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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 BC) 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 norms.

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 counterforce’s: 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 between Yin and Yang. Any change in either part will lead to a change in the system and related systems. The 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 interrelated network situation; the mean position is regarded as the most strategic position form which one can deal with change. Tao (Truth) exists in mean (Chung).

d) The respondence of Yin and Yang forces – that is, are the counterforce’s 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 existence, and 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 others.

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 concepts.

7. Organizational effectiveness and efficiency are reached when 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 whole.

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, cross-cultural, 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 His (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.


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