The world is home to many and distinct philosophical traditions. Different traditions offer varying systems of belief in regard to the general human conduct and relationship with the outer world. Most philosophical traditions are seen to have a religious dimension that guides individual conducts on earth in anticipation of life after death. This paper seeks to identify how the philosophy of Confucius can be compared to that of Buddhism. Thus a summary of the philosophy of Confucius will be outlined for the purpose of benchmarking its tenets against the philosophy Buddhism which seen to be wider and more complex. A summary of the ethical aspect of the Buddhist philosophy will also be outline to form the basis of comparison. This due to the fact that only the aspect of ethics in the Buddhist philosophy can be significantly likened to the Confucian philosophy.
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Summary of the Confucius philosophy
Confucius lived between 551 and 479 BC, as shown by the Chinese tradition, “Confucian was a thinker, political figure, educator, and founder of the RU school of the Chinese thought” (Schwartz 55). His teachings form the basis of the Chinese belief in education and the behaviors of a suitable man and how such an individual should live and interact with others (Zhuan 2. Par. 5).
Confucius social philosophy
The various teachings and dialogue between Confucius and his followers are preserved in the Lunyu or Analects. In his teachings Confucius shows a strong agreement with the belief that people exist within boundaries established by heaven. “Which, for him refers to both a purposeful Supreme Being as well a ‘nature’ and the fixed cycles and patterns” (Zhuan 2, par. 3). He asserts that men are answerable for their deeds and particularly towards others. He acknowledges that one cannot alter his fated span of existence but can determine what he/she accomplishes and what he is remembered for (Zhuan 1, pars. 2-4).
The social philosophy by Confucius mainly revolves on the idea of being companionate or showing love to others (Schwartz 35). This involves self sacrifice for the sake of others and puts emphasis on avoiding deceitful speech. For Confucius, the concern for others should be orchestrated through the practice of forms of the golden rule “what you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others” (Zhuan 3, par. 3). He asserts that one should help others achieve what he/she desires for self. Confucius regarded the loyalty to “parents and older siblings as the most basic form of promoting the interest of others before one’s own and teaches that such altruism can be accomplished by only those who have learned to discipline themselves” (Schwartz 35, par. 5). According to Confucius, mastering self discipline requires careful and devoted studying of the ritual forms and guidelines of propriety that enables one to express respect for his/her seniors and thus uses it to establish his role in the society in a manner that he earns respect for himself. A concern for respectability should be about everything that one does and utters: “look at nothing in defiance of ritual, listen to nothing in defiance of ritual, speak of nothing in defiance of ritual, and never stir hand or foot in defiance of ritual” (Schwartz 35, par. 4). However, according to Confucius the devotion of the self to ritual does not imply that one should suppress his desires but instead should “reconcile one’s desires with the needs of one’s family and community” (Schwartz 36, par. 4). The teachings of Confucius and his disciples show that individuals get acquainted with the importance of social strictures by experiencing desires. “Confucius regarded loving others as a calling and mission for which one should be ready to die for” (Zhuan 2, par. 3).
Confucius’ political philosophy
“Confucius political philosophy is rooted in his belief that a ruler should learn self-discipline, should govern his subjects by his own example, and should treat them with love and concern” (Schwartz 45, par 1). Confucius asserted that if people are governed with laws and corrections done through punishments, then they will rebel and develop a shameless behavior. However, if the same people are governed by virtue, “and discipline among them sought by the practice of ritual propriety, they will posses a sense of shame” and respect the ruler (Zhuan 3, par. 5). In his days, the leaders were favoring legal methods in ensuring uniformity among the subjects. Thus he warned that the ill results of promulgating the legal codes shouldn’t be seen as an attempt to stop their adoption but rather a moral suasion on the ruling elite (Schwartz 46). Confucius interpreted the prevalent political situation as completely failed. He explained the failure by pointing out that those exercised power and those who were in inferior position existed that way by making claims to titles for which they were not worthy. He asserted that the principles of good governance consisted of “ruler being a ruler, the minister being a minister, the father being a father, and the son being a son” (Schwartz 46, par. 5). He pointed out the importance of living up to a title by adhering to requirements and responsibilities that come with a title. For, the issue was not changing the names or titles but rather changing the individual to suit the requirements of the title. To him, a meaningful change would originate from the leadership whereby by a change in the ruler’s behaviour would definitely lead to a change in the behaviour of the subjects. He advised: “If you desire is for good, the people will be good. The moral character of the ruler is the wind; the moral character of those beneath him is the grass. When the wind blows the grass bends” (Zhuan 3, pars. 3-4). For, superior leadership was only depicted through virtue, which he perceived as a moral strength that enables one to win the trust of his subjects (Schwartz 70).
Confucius and Education
A hallmark of Confucius’ thought is his emphasis on education and study (Schwartz 70). He belittled those who claimed to believe in natural understanding and posed that the “only real understanding of subjects comes from a long a careful study (Schwartz 71). Study for him meant the identification a good teacher and imitation of his words and deeds”. A good teacher was then, preferably older and well versed with past experiences and ancient practices. Confucius asserted “that a person who learns but does not think is lost and he who thinks but does not learn is in great danger” (Zhuan 4, par. 5). Traditionally, Confucius has received a lot of credit for personally teaching up to 3000 students. He taught diverse subjects to his students but only 70 of the 3000 students fully mastered his teachings.
