Confucius was a Chinese philosopher and teacher who lived from 551 to 479 B.C. Those who follow his philosophy believe in the innate goodness of human beings, the responsibility of all people to do good and to live happy and moral lives. The practice of Confucianism is more-or-less geographically restricted to northern India and Southern China, but the beliefs and symbols have influenced more widely practiced spirituality systems including Taoism.
Humanism and Honesty
Confucianism is a humanist philosophy. This means that the belief system is based on the ability of human beings to have affect on their own lives. It is not a supernatural or necessarily spiritual belief system. Moreover, the Confucianist brand of humanism is not identical to that of the Renaissance where man was not to be the measure of all things. At the core of Confucianism is an emphasis on honesty. Five Constant Virtues -- or Wuchang -- guide honest behavior: humaneness, justice, propriety, knowledge and integrity. Confucianists believe that all human beings have a responsibility to be honest with one another in their speech and behavior.
Altruism and Political Responsibility
Ren is the Confucianist belief that humans have an obligation to be altruistic. This is similar to the idea of reciprocity, that one should do unto others as one would like others to do unto them. Confucius also characterized Ren as the ability to love others, writing in his "Analects" that "It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get." There is also a political element to Ren, symbolized by the Confucianist belief that a political leader who lacks altruism will have a negative effect on people.
In Confucianism, living everyday life is considered a ritual -- a way of giving honor to oneself and to the higher order of things. The term "Li" is used in Confucianist philosophy to symbolize the proper way to live, which includes self-care, politeness and looking to the past for guidance. Confucianists believe that their ancestors as well as the leaders of past Chinese dynasties can serve as models for how to live. In the contemporary context, the idea of "filial piety" is the respect that should be shown to ancestors.
As a philosophy for living and not a necessarily religious-based practice, Confucianism does not deal with the identity of god. However, as the belief system has evolved and influenced other Eastern philosophies, including its contemporary Taoism, an emphasis has been placed on reclaiming some of the early symbols associated with Confucius and his teachings. Among these is the view on water's life-giving properties. Water represents purity and simplicity, and in this way it serves as a model for how Confucianists believe people ought to live. The idea is that human beings ought to find a balance between the inclination to do good and the suffering and evil present in the physical world.
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