Introduction to Confucianism and Five Relationships

Confucianism is a philosophy and a doctrine of ethical and social conduct, based on the teachings of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius. His teachings are based on specific set of principles, moral duties, and social protocols designed to create a harmonious society and a united country. It's a philosophy centered on the goal of creating a society based on 'value'.
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Confucius as he is known in the western world or K'ung Fu Tzu was a Chinese philosopher, political analyst, teacher and founder of the religion or philosophy known as Confucianism, in the modern world. Like Socrates in the west, Confucius was the pioneer of a new line of thought in the east. Confucianism, also known as the Ru school in Chinese philosophy, is based on the teachings of Confucius compiled by his students and named the Lunyu or the Analects. Like Socrates, Confucius's work and teachings were not appreciated during his lifetime. It was years after his death that people realized the soundness of his thoughts and he got recognition for his vision.

Confucianism is based on the idea of 'love' and 'compassion' as two prime virtues in life. A society in which individuals place morals and virtue above everything else will surely prosper. Therefore, Confucius emphasized the importance of rituals or a code of good conduct for a society. He also emphasized that whatever be the circumstances we find ourselves in, we always have a choice to choose the right or wrong path. If each component or individual of a society performs his part efficiently, by choosing the right path, the society will be in harmony. Confucius pictured the society like a giant wheel with the monarchy, the king, as the axis around which everything spins. Thus, a hierarchical structure of society is what he conceptualized. He had the belief that a society based on virtue would not require punishing laws or a penal code as he believed in the goodness of every individual.

Fundamental Principles of Confucianism

These are the principles by which a person should live by, according to Confucius. If a person inculcates these principles, he will be worthy of being called 'the ideal man' or the 'perfect man'.

Li: Li is the principle of self-restraint and sense of propriety that should be inculcated in a person. A person should always act in a honorable way and respect his elders, his ancestors, and his family members. He shall not be selfish in his acts. It does not mean that he should not have personal ambitions and aspirations but he should not achieve them by being unjust to others. It includes following social etiquette and mannerisms.

Hsiao: Hsiao is love for the immediate family and then society. It's the principle of love of parents for their children and of children for their parents. If every family is united and happy, the society will prosper.

Yi: Yi is the principle of righteousness. It is upholding what is right above everything else and sacrificing oneself for it, if need be.

Xin: Xin is the principle of honesty in life. Being honest with oneself and being honest with the people around you builds trust and confidence.

Jen: Jen is the most important of all principles. It means being kind and humane to your fellow beings. Sharing and understanding each other without being overtly judgmental. Even if a person behaves badly with you, think about the condition he is in and what is making him behave this way. It is about helping out others.

Chung: The last but not the least important principle, chung is loyalty to one's family and to one's country. It is a quality which binds a country strongly together.

The Five Relationships

Confucius specifies the five important relationships that an individual is a part of. If he maintains each of those relationships dutifully, the society will stabilize and prosper automatically.
  • King to subject
  • Father to son
  • Husband to wife
  • Older brother to younger brother
  • Friend to friend
If we observe them, each of these relationships is like a chain that binds individuals in a society. The range of these relationships connect everybody in one single unit. If all these chains are strong, the fabric of a society is strong.

Some Quotes of Confucius from 'Analects'

"What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others"

"Since you yourself desire standing then help others achieve it, since you yourself desire success then help others attain it."

In these two lines lies the gist of Confucius's philosophy of universal harmony. They are the most practical and simple truths of life. A modern student would call Confucius a 'management guru' and the hierarchical structure that he has propounded here is like the modern 'meritocratic corporate structure'.

He was a lover of music and also played some instruments. He conceptualized society like a symphony in music with each player playing his part well and in unison, creating beauty. They called him the 'King without a Crown' in China. His vision lives on through the religion of Confucianism, reminding us of age-old truths. Today Confucianism has more than six million followers all over the world.