Ethics in the Buddhist Philosophy
The Buddhist philosophy is wide and touches on many different aspects than the Confucius philosophy which basically teaches on ethics. In this part, a summary of the Buddhist philosophy tenets that can be likened to the Confucian philosophy will be outline. A s purported by many scholars the “Buddhist philosophy is primarily based on empirical evidence gained by sense organs rather ontological or metaphysical speculation” (Dhammananda, par. 6). The basic concept fronted by Buddha is that the world should be assessed in empirical terms and not by speculative thinking (Keown 67, pars. 2-4).
For the purpose of comparison, the ethical aspect of Buddhist philosophy will be explored. “Ethics in Buddhism are traditionally based on what Buddhist view as the enlightened perspective of Buddha” (Harvey 56, par. 3). The “pancasila: no killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct and intoxicants” is a requirement for anyone aspiring to indulge in Buddhism practice (Harvey 56, par. 8). Upholding of ethical practice in Buddhism is based on the belief that this will increase an individuals’ chance of being reborn in heaven. Thus Buddhist nuns and monks take vows reaffirm their willingness to uphold the practice. The ethical guidelines provided by Buddha are depicted in the Eightfold path and are generally aimed at specific outcomes of human conduct (Keown 56).
Comparison of specific tenets in the Confucian and the Buddhist Philosophy
From the above summary of the Confucian philosophy it has been established that the main features that characterize the philosophy are “ethical and moral values, filial piety and respect for elders, ancestor worship and social responsibility” (Beng, par. 3). The doctrine of Confucius which asserts that man’s fate does not depend on a supernatural being but rather on his on his moral conduct can be likened to the to Buddhist philosophy of law of Moral Causation (Beng, par 3). Comparatively, the Confucian and Buddhist philosophies “stress the importance of ethics and morals in the cultivation of one’s personal life” (Zhuan 2, par. 4). However, Confucianism is seen to be emphasizing on the shaping of human conduct and interactions. “According to Confucianism, the society cannot be expected to progress satisfactorily, leading to peace and harmony among all the groups of people” (Beng, par. 4). This can be likened to the advice that Buddha gave in the Sigalovada Sutta. The teachings are comparable but have major differences; Confucius’ teachings are predominantly secular and are vague on the issue of life and death. The upholding of ethical practice in Buddhism is predominantly due to the issue of continuity. As for the Confucius philosophy, it is more specifically aimed at shaping human conducts and interactions on earth. The other difference is that Confucius teachings have nothing to do with the spiritual world which is opposite for the Buddhist philosophy (Keown 84). Confucius only advice regarding the spiritual world is that it should only be respected but not offered anything more than that. An analogy can also be drawn from the teachings on parental respect. Confucius teachings have a lot to do with filial piety. “To take care and support one’s parents, to honor them and refrain from disgracing them or family’s name, elements that are in the form of filial piety” (Beng, par. 5). This can be compared to the “Mangala Sutta, the Budha discourse on blessings”, which teaches that if one support his parents then he will reap great blessings (Dhammananda, pars. 3-5). The practice of showing respect to parents and other elders is taught to children from infancy. However, these teachings are common in many Asian family setups and thus may be beyond Buddhism and Confucianism. The influence of Confucian teachings on the Chinese family structures enables one to understand why the practice more widespread among the Chinese.
A significance difference that distinguishes Buddhism from Confucian philosophy is the issue of epistemological justification. “Schools of the Confucian logic recognize various justifications for knowledge and seem to contrast with Buddhism’s recognition of smaller sets” (Schwartz 56, pars. 3-4). The Buddhist philosophy offers a “complex and counter intuitive account of mind and mental phenomena that is hardly seen in the Confucian philosophy” (Keown 45, pars. 5-7).
Finally, the teachings of Buddha had nothing to do with politics. Throughout his life, Buddha never attempted to offer political advice to the ruling caste. This is not the case with the Confucian philosophy which seemed to emphasize the role of leadership in effecting behavioral change in the people.
This paper sought to compare the philosophy Confucian to that of Buddhism. It has been revealed that the only comparable element of both philosophies is the ethical teachings which emphasized on the respect of parents and older individuals in the society. It has also been identified that the philosophy of Buddha was predominantly religion oriented and thus it may be regarded as a religion rather than a philosophy. As for the Confucian philosophy, secularism was predominant with emphasis being placed on good behavior in human conducts and interactions (Zhuan 3, pars 2-3). However, the Confucian philosophy approaches the idea of Supreme Being with a lot of respect that it makes some see it as a religion in itself.
Beng, Tang. “Buddhism Beliefs: Confucainism and Budhism.” The Buddhist Community. 2009. Web.
Dhammananda, Venerable. “What Buddhists Believe.” BuddhaSasana. 2010. Web.
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Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.
Keown, Damien. The Nature of Budhist Ethics. London: Macmillan, 1992. Print.
Schwartz, Benson. The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge : Harvard Unversity Press, 1985. Print.
Zhuan, Yi. “Confucain Philosophy.” China Culture. Org. 2003. Web.