Confucianism’s Answers To…

Download this article as a PDF

Who Is God?

There is no God, per se, in Confucianism. Confucius has never been considered a god by his adherents. Confucianism is a socio-philosophical movement aimed at bettering society. Confucius did believe, however, in the Great Ultimate (Tao), which manifests itself in the I, or change. Tao is the cause of I, and generates Yang (energy) and Yin (a passive form). Together, Yin and Yang are seen as complementary symbols of the energy and tension in a system of counterforces. Tao, or the Great Ultimate, is the first-cause of the universe, a force that flows through all life, but is not a personal being.

Where Did We Come From?

The interaction between the Yin and Yang is thought to be the cause for the creation of all that is. Tao, the Great Ultimate, is the cause of change and generates Yin and Yang. Therefore, we came from Tao, the Great Ultimate, the force that permeates the universe.

Why Are We Here?

Ultimately, we are here to discover our real self, which is the nature of Tao. Humans are thought to be inherently good. Through self-discipline, a human is able to move in accordance to Tao and thus will enjoy the principle of change. In a practical sense, we are here to better ourselves and society. This is done through education and enlightenment.

How Do We Know?

We know and understand Confucianism through his writings and those of his disciples. The major works of Confucius include:

  • Lun Yu, or the Wisdom of Confucius.
  • Chung Yung, or Doctrine of the Mean.
  • Ta Hsueh, or the Great Learning.

Confucius is thought to have studied the I Ching, or Classic of Changes, a Chinese manual of divination. His disciple, Mencius, wrote several books, including The Mencius, Ev Ya, a dictionary of terms, and Kung-yang Chuan, a commentary on Ch’un Ch’iu.

What Do We Have to Do?

Above all, Confucius felt that the ideal of shu, or reciprocity, should guide all actions; what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others. Confucius also prescribed seven steps in a strategy to achieve social transformation and to bring about the ideal society.

  1. The investigation of things and variables to discover their nature and to determine how they are connected.
  2. The completion of knowledge. Determining why things are the way they are, why they are related. This is truth, or Tao, and the discovery of Tao empowers a person’s transformation.
  3. Sincerity of thought. The desire for transformation and change in accordance with Tao must be sincere. Sincerity reaches full expression in the ability to foreknow.
  4. Rectifying the heart. It is important to have proper motivations for change, motivations that are good for the self and for society as a whole. Virtue and a moral self is the goal, and it is achieved through the integration of Jen (humanity, benevolence, perfect virtue, compassion, and love), Yi (rightousness), Li (politeness, respect), and wisdom. This will free the self from evil and provide the moral courage and the ability to be good.
  5. Cultivation of the person. Integrating the knowledge self (steps one and two) and the moral self (steps three and four) through self-discipline, or education, and self-improvement.
  6. Regulating the family. The practice of self-discipline within the family through honoring parents, respecting and caring for siblings and loving children. Understanding the weakness of those one likes, appreciating the strength of those one dislikes, toward the end of avoiding prejudice and disharmony.
  7. Governance of the state. A good state will provide public education, will set polices to care for vulnerable people, make policies based on public opinion, appoint and elect capable, moral people, and apply the principles of “mean” management. Good public administration should lead to the ideal harmonious state. 

Confucius saw five major human relationships that should be governed by li, or propriety. Those relationships are:

  1. Ruler and subject
  2. Father and son
  3. Husband and wife
  4. Oldest son and younger brothers
  5. Elder and junior (friends) 

Shu, or reciprocity, is seen in the five relationships as follows:

  1. Benevolence in rulers, loyalty in ministers and subjects
  2. Kindness in the father, filial piety in the son
  3. Righteous behavior in the husband, obedience in the wife
  4. Gentility in the oldest son, humility and respect in the younger siblings
  5. Humane consideration in elders, deference in juniors.

What’s Going On Today?

Today, Confucianism is mainly practiced in China, Japan, the Koreas and Vietnam. There are over 6,500,000 adherents of Confucianism. While it was once the state philosophy in China, its popularity has dwindled drastically since the Communists came to power.

How Do We Recognize It?

There are few symbols in Confucianism.

What If I Want to Know More?

To find out more, check out these Web sites:

Britannica Online.  Confucianism.


Chung, Douglas K. Confucianism: A Portrait. In Beversluis, Joel (Ed.). (1995). A Sourcebook for Earth’s Community of Religions. Grand Rapids: CoNexus Press.