Confucianism Essay, Research Paper
Mencius vs Hsun Tzu
Is man naturally good or is he evil? This question has not only been pondered by countless philosophers, but also by religious leaders around the world. Most often a single religious faith believes in either one or the other, and often these beliefs tend to create a certain world-view which dictates much of the faith. However, in some cases such as the one I will be discussing, two religious dignitaries do not agree and the repercussions of this can be found throughout the religion. The two men are Mencius, an early pupil of Confucius and Hsun Tzu, a later follower of the same faith. Mencius believed that each man, born of woman, would be naturally good and Hsun Tzu believed almost the complete opposite. Through Mencius and Hsun Tzu s differing beliefs on human nature a completely different world view was formed for each and it s effect on their ideas and more importantly a young religion were apparent.
Before venturing into the essay, however, I would like to consider where this religion originated, and the meanings for it s existence as to better equip us to understand it s views. Confucianism as a religion was founded by Confucius, a man. It involves no superior beings other than man himself, and deals specifically with the interactions between fellow men. It also specializes on the actions a government (King) should take for it s people. The religion was founded by Confucian himself, he lived from 551 B.C.E. to approximately 479 B.C.E.. He was just a man with an opinion. His opinion sprung from his unhappiness with society and the fall it had taken from what it had been. It had changed to an empire where values were ignored, and the past was just that, the past. He foresaw a proud China with values restored, and humility made once again important. Confucian s main ideas were to adapt the good things from the past to the technology of today. The good things he speaks of are a government where the King is like a loving father to the people, where the King would protect his people and the people in turn would follow the King.
Mencius and Hsun Tzu (Xunzi) were two later teachers of the Confucius ideas, but each had their own twist to what Confucius had started. Not much is known about Mencius or Hsun Tzu, but some basic information stirs around various interpretations of their works. Mencius was found to be one of the most important pupils of Confucius, he continued his work and added many new outlooks and clarity to some of Confucius teachings. Hsun Tzu, on the other hand, was a very well journeyed man. He had been surrounded by war, involved in politics and had a much greater variety of experience than that of Mencius or Confucius. Hsun Tzu came be a few years after Mencius death and put a spin on Confucian beliefs and ideas. The difference in their beliefs is where the faith is defined, through the teachings of Mencius and Hsun Tzu a large problem arose. This problem was their views on human nature. Their differing ideas came to shape Confucianism into what it is today, and their differing world-views can explain a lot about their teachings.
When dealing with these two ideas, we must first decipher what is meant by nature in the sense that Mencius and Hsun Tzu discuss. They are calling nature all the abilities that man is born with, the instincts which make a man human. Gut feelings, emotions and passions that are instilled in every human being from the moment of their conception. And finally a world-view is, as philosophers would call it, an idea with which other ideas are based. An idea which influences basic decision making and general way of life of any individual.
As Mencius and Hsun Tzu begin their respective teachings, the difference is immediate.
It is painfully obvious when reading the two that each has their own view on things, and this world-view, shapes how they approach Confucian ideas. Mencius states No man is devoid of a heart sensitive to the suffering of others. while Hsun Tzu states just as easily Man s nature is evil . .. . With these two statements one can see where problems would arise. Mencius is looking at the world through the eyes of an optimistic, loving and maybe even naive person. While Hsun Tzu seems to be more pessimistic, harsh and lacks faith in humanity. However further analysis is necessary. Mencius refers to a story of man who, when coming upon a boy about to fall into a well, he immediately rushes to his assistance, with no thought of personal gain only of the boys safety. While when Hsun Tzu says that man s nature is ultimately evil, he is saying that every man is driven by his desires, and these desires are for himself, and himself alone. They are not for society as a whole or even honorable, they are nothing more than petty, unrefined emotions. With these thoughts in mind Mencius will view the world in terms of humanity which should be working off of it s natural abilities, compassionate heart, heart capable of shame and respect, and the heart of right and wrong. While, Hsun Tzu, a humanity which should fight it s nature at every turn. With these two basic world-views now known, one can better understand their teachings.
