Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Understanding Ceremony and Ritual in Confucianism

Ceremony and ritual are concepts in Confucianism that are at the center of any discussion of its moral code.  The columnist in the Cultural of Life column in the Peace Weekly introduces us to the Confucian view of life. The aspect of ritual or ceremony so  intimately connected with Confucianism has a relationship with society that we  may tend to disregard and see only ceremony and ritual. It is a relationship with others and with heaven.

The character for ritual in Chinese is 禮, which can be explained simply. On  the left is  the icon for heaven--the stars, moon and sun hanging from the heavens; on the right-side top, a dish filled with food, bottom right the stand on which it is placed.  

 All of life has a connection with natural life. Humans are dependent on other forms of life for existence. The columnist writes that human life is not satisfied with just life but wants to go out to other life in search of nobility. Human life shows us that societal life is an important dimension of our humanity. Accordingly, the individual finds meaning in life especially in ritual, that is, in relationship with others in ceremonial encounters.

Ritual is connected with sacrifice and with social life. When we are not engaging with others in society, we are thought not to be living an authentic life, and are barely escaping death. Society asks us to live authentically. When we don't know the meaning of life, we are just existing. The meaning of human life is concretely shown by our living in society. This understanding, the columnist says, is not easy to realize. Confucius said he didn't know the will of God until he was 50 years old.

Humans are questioning people. Questions about life and death are always with us.  Confucius received a question about death and answered: "If we don't understand life, how can we understand death?"Questions about death are all contained in life. When we are dead to others, life is not worth living. There is no meaning to life and, according to Confucianism, we are a 'dead person' in society.

Confucius wanted his disciples to move into the life of society and not to remain in an individual life. To live with others he considered the just way to act. We can only understand the meaning of our own life when that life is lived among others. Individual life is given its generative meaning by life in society. The columnist concludes that the Confucian traditional societal vision of life is that our lives are given meaning by our life in society. And that this vision, because it is in harmony with  justice, will teach us what an ideal society should look like.

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