A Synopsis of the Ethics of Confucianism
In contrast to Western philosophy, Chinese thought views man as but a single, though vital part of the complexity of nature. The Chinese have aspired to attain harmony with nature as a source of spiritual satisfaction. Life is not a transitory phenomenon, but real, viewed and appreciated for its beauty and order. They, i.e. beauty and order, are esthetic entities and are to be cherished and savored in life. Man and nature are in a reciprocal relationship, thus affecting each other. Just as the forces of nature can bring bliss but also disaster, so can man upset the delicate balance by his misdeeds. Heaven (the supernatural world), Earth and man constitute a single and indivisible unity. No boundaries between the three exist. Man must do his part, by conforming to natural law. When he does so, society enjoys peace and tranquility. When he transgresses, Heaven and nature are disturbed, the intricate relationships break down, and consequently calamities follow. The preceding is characteristic of an attitude in which Confucian ethics is embedded. The source of desire for harmony lies in prehistoric times, and gave rise to cosmology and philosophy.
The Fourth Century B.C. saw the introduction of new ideas, which encompass two principles representing the two modes of primeval energy: the yang and the ying. The former is the positive and masculine, the latter is the negative and feminine. (This is a very simplistic characterization, on which I can elaborate if desired.) While such concepts are not unique in themselves, in oriental thinking however they complement one another. (In contrast to the dualism such as light and dark or good and evil, in Zoroastrianism for example, in which the forces of light and dark contend.) How does one explain the harmony between the two spheres in Chinese thinking? Tao! Its literal meaning is "a way," "a road," "the way of nature," "universal law." When integrated, the two (yang and yin) transcend their uniqueness or separateness and become the Universal. When resigning one's will, harmony, peace and enlightenment are found. Elaborated by a succession of scholars and sages, the way of Tao became Taoism.
Confucianism is something of a derivative. As a matter of fact, Confucius insisted on close adherence to Tao. However, he was pragmatic and concerned with the existential problems of man, hence he deals less with generalities and more with the practical matters of daily and personal relationships. The essence of his system of relationships is fivefold, and fundamental to his social order: ruler and subject; father and son; husband and wife; older brother and younger brother; older friend and younger friend. The ideal of conduct, ordering all human relationships and resulting in an ideal social structure and harmony is: li. A famous Confucian maxim is: "Never do to others, what you would not like them to do to you." (Golden Rule ?) His disciples later on developed ten...