From this one must ask, how can a man become corrupted In Mencius view and how can a man can become righteous in Hsun Tzu s view? Mencius discussed the story of Ox Mountain, at one point the mountain was full of trees and alive, but day in and day out animals from the area came and grazed and ate all the life that was there, eventually the Mountain was bare again. This Mencius connects to man s good nature. He says that man, while born good, is constantly picked at by humanity. Every day he is confronted with the easy path, the wrong path and will every day be effected by it. Mencius believes man must observe the ritual s and work at keeping his humanity sharp. Therefore creating the bad where there was good. Now on the other hand Hsun Tzu says Goodness is the result of conscious activity in essence that only if a man is consciously aware of his nature and fights it constantly can he possibly become good. By fighting his nature Hsun Tzu is saying man must be instructed by a teacher, learn the right path and observe the proper ritual s. Both here lead to the same end. Both Mencius and Hsun Tzu teach that the only way to preserve/achieve goodness in man is through teachers (sages, former Kings) or through ethical forms of behaviors.
After distinguishing between world views one must now consider where these world views take the religion. As Confucianism deals often with how governments should be run, and what steps should be taken to ensure a good ruling class, that is an excellent place to start. When discussing the class structure of China Hsun Tzu commented on a system which was loosely based on something we would now call an aristocracy, ruling by the best. While he didn t challenge too many King s outright he did, however, state that those who are seen to be good and have potential should be immediately be lifted up to their potential status and those that didn t should not have time wasted on them. While Mencius said, during a conversation with speaking to King Hsuan of Ch i;
How Virtuous must a man be before he can become a true King?
He becomes a true King by bringing peace to the people…
Through this Mencius shows his world-views, he is saying that a man can become a true King, by making this statement he is attempting to allow the King to himself realize that in order to be a good King he must be a virtuous person. And as he has previously stated being a virtuous person means excepting and enriching the heart. Here both of Mencius and Hsun Tzu s world view come into play, Mencius shows that he is willing to teach and educate anyone in order for them to better serve society as a whole and Hsun Tzu does not wish to waste time on the weak and unimportant and only seems to wish to help the best become better.
Societal life is such a major part of the Confucian belief system, the views of Mencius and Hsun Tzu were very apparent here. Mencius states that a man is generous by nature, and any man who does not deny his own potential will give and be generous whenever possible. Hsun Tzu said that a natural man who is generous, and has not been given the proper teachings, is only doing it for his own gain, he will give to make himself feel good, or for some other undignified reason. With these beliefs a King would in essence be true if and only if he served his people for their benefit and not in any way for his own. Mencius would agree with Hsun Tzu s ideas on this issue as when he discusses it with various Kings he often tells them to treat their subjects like his children, him being the father. This idea would produce a society where everyone would work together towards a common goal. The father would respect the subjects and also the subjects would respect the father, creating a unified Kingdom. Hsun Tzu s views however are somewhat different, he believes in a society where the King is the greatest of all possible rulers, he should be respected only because of this fact alone. He should be treating just like he would
After distinguishing between World-views and discussing how they can severely effect how a person thinks and acts, the connection to the Confucian tradition must be drawn. While the two quarreling teachers of the tradition taught they deepened the roots of li, and showed what a true jun-zi was through their examples. However, the creation of these different ideas must have created some problems among the followers of the faith. Similarly, where they confused some members, they forced others to think. Through this thinking strength was created, as each member of the faith put thought into their beliefs and traditions. From this, I believe, a greater understanding and devotion to the faith was created.
While Mencius and Hsun Tzu had largely differing ideas their effects on the growth and understanding of Confucianism were apparent. Mencius himself through his teachings greatly expanded on what his mentor, Confucian, had said. He stuck with the main ideas but allowed his information to travel and wrote work from Confucian and his own articles on many issues related to Confucian beliefