The Essentials of the Faith
Founded: Confucianism is a complex system of morals and ethics, but it is considered a
religion because of the impact it has on the way people live their lives. Confucianism was founded about
500 years before
Christ by a young scholar named K'ung-tze, but the latinized version of the name is commonly rendered "Confucius".
Major Teachings: The main ideas of Confucius was the cultivation of virtue and the development of moral perfection, which
he sought to instill in others. Confucius taught that immorality
resulted from ignorance and that knowledge is what leads
to a virtuous lifestyle. Confucius stressed teaching by example. Many of his recorded saying are proverbs of virtuous men.
also believed in being around positive people to become positive. He also stressed to his disciples about self-correction
because self-discipline was also a virtue.
Scriptures and Significant Writings: The six canonical classics of Confucianism
are the Shu King or Canon of History, the Shi King or Canon of Poetry, the I King or Canon of Changes, the Li Ki or
of Rites, the Chun Chiu or Spring and Autumn Annals, and the Hsiao King or Book of Filial Piety. After Confucius died, his
disciples compiled collections of his sayings and teachings known
as The Analects of Confucius, the Ta Hsio or Great Learning,
and the Chung Yung or Doctrine of the Steadfast Men. A compilation of the teachings of Mencius is known as the Meng-tze (Ballou,
Symbols: In Confucianism, symbols are hard to come by. The creation and use of images in worship only came
to China with the advent of Buddhism. Even today, no images are used to represent
Confucius, only a plaque on which is
written his name. The symbol chosen to represent Confucianism on this website is the Chinese ideogram for water, which is
seen as a source of life
in Chinese philosophy.
The Details about Confucianism
Today, Confucianism is often
found intermingled with Taoism. It is difficult to distinguish between what is Taoist and what is Confucian because they both
have many of the same ideas about
man, society, rulers, Heaven, and the universe. Confucianism deals with the practical
and the earthly while Taoism deals with the esoteric and the heavenly. Both beliefs stem from traditional
that were not delegated to one religion. Confucius and Lao Tze, the founder of Taoism, were contemporaries of each other.
It is recorded by both traditions that they had several
Confucius was born in 551 BCE in the province
of Shantung, the youngest of eleven children. He was into a noble class, but his family was stripped of its nobility by the
time of his birth. His father
died while Confucius was very young, so in his early years, he became a hired servant to
support himself and his mother. He was briefly the chief librarian at the library in Beijing. In his spare
time, he studied
his favorite subjects. He became so learned, that by the time he was 21, he had some disciples and opened a school when he
He constantly sought to gain a governmental position. In the meantime, he would travel from place to place
with his disciples and teaching his
philosophies on the way. He was always in danger of being killed on his mission, but
he persevered until he was 80. In the last five years of his
life, he went to Lu, where he encouraged others to study and
practice virtue and to follow his example.
Confucius was humanistic in his approach and placed humankind, and not
any deity, at the center of the universe. Society was organized from a
superior order to an inferior order. All aspects
of a person's life was based on that individual's Tao, and if one accepts one's life, life would
flow smoothly. Confucius
recognized two types of Tao: community and private. An individual should first focus on the first for the good of the
The focus of Confucius was on a strong, yet benevolent government. Confucius believed that a strong government was key to
Some of the most fundamental virtues of Confucianism were sincerity, benevolence, filial piety,
and propriety. Sincerity meant more to
Confucius than just a casual relationship. It was important to be trustworthy and
honest in speech, and to be committed to promises. To
Confucius, to be sincerity meant that one's conduct was founded in
virtue, and sought to reserve the rules of right conduct in his heart and
outward actions. It was just as important to
be virtuous alone and in public.
Benevolence, holding regard for the well-being of others, and helping those in need
was fundamental to Confucius. It was considered another characteristic of the virtuous man. Confucius was
quoted as saying,
"What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."
Filial piety is the third fundamental principle
in Confucianism. Confucius also said that, "Filial piety is the root of all virtue. Of all the actions of man, there
are none greater than those of filial
piety." At the time of Confucius, filial piety meant for the son to love and
revere his parents, aid them in comfort, bring them happiness, keep the family name honored, and and to be a success in
There was, to some degree, a negative consequence to filial piety. This was the obligation of sons to live after marriage
under the same roof with the father and to give him childlike obedience
as long as he lived. Also, the will of the parents
was superior to the extent that if the son's wife failed to make them happy, he was under an obligation to divorce her regardless
of how he felt.
Neither did sons disagree with their father. If they did, the father was to beat the son until blood is
shed and the son was not to show any resistence. Filial piety was also a principle shared with
Buddhism and Taoism.
fourth fundamental principle was propriety. This encompasses the whole spectrum human conduct. The superior man was the one
who does the right thing at the right time. To neglect or
deviate from propriety was the same as an act of immorality.
Confucianism never took root in Confucius' lifetime. The wise words of Confucius
were preserved in the Confucian Analects. His teachings were
passed down by his disciples,
the most famous being Mencius, considered the "Second Most Sacred Teacher". Mencius added the view that the
Mandate of Heaven is removed from an unjust dynasty (Famighetti, p. 511).
has had a profound impact on ancient Chinese societies. It was once governmental policy to adopt Confucian principles in order
oneself in society. Strict examination systems were implemented. Most people
did not successfully complete the exams. It was not uncommon for a
father and a son
to be competing at the same time. Society saw education as social mobility. At the local level schools, Confucian philosophy
ethics were required of every student. The negative repercussions of the examination
system is that the poor did not have a chance to compete and
that the exams too much
stressed poetry at the expense of science and technology.
Not all governmental
regimes were fond of the Confucian system. Chin Shi Huang Ti, who was the first emperor of China opposed to Confucianism,
believed that Confucianism supported the old feudal regime and that people were naturally good. He ordered all of the books
on Confucianism burned.
Scholars supporting Confucianism were silenced.
Neo-Confucianism took root during the late Tong Dynasty. It synthesized Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. It stated that
the material and
mystical worlds were governed by yin and yang. People are a link
between the worlds and by self-examination, one can achieve a connection with the
In present day, the status of Confucianism has changed considerably.
It is now separated from public education, which was one of the key factors in
the transmission of Confucianism. It's political
and religious function has declined considerably in the Twentieth Century. Also, commercialism and revolutions in China has
provided severe blows
to Confucianism. Most younger Chinese understand Confucianism as an ancient custom and seem to display
more indifference than knowledge. As a result, with the exception of a small circle of
scholars, Confucianism is considered
far less seriously than it used to be and is rarely taken as an active player in interfaith dialogue.
Because of these
things, some may say that Confucianism has died out. This is not so because the main points of Confucianism are instilled
in the values and ideas which have essentially become
a part of the way of life for many Chinese people.
Today, the primary followers of Confucianism are found in mainland China, and Taiwan. Confucianism
as practiced here is usually in combination with Buddhism and Taoism and often in
conjunction with ancestor worship. The
largest population of non-Chinese followers is found in Korea (Famighetti, pp. 731, 732).
Confucianism had an effect
upon the landscape through its meticulous attention to order. Through Confucian philosophy, a large governmental bureaucracy
was formed, designed to work
harmoniously in order to serve the hierarchy mandated by heaven. Such belief in an ordained
order of society was reflected in the organization of buildings and public works. An example of this is
found in the architecture
of the Altar of Heaven in Peking. The altar, used by the emperors to invoke the favor of Heaven, was surrounded by several
elevated concentric rings and bordered by an
outer courtyard. Nine steps separate each level, representing the nine levels
of heaven. At the highest point, the emperor would offer sacrifice each year to ensure continued prosperity for the