To understand the influence of Confucian Teachings on family and society, it is necessary for us to know the total concept of Confucianism. Wing-tsit Chan writes, “Confucianism did not begin with a tradition. Confucius (551-479 BC) taught various subjects on self-cultivation and the ordering of the society. To be sure, he said there was a thread running through his doctrines (i-kuan), but he did not say what it was. Only his pupil understood it as loyalty to the self, that is fully developing one’s moral capacity (chung) and extending it in the treatment of others.”(p.234)
A perfect individual, loyal to the self, can never mean harm to his society. Individual welfare is in tandem with the social welfare. In a society where people enjoy just secular benefits, spirituality could be easy to pursue. But sometimes economic realities defy the well-meaning logic aimed at the welfare of the people.
Though spirituality and materialism seems to be invariably at loggerheads, on a careful analysis, the essential difference between the two seems to be one of failure to properly understand them. Materialism speaks about the scientific approach to issues. Spirituality is the science of sciences.
The concern of Confucius for individual/family and welfare of the society is paramount. If society is compared to a mighty mansion, family is like its walls. The individual is like the brick. In his writings, the spiritual currents are invariably seen. At the same time, his concern for the welfare of the people and the responsibility of the State towards its people are given top priority.
The rulers of Tang Dynasty utilized many of the principles laid down by Confucius in his work Analects. Wing-tsi-Chen writes, “ In the Analects it is said that he taught culture, conduct, loyalty, and faithfulness; that he often talked about poetry, history, and the performance of the rules of propriety; and that he taught people to “set your will on the Way, have a firm grasp in virtue, rely on humanity(jen) and find recreation in the arts.”(p.234)In fine, Confucius pleads for an all-embracing life wherein equal importance is given to duties and responsibilities. Ethical and moral values dominate his writings.
Confucian ideology is akin to Marxism on many counts, except that it abhors violent approach to achieve the ends. Marxism doesn’t give much importance to family values, and human beings are considered as the production tools of the State. In the system of administration it stands on an even keel as compared to Marxism.
Confucius pleads for responsibility at every stage of life of an individual. According to him, “A youth, when at home, should be filial, and abroad, respectful to his elders. He should be earnest and truthful. He should overflow in love to all, and cultivate the friendship of the good. When he has time and opportunity, after the performance of these things, he should employ them in polite studies.”(Confucius, p.6) A gentleman often mentioned by Confucius is the individual with higher plane of the mind and action, and not a social class.
He gives utmost importance for changing the thought processes of an individual for seeking better avenues here and the hereafter.
An individual must seek the path for betterment through social relationships and self-efforts. Standards of goodness, loyalty and wisdom take the front seat in developing the personality of an individual. Each one is accountable to someone/something else, including the supreme ruler. Bureaucracy needs to be virtuous.
Dependence on hierarchies is an important part of the Confucian approach–friendships, families, social disposition etc are part of it. Desire for self-improvement is the universal phenomena found throughout the human history irrespective of rule of any dynasty. It is a timeless part of human nature, under all conditions, whether capitalism, communism or feudalism. It is difficult to bind Confucius with any philosophy, though almost all the schools of thought lay a claim on his teachings.
The Spread of Confucianism: Another deep impact on the Chinese society during the Tang dynasty was decline of Buddhism and Confucianism gained ground. Many of the Tang officials were Confucian disciples and considered Buddhism as the disruptive force in China. In 845, the issue took a violent turn. Persecution of the Buddhists was a state-sponsored activity. About 4600 monasteries and 40,000 temples and other shrines were destroyed.
In fine, the Confucian key concept is: In order to govern others one must govern oneself. Confucianism is all about harmonious blending of secularism and the highest spiritual truths. Most of the classical Chinese is highly ambiguous. To derive the correct meaning of Confucian teachings is a tough assignment, and it is liable for various types of interpretations. There is nothing like the final verdict on any subject.
1. Wing-tsit Chan: Exploring the Confucian Tradition; Philosophy East and West, Vol. 38, No. 3, Fiftieth Anniversary, Department of Philosophy, University… Published by: University of Hawai’i Press
2. Confucius. The Analects; Books.google.in