The Chinese people and several other people of East Asia and South- East Asia have had the privilege of having grown in the shadow of Confucian thought. Confucius (551- 479 BC.) lived in an age of flux and chaos, which was further characterized by a loss of values and morality. Confucius analyzed the malaise from which Chinese society suffered and proceeded to offer a whole system of ethics, at once A deriving from the ancient culture and philosophy of China and the basis on which the rebuilding of Chinese society could be attempted.
The present study presents a statement of the philosophical content of Confucianism and its development and interpretation by later Chinese scholars. The thought I system was further adapted in later times as Neo-Confucianism, although it retained the essence of Confucius’ philosophical contribution. It remained the foundation of Chinese culture and went deep into the making of the Chinese peoples psyche. The Communist leaders of the Peoples Republic of China under Mao Zedong (1893-1976) did not succeed in destroying Confucianism; his successors abandoned Mao’s hostility to Confucius and let the Chinese people bask and glow in the ethical excellence of the Confucian thought system.
Meeta Nath graduated and post- graduated in philosophy from Indraprastha College, University of Delhi. She took her M.Phil. from the Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi, for a dissertation on "The notion of religious belief in Gandhi and Wittgenstein: A Comparison."’ She went on to study "The study of notion of ahimsa in the teachings of Buddha and Gandhi: A Comparison"' for her Ph.D. from the Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi. She was research associate at the Centre for the study of Developing Societies, where she worked with Professor C. Douglas Lummis, chair Professor at Rajni Kothari Chair in Democracy. She has been Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Ramjas College, University of Delhi.
My main aim in this work has been to give a comprehensive account of Confucius and Confucianism and its relevance in the present world. Over the last several years I have been working on a comparative study of the ethical thought systems of Confucius and Gandhi. In India there is no dearth of information or writing on Gandhi and his thought system. Those of us who set out to study any aspect of Gandhi’s thought find plenty of material, especially the corpus of Gandhi’s own writings and speeches in the Collected Works. There is a great deal from which one can select and choose according to one’s concerns and interest.
Confucius has not received much attention from Indian scholars. One is driven to take recourse to writings by Chinese and Western authors on Confucius and on Chinese philosophy generally. Chinese philosophy has been a subject of study in India for at least three generations, beginning with Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan, where a whole China Bhavan was established to direct attention to Chinese studies, including Chinese philosophy. Even so, one has not heard of much work on Chinese philosophy by Indian scholars.
In the course of my reading to familarize myself with Chinese philosophy and with Confucius’ thought in particular, I had to read rather widely. I was fascinated by Confucius thoughts and its impact on whole Chinese I culture. Confucius holds a. place no less than Buddha and Jesus Chirst in the history of mankind. The material collected by me from various sources was so variegated as well as so voluminous that it became clear that I had a veritable mine of information on Chinese philosophy. The present study is a modest outcome of that effort. The study of the source material on Chinese philosophy has been in some respects somewhat of an eye opener for me because often came upon references in Confucius’ works that related to his own times but it seemed to apply with equal validity to our own times as well as to Chinese and non- Chinese societies. It is the central concern of this study to request attention to this aspect of Confucius’ contribution to Chinese philosophy and its relevance in our own times. At the same time it is apposite to remember that Confucius himself did not write anything. All that we know of his thought is from what his disciples remembered as their conversations with him during his lifetime and what they wrote down after he passed on. What they wrote often took the aspect of a presentation of Conti1cius` thought on some part of his concerns, doubtless are seen by the author of the writing. In a sense, therefore, such writing almost became a commentary as well. It has been said, perhaps with a touch of exaggeration, that all Chinese philosophy is a series of commentaries on Confucius.
Confucianism began in China some 2, 500 years ago as a system of ethical behaviour and social responsibility that became the great tradition of East Asia. It played an important role in the evolution of Chinese culture over the centuries. It gave continuity to the old civilization of China, which far from becoming extinct at any stage in its development, showed vitality and capacity for adaptation and survival. The significance of Confucianism thus also lies in its power of adaptation. It has been constantly re- born and re-oriented. There is room for hope that the best in Confucianism will find its place in a new cultural synthesis that will save it from exhaustion and extinction.
In Confucianism there is at least a measure of truth: philosophical truth remains forever. The teaching of Confucius has had and continues to have a great effect on Chinese culture through the ages down to modern times. For twenty-five centuries. Confucianism has been the dominant philosophical system of the Chinese society and of all its institutions, including government and bureaucracy, and has moulded Chinese thought and social mores as well Chinese national character. It continues to have a great hold on the Chinese people. It has also influenced nearby countries and has made its mark in the history of world religion as well. Confucianism spread to Chinese communities in East and Southeast Asia. The impact of Chinese culture spread over the centuries to Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia; to this day the values of Confucianism can be found in those societies too.
My principal handicap in making this study has been that I do not read Chinese. I was lucky to find the Chinese Classics all translated several times over by different authors over the last hundred years and more. Several European scholars devoted enormous attention and labour to Chinese philosophical writings and placed future generations under a deep debt by offering extensive translations and annotations. It has been a truly humbling experience to delve into the work of all those authors. Without their work it would have been impossible for me to form such understanding of Chinese philosophy as I have managed to form as a result of my study.
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