Dr. Douglas K. Chung
Professor, Grand Valley State University School of Social Work
Confucianism is a philosophy of a way of life, although many people also
consider it a religion. The tradition derives its name from Kung Fu Tzu,
or Confucius (551-479 BCE), who is renowned as a philosopher and educator.
He is less known for his roles as a researcher, statesman, social planner,
social innovator, and advocate. Confucius was a generalist with a
universal vision. The philosophical method he developed offers a means to
transform individuals, families, communities, and nations into a
harmonious international society.
The overall goal of Confucianism is to educate people to be
self-motivated, self-controlled and able to assume responsibilities; it
has the dual aims of cultivating the individual self and contributing to
the attainment of an ideal, harmonious society. Confucius based his method
on the assumption that lawlessness and social problems result from the
combination of unenlightened individuals and a social structure without
The Confucian system is based on several principles:
1. In the beginning, there is nothing.
2. The Great Ultimate (Tao) exists in the *I* (change).
The Great Ultimate is the cause of change and generates the two primary
forms: the Great "Yang" (a great energy) and its counterforce, the Great
"Yin" (a passive form). "Yang" and "Yin" symbolize the energy within any
system of counterforces: positive and negative, day and night, male and
female, rational and intuitive. "Yang" and "Yin" are complementary; in
their interaction, everything -- from quanta to galaxies -- comes to be.
Everything that exists -- all systems -- coexist in an interdependent
network with all other systems.
3. The dynamic tension between "Yin" and "Yang" forces
results in an
endless process of change -- of production and reproduction and the
transformation of energy. This is a natural order, an order in which we
can see basic moral values. Human nature is inherently good. If a human
being goes along with the Great Ultimate and engages in rigorous
self-discipline, that person will discover the real self (the nature of
"Tao") and enjoy the principle of change. And since all systems exist in
an interdependent network, one who knows this truth also cares.
4. There are four principles of change:
a. Change is easy.
b. Change is a transforming process due to the dynamics
and "Yang." Any change in either part ("Yin" or "Yang") will lead to a
change in the system and related systems. This process has its own cycle
of expansion and contraction.
c. Change carries with it the notion of changelessness;
that there is
change is a fact that is itself unchanging.
d. The best transformation promotes the growth and
development of the
individual and the whole simultaneously -- it strives for excellence for
all systems in the network.
5. Any search for change should consider the following
a. The status of the object in the interdependent
network -- that is,
what is the system and what are this object's role, position, rights and
duties in the system?
b. Timing within the interrelated network -- that is,
is this the
right time to initiate change?
c. The mean position, or the Golden Path, in the
situation; the mean position is regarded as the most strategic position
from which one can deal with change. "Tao" (Truth) exists in the mean
d. The respondence of "Yin" and "Yang" forces -- that
is, are the
counterforces willing to dialogue or compromise?
e. The integration between the parts and the whole --
that is, the
system in its economic, political and cultural realms.
6. There is an interconnected network of individual
this pattern of interdependent relationships exists in all levels of
systems, from individual, through family and state, to the whole world.
The whole is dependent upon the harmonious integration of all the parts,
or subsystems, while the parts require the nurture of the whole. The
ultimate unit within this framework is the universe itself. Self is a
here-and-now link in a chain of existence stretching both into the past
and into a future to be shaped by the way an individual performs his or
her roles in daily life. One's humanity is achieved only with and through
Individual and social transformations are based on self-cultivation, the
personal effort to search for truth and to become a life-giving person.
Searching for and finding the truth will lead to originality, the creative
ability to solve problems, and development. The process will also enable
individuals and systems to be life-giving and life-sharing -- to possess a
"Jen" (love) personality. Wisdom, love and courage are inseparable
7. Organizational effectiveness and efficiency are
systematically interconnected individuals or subsystems find the truth --
and stay with it. Existence consists of the interconnected whole. Methods
that assume and take account of connections work better than methods that
focus on isolated elements. Organizational effectiveness can be improved
through a rearrangement of the relationships between the parts and the
In other words, a balanced and harmonious development within the
interdependent network is the most beneficial state for all.
Self-actualizing and collective goals should always be integrated.
These principles of Confucian social transformation are drawn primarily
from *I Ching,* The Great Learning,* *Confucian Analects* and *The
Doctrine of The Mean*. In contemporary terms, Confucianism can be defined
as a school of social transformation that is research oriented and that
employs a multidimensional, crosscultural, and comprehensive approach that
is applicable to both micro and macro systems. It is a way of life -- or
an art of living -- that aims to synchronize the systems of the universe
to achieve both individual and collective fulfillment.
Two major schools of Neo-Confucianism eventually emerged: the
rationalists, who emphasized the inner world (philosophy), and the
idealists, who emphasized practical learning in the outer world (social
science). The leading exponent of the rationalists was Chu Hsi (1033-1107
CE) and that of the idealists was Wang Yang-Ming (1472-1529 CE). The
rationalists held that reason is inherent in nature and that the mind and
reason are not the same thing. The idealists held that reason is not to be
sought from without; it is nothing other than the mind itself. In ethical
application, the rationalists considered the flesh to be a stumbling block
to the soul. The idealists, on the other hand, considered the flesh to be
as the soul makes it. Neo-Confucianism in Korea was led by Lee T'oegye
(1501-1570), who taught a philosophy of inner life and moral subjectivity.
Confucianism in the World Today
Confucianism is a strong influence in China, Korea, Japan, and the
countries of Southeast Asia as well as among people of Far Eastern descent
living around the world. Western people are able to appreciate
Confucianism through international contacts and through its literature.
Yet postindustrial social change has led to human crisis in social
networks. Postindustrial Confucians today are carrying the vision forward
by applying the Confucian model of social transformation to reach the goal
of a Great Harmonious Society. The effects of this are seen in
volunteerism, social support, social care, and the self-help movement.
In *Great Learning,* Confucius prescribed seven steps in a
general strategy of social transformation to achieve the ideal
1. The investigation of things (variables). Find out
the way things
are and how they are related.
2. The completion of knowledge. Find out why things are
the way they
are; that is, why the dependent variable was related to other variables.
This is the reality of things, the truth, "Tao." And since everything
exists in an inter-related network, discovering this truth empowers a
person to transform his or her attitude.
3. The sincerity of thought. One should be sincere in
change or to set goals that are a commitment to excellence and the truth,
"Tao", which is the source of self-motivation, the root of
self-actualization and the cornerstone of adequate I-Thou and I-Thing
relationships. The most complete sincerity is the ability to foreknow.
4. The rectifying of the heart. The motivation for
change must be the
right one, good for the self as well as for the whole. It is a cultivation
aimed at virtue, a moral self achieved through the intuitive integration
of "Jen" (humanity, benevolence, perfect virtue, compassion, and love),
"Yi" (righteousness), "Li" (politeness, respect), and wisdom (from steps
1, 2 & 3). Only such a self has real freedom -- from evil, and to have
moral courage and the ability to be good.
5. The cultivation of the person. There must be
between the "knowledge self" (steps 1 & 2) and the "moral self" (steps 3 &
4) through self-discipline (education) and self-improvement. This is the
key to helping self and others.
6. The regulation of the family. One should use self-
within the family by honoring parents, respecting and caring for siblings,
and loving children. One should understand the weaknesses of those one
likes and appreciate the strength of those one dislikes to avoid prejudice
and disharmony in the family.
7. The governance of the state. The state must provide
education, set policies to care for vulnerable people, root policies in
public opinions, appoint and elect capable and moral persons as public
officials, and apply management principles based on the mean and the
Golden Path. This sort of public administration should lead to the
The practice of these seven steps is a self-cultivated discipline that
seeks the truth, "Tao," as the practitioner enacts individual and social
changes for an improved and more harmonious world. The most persistent
form of the Confucian worldview sees the person as an integral part of a
cosmos dominated by nature. Contentment and material success come only
through acceptance of the rightness of the person adjusting himself or
herself to the greater natural world to which that person belongs.
Under the impetus of a contemporary revitalization of Confucianism,
Confucian ethics has become an important force for initiating social
transformation and economic change in much of eastern Asia, including
China, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.
Confucius described the ideal welfare state in *Li Chi* (*The Book of
Rites*) as follows:
"When the Grand course was pursued, a public and common
all under the sky; they chose people of talents, virtue, and ability;
their words were sincere, and what they cultivated was harmony.
"Thus people did not love their parents only, nor treat
only their own. An effective provision was secured for the aged till their
death, employment for the able-bodied, and the means of growing up to the
"They showed kindness and compassion to widows/ers,
childless people, and those who were disabled by disease, so that they
were all sufficiently maintained. Males had their proper work, and females
had their homes.
"(They accumulated) articles (of value), disliking that
be thrown away upon the ground, but not wishing to keep them for their own
"(They labored) with their strength, disliking that it
should not be
exerted, but not exerting it (only) with a view to their own advantage.
"In this way (selfish) scheming was repressed and found
development. Robbers, filchers and rebellious traitors did not show
themselves, and hence the outer doors remained open, and were not shut.
This was (the period of) what we call the Grand Union."
INTEGRATION OF CONFUCIANISM WITH OTHER TRADITIONS
Dr. Douglas K. Chung
Chinese, Korean and Japanese philosophical systems have each synthesed
elements from several traditions. The Chinese came in contact with Indian
thought, in the form of Buddhism, around the first century CE. This event,
comparable to the spread of Christianity in the West, was marked by three
characteristics in particular:
First, the translation of the Buddhist "sutras
philosophers and led them to interpret the teachings of the Buddha in the
light of their own philosophies. The impact of this study led to the
establishment of the Hua-yen and Tien-tai schools of Buddhism in China and
the Kegon school in Japan.
Second, under the influence of their familiar,
ways of thought, the Chinese creatively responded most to the practical
aspects of Buddhism's spiritual discipline, which the Chinese called
"Ch'an "(meditation). The "Ch'an" philosophy was eventually adopted by
Japan around 1200 CE under the Japanese term Zen. Zen is thus a
well-integrated blend of mystical Buddhism of India, the natural
philosophy of Taoism, and the pragmatism of the Confucian mentality.
Third, traditional Chinese scholars, both Confucian and
that their cultural foundation had been shaken by the challenge of
Buddhism. They reexamined their own philosophies and worked out a way to
apply the *I-Ching* -- and thus "Yin-Yang" theory -- to integrate Buddhism
into a new Chinese culture. The *I-Ching,* or *Book of Changes,* describes
a universal ontology, the processes by which things evolve, principles of
change, and guidelines for choosing among alternatives of change. This
ancient book of omens and advice is the oldest of the Chinese classics.
Confucius used it as an important text in instructing in methods of
personal and social transformation.
Different interpretations of the *I-Ching* demonstrate how Buddhism,
Taoism, and traditional Confucianism were blended into the
Neo-Confucianism that profoundly affected the premodern Chinese, Korean,
Japanese, and Vietnamese dynasties. These include interpretations by:
Cheng Yi (1050), *I-Ching, the Tao of Organization;* Chih-hsu Ou-i
(1599-1655), *The Buddhist I-Ching;* and Liu I-ming (1796), *The Taoist
I-Ching: I-Ching Mandalas, A Program of Study for the Book of Changes,*
translated by Cleary. Under the influence of the *I-Ching* the Chinese are
equipped with a "both-and" mentality that seems to integrate religious
diversity with less difficulty than the "either-or" tendency of Western
The Chinese Neo-Confucian school's synthesis of Confucianism, Buddhism,
and Taoism culminated in the philosophy of Chu Hsi (1033-1107 CE), one of
the greatest of all Chinese thinkers. It guides people to learn the truth
(Tao) in order to solve problems, which leads one in turn to be harmonious
with Tao, or truth (unification), the core of Confucianism and Taoism.
Both Confucianism and Taoism share the same ontology from the *I-Ching,*
while Buddhism also came to use *I-Ching* to interpret Buddhist thought.
The three philosophies use different approaches, however, to reach the
unification with Tao/Brahman. Confucians emphasize a rational approach,
Taoists focus on an intuitive approach and Buddhists favor a psychological
approach. Confucianism favors education and the intellectual approach,
while Taoism tends to look down on education in favor of intuitive insight
into Nature. Buddhists are interested in changing human perception and
thus stress detachment; each tends to participate in world affairs
Huang Te-Hui (1644-1661 CE) of the Ching Dynasty integrated the three main
belief systems of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism to form the
Hsien-Tien-Tao. I-Kuan-Tao (Integrated Tao) evolved from the
Hsien-Tien-Tao. Chang Tien-Jan was recognized as a master of I-Kuan-Tao in
1930. Various I-Kuan-Tao groups moved to Taiwan in 1946 and 1947, and
today, I-Kuan-Tao priests preach an integrated religion drawn from
Confucian, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, and Islamic canons. The concept of
oneness of all religions is the major theme, and its mission is to
integrate all religions into one.
This group was among the first in contemporary society to start interfaith
dialogue and interfaith integration. However, many people in Taiwan viewed
the I-Kuan-Tao religion as a heresy, and it was banned for many years by
the government. Since being granted official recognition in 1987,
I-Kuan-Tao of Taiwan has expanded internationally. It now has
organizations in South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand,
Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, the United States, Canada, Brazil
Building on the successful integration of Buddhism into Neo-Confucianism,
many contemporary Confucians have issued a challenge for another religious
integration among Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Islam and Taoism.
For this to come about, more Asians need to read the *Bible* and the
*Qur'an,* and more Westerners need to know about the *I-Ching* and the
*Qur'an.* Such a global dialogue would certainly help facilitate a new
understanding of religions.