Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
performers eventually would be trained to abide by the broader
conventions of public morality. Ritual performance was an important
key to ethical behavior and social order. Just as a ritual occasion has
certain positions and functions for its performers, so a moral society
had expectations of its members, and fastidious attention to the former
would lead to moral regeneration in the latter. In other words, ritual
performances were microcosms of society and the world; they were
miniaturized training grounds for living and functioning in the world
and bettering it. If one performed ritual often enough that one could
do it effortlessly, almost as second nature, an ethical and moral life
would also become second nature in one's life in society.
Confucius, then, emphasized ritual. He believed that ritual had
something important to teach people and that this had been well
understood during the early Zhou. Somehow this vision or under-
standing had been lost and now had to be recovered. In order to grasp
the essential importance of ritual, another quality was necessary, and
this he called ren. The basic meaning of ren is something like “benevo-
lence” or “humaneness” or “consummate humanity.” Confucius
regarded ren as an inward quality, a state of mind or heart that would
enable people to understand completely the importance of ritual per-
formance and apply it in their lives in society. He understood this
inward quality as encompassing kindness, compassion, mercy,
humanity, and perhaps many of the other virtuous, qualities we today
tend to identify in good, kindhearted people. For Confucius ren was
more than simple niceness or sentimentality. It was a profound
wisdom that would produce understanding of ritual and also become
the fundamental wellspring of the other virtues he often regarded
highly: loyalty, uprightness, frugality, and filial piety, or loving respect
for one's parents.
Without this ren, ritual performance could be largely pointless or
meaningless. People could, after all, go through the motions of ritual
or ceremony but not have their hearts in it, and they might even laugh
at it or find it pompous. The overall thrust of Confucius's teachings
concerned ren and its importance in ritual and ultimately in society.
Ren,andli closely associated with it, were the keys to restoring order
in China. But for all the importance he attached to it, Confucius never
really defined ren. Perhaps this was because he believed that ultimately
it was beyond words. Boiling ren down to a conceptual definition has
been left to Western scholars. According to Harvard's Benjamin
Schwartz, it “embraces all the social virtues and the capacity to perform
the li in the proper spirit” and is the “capacity tomake the individual act
well in all the encounters of social life” (Schwartz 1985, 75-76).
Search WWH ::

Custom Search