarded as the word of God or as something over which wars should be fought.
The teachings of Confucius were meant to be a guide to living peacefully and harmoniously in society and as a guide to good administration of the state. To my understanding, Confucius was not aiming to help his followers attain God or experience mystical insights. A respect for culture, education and knowledge was stressed as also the virtues of humanity, justice, courtesy and wisdom. These would form an excellent ethical foundation on the basis of which any nation could be governed. In fact if nations and all people in power dealt with each other keeping just the principles of humanity and justice in mind the world would quickly become a paradise.
Confucius was moderate in all things – even in virtue. He was once asked – how do you regard the principle of returning good for evil? And he replied – What then is to be the return of good. Rather I would return injustice with justice and good with good. This is in stark contrast with the Christian motto of turning the other cheek. All religions to my mind are meant to show us the way to attain God or enlightenment. They are not necessarily the best possible guides for the common man, for dealing with people in our hugely flawed and imperfect world. We pay lip service to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Buddha and the like, but in our day-to-day life practice a morality that is totally different. This is the code and practice of ethics that we have learnt from society and our parents. The ancient Chinese on the other hand did not have one code of ethics in theory and another in practice. They set their sights lower and adopted the Confucianism religion, which is a guide to life that can be practiced by all. A man is expected to be respectful to his parents, kind to his children, generous with his poor relations and respectful to all. These are not very difficult guidelines and can be followed by most people. It is better than teaching our children the loftier Christian ethic, which can be practiced only by a realized mystic, or master and which is universally admitted to be too good for this wicked world.
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