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Confucious Essay

Reading Questions

1. What, according to Lau, is the most fundamental message of Confucius? What Confucius taught that set him apart from teachings of the past and even of the future, was that living a life with moral conviction was to be done for the sake of the morals themselves. This is to say that rewards for ones morality in the afterlife was, according to Confucius, not to be sought after. He said that the, “burden is heavy and the road is long.” The good you do in this life is meant for this life only and is crucial to demonstrate.

2. What is the difference between the chun tzu and the hsiao jen? The literal translation seems to mean: chun tzu is a ruling figure while hsiao jen is one who is ruled. Of course, these two labels represent much more than social division. Lau says that they are moral terms with chun tzu being one with strong morals and hsiao jen meaning the opposite. Confucius uses these terms sometimes ambiguously as well, a possible nod to the complexity of human morals.

3. Can anyone become a chun tzu? Although it is not spelled out for us in the reading, I believe that the answer is yes. But that does not mean that every man is. Hardly. It is said that to become a chun tzu, it takes a lifetime of hard work and cultivation. Essentially, a chun tzu must spend his or her entire life working towards being a benevolent being. This is nothing that is reserved for Gods or prophets. It can be Attained by man, but only after a great deal of effort, practice, and conviction.

4. What is jen and how is it related to chung and shu? Jen is the love of fellow man. Lau is up front about how few times it shows up and its’ exact use, but seems quite sure that it is love for fellow man. So when the three are separated out, jen, chung, and shu, we see a relatively clear difference:

– Jen = Love for fellow man – Chung = Effort in benevolence, to do ones best – Shu = Benevolence itself, do unto others…

When all are formed together, they make up the key ingredients of being a gentlemen or chun tzu. Their relationship would suggest a process in one living a good life. Using chung and realizing jen, one is able to achieve shu. In this way they are all very much connected, if not slightly different. We in the west seem to have a need to bunch things up, but I admire the careful study of each step.

5. Why are the obligations we owe others proportionate to the closeness of our relationship to them? For Confucius, the amount of jen is relevant to the significance of that person in your life. Starting with the family, one’s neighbors, one’s village, one’s social class, all the way down to people on the street. Jen exists on all levels but is proportionate to the importance in your life, the time invested. Jen decreases as it is made available to a wider net of recipients, which seems oddly appropriate and sad to me.

6. What is the relationship between jen and li? Jen is the love of all man while li is a set of rules, or rites. Practicing li seems crucial to the successful integration into society in ancient China but without jen, is one only getting half the benefit? This reminds me of saying you love Jesus but not following the ten commandments or vice versa.

Critical Questions

1. If benevolence requires the overcoming of self-interest, then why should our obligations to others be proportionate to the benefits we receive from others? This is a good question. My best guess is that the benevolence would supersede the proportionate nature of social class. Considering that jen lessens by the degrees of separation, the opportunity to be benevolent with a person that you have little to no contact with is also lessened. Maybe it doesn’t show that you care less for them but your opportunity to relate your benevolence to them decreases. All the while, regardless of who it is, you are striving to overcome self-interest.

2. Do you agree with the Confucius vision of the good life? Why, or why not? I don’t know if I agree with any one idea of what living a good life is, but I could also say that I believe in all of them. There are hints towards living a completely fulfilling life in all schools of thought. That would be the case for me in the teachings of Confucius. Do I believe in striving for benevolence? Yes. Do I believe in the act of loving ones fellow man? Of course. Do I subscribe to the idea that what is done on this current life is all that matters and that shedding self-interest is incredibly important? Absolutely.

Conversely, do I see some holes in the idea that the way we love is a proportionate measure? I do. I believe in a sort of blind love. I have had friends in the past who have said that they, ‘start people out with an F and let them work their way up.’ I start people out with an A and then I work every day to help them keep that stellar grade. For me, living a good life is a composite of many different views and I learn as much from Confucius as I do from folks living on the street in Seattle. Wisdom is everywhere and I don’t plan on not seeking it out until I am dead. After that, who knows?


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