Confucianism is a set of moral and ethical behavioral guideline prescribed by Confucius to educate a society on how to maintain harmony; individuals on how to live an ethical life, and maintain good relationships with each other; and rulers on how to rule.
Some of the precepts of Confucianism include:
1. Humans are capable of learning, improving, and even perfecting themselves in order to reach the highest moral and ethical standard through continuous self-cultivation.
2. Only humans are able to help themselves and each other, and resolve (worldly) conflicts. Regarding the after life, Confucius once commented: “if we don’t even know life, what could we possibly know about death?”
3. Mutuality of duties and obligations, according to fixed roles and rules in human relationships, extend outwardly from family at the core to society at large. Family comes first, followed by clan, society, and then self last.
Some of the ethical values of Confucianism include:
1. Ren. Ren is the virtue of all virtues. It’s love, sympathy, and compassion for fellow human beings. It’s altruism, benevolence, and humaneness. It’s harmony and peace among all human beings and nature. Ren is the foundation for all human relations, and the ultimate guide for human actions. As such, it’s worth living for and dying for. Ren, according to Confucius, is “do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.”
2. Yi. Yi is justice and righteousness, detachment from self-interest. It’s the moral disposition of human beings to do good for the sole reason that it is the right thing to do.
3. Xiao is filial piety. Xiao is reverence, respect, and obedience of parents and ancestors. Xiao means not only serving and pleasing one’s parents when they are alive, but also fulfilling their remaining wishes, bringing honors to them and to family after their passing. Reverence is held for ancestors, the aged, and learned masters.
There are a number of other virtues in Confucianism, such as Zhong (loyalty). Rulers should rule with virtue over their subjects and respect their ministers. If they do, then they have the “Mandate from Heaven,” and therefore all their subjects should be “Zhong” to them without any reservation (mutuality in a relationship). Other virtues include Wen (gentleness, temperance), Liang (goodness, integrity), Gong (respectfulness, courtesy), Jian (frugality), Rang (forbearance, humility, magnanimity).
Although a few of Confucius’ concepts are outdated, such as a rigidly structured hierarchical society, the world today can still benefit from many of Confucius’ values and teachings.
From an environmental point of view, the human race is not invincible. We are not master of the planet earth, let alone the universe. We must respect and live in harmony with our natural surroundings and other species of life, instead of exploiting them endlessly for human gain.
From a person-to-person point of view, we must respect each other, by respecting each other’s values and viewpoints. We must restrain ourselves from settling individual difference through force, verbally or physically. We must refrain from believing that we alone have monopoly rights over a set of “universal values,” and that we have a natural duty to spread them to the rest of mankind.
From a global point of view, all nations must refrain from relying on force to settle disputes. Respect for a nation or civilization should be based on virtue, not on might. Violence and insult in whatever form beget the same in return sooner or later. Above all, by being “Ren,” we must not do unto others what we don’t want others to do unto us. If all people and nations in the world subscribed to this principle, we would all be living in a world with less conflicts and wars and more peace and harmony instead.