Posted by: Andrew G | March 5, 2010

Confucianism – Dignity in Ritual

There is a Monty Python skit that pits the intellectual giants of Ancient Greece against the intense philosophers of 18th and 19th century Germany in a soccer match [or football match, for the European surfers out there]. The ref is K’ung Fu Tzu (Confucius) and his two linesmen are St. Augustine and St. Aquinas.

Here’s the youtube clip. I’ll give the ending away, the Greeks win (and the part played by Confucius is kind of small).

The job of referee is quite appropriate really. Confucius was a teacher and later a judicial minister in China around 500 BCE. Interestingly enough, Lao-Tse, Confucius and Buddha all lived and taught around this same time. It kind of fits that the three practices should work well enough together so swimmingly. Like the other two, Confucianism is often considered more of a philosophy rather than a religion.

Confucius was somewhat fixated on personal morality and the use of political power by a nation’s rulers. There are six virtues taught in the Confucian school or morality:

Li – ritual manners, a way of showing respect

Hsiao – family-oriented love between parents and children

Yi – righteousness

Xin – honesty

Chung – loyalty, especially to community or even state

Jen – kindness or gifts out of generosity (possibly the highest virtue, if we were to make a hierarchy from them)

Through the practice of these virtues the individual could function well in society without having to be punished for transgressions against the law. Confucious was particularly interested in the smooth, maybe even efficient, running of society.


Ritual and order make up a great deal of Confucianism. One saying attributed to Confucius goes like this, “If the mat is not straight, the Master does not sit.”

(Awfully serious, and a touch anal-retentive, eh? Must be his teachery background. But hey, it works. People need order and respect in their lives, otherwise life can get really annoying…)

A lot of pithy little proverbs are attributed to Confucius. They are worth conscious consideration even though many have become part of the background noise of advice that each of us receives through the public domain of general conversation.

Here are some examples:

Ability will never catch up with the demand for it. – Confucius

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.Confucius

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.Confucius

Please check out more of his proverbs here or through searches on the interwebs.

For a more in-depth look into some of the writings, this site might be a good primer.

And of course, there is

As well, a recent search has offered up this good resource for quick summaries of the world religions


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