Within the realm of Eastern ethical philosophy, the various schools that emerged later from the overarching traditions sought to answer the question who I ought to be? through expanding upon the ancient texts and key figures. In this paper, we seek to examine the question stated above through the lenses of Confucianism and Hinduism, notably the philosophical school of Vedanta. These two ancient powerhouses of intellectual thoughts diverge into extensive branches, but in this paper, we restrict our bounds to the core principles and branches that are prominent within their respective origin.
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Confucian tenets establish the structure of a virtuous self through the hierarchy of thoughts, feelings, and actions all guided by the extent of knowledge. The answer to the question posed above centralizes around the ultimate purpose of self-realization that delineates the essential concept of self-cultivation. A person with the highest of virtue, or a superior person (Junzi), exhibits the noble traits in all facets of life such that through the constant reflection of oneself, one attains sources of knowledge to cultivate the triad of propriety, virtue, and righteousness. From the classic words of Confucius, the self evolves through appropriating societal rituals, thus, is self-formed. The sense of self-cultivation through propriety (li) tends to the prescribed moral conducts that safeguard the structured hierarchical relationships to yield the highest goods for the society. In order to refine one’s propriety, a constant re-evaluation and conquering of one’s impulses should reverberate society’s notion of proper conduct.
This manifestation of a subdued self nurtures external forces that ground moral laws on social wellbeing. In that aspect, the Confucian structure of ethics that emphasizes propriety as an active guiding principle can be regarded as a part of deontological ethics. Therefore, self-cultivation in Confucianism relies heavily on the awareness of the relation of oneself to others that underlines the representation of identity.
The vastness and depth of Hinduism certainly makes the answer to our question who I ought to be? less straightforward due to its nature of being a pluralistic theory. Thus, to restrict such extensiveness, we mainly concern ourselves with the classical school of Vedanta, notably the Advaita Vedanta. In the quest of self-realization, Advaita Vedanta upholds the nonduality between an individual soul (atman) and Brahman, the highest level for the achievement of self-consciousness.
Therefore, the phrase atman is Brahman predisposes a notion for one to be inward looking and practice asceticism so that self-knowledge and unification with Brahman are attained. The concept of self reflects the monism that lies within Brahman which distinguish atman from the inherent misconception of personal identity that pervades humanity through ignorance and illusion (maya). The ultimate goal of self-realization in attaining atman, even though its nature remains incomprehensible and beyond words, advocates the surrendering of one’s individual self to the absolute Brahman. The deconstruction of this disillusioned perception of self focuses on the process of self-inquiry through the practice of Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga to reach the unchanging manifestation of atman and the unification with Brahman.
The Confucian’s structure of ethics, centers around the hierarchical system of human relationships that establishes moral obligations through conducts, champions the notion of Junzi as a master of self-cultivation. In contrast to the focus on the anthropogenic regulations of a self in Confucianism, Advaita Vedanta grounds its fundamental belief in the non-dualistic nature between the true self and the all-encompassing reality, Brahman. The reliance on moral conducts to subdue oneself reflects the ideal Confucian structured society that yields the highest wellbeing and establishes harmony.
While the doctrines of Advaita Vedanta emphasizes the harmonious union with the true self through the deconstruction of maya-like consciousness, the obligation towards societal norms is deemed as insignificant in the attainment of liberation. Though presenting different fundamental teleological arguments, the process of inward looking and self-examination pose as common constructions in achieving the highest goal within Confucianism and the school of Advaita Vedanta.
The practice of inward looking for these two systems, however, differs in the mechanisms. A superior man, according to Confucius, by reflecting upon the right virtues, subdues his impulses and contributes towards a harmonious society through acquiring knowledge, that in turn, leads to the right thoughts, feelings, and actions. The state of transcending through the distinctions, put forth by the illusive appearances of Brahman in the Advaita teaching, reaches the state of consciousness in the true self that is truly beyond words. Thus, the source in which one should look inward for the highest self diverges significantly between Confucianism and Advaita Vedanta, one involves the integration into a structured society, and the other seeks a higher state that transcends the imperial world.
The complexity of the pluralistic nature in Hinduism relies less on the interpretation of the goodness of oneself, but instead suggests the mystical notion of a self with a system of higher truth or being. In the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, this higher self lies in the attainment of atman which unifies with the all-embracing Brahman. For Confucianism, the emphasis of being a superior man lies on the structure of virtue exhibited in self and others. Among these two schools of philosophy, the narrow perception of personal identity arises as a consequence of attaining a higher state of self. The rigid social structure that champions propriety in Confucianism and the surrendering of a personal identity to Brahman in Advaita Vedanta yield little for the conceptions of individuality and personal needs.
Confucian Tenets Establish The Structure. (2019, Jul 01).
Retrieved November 26, 2022 , from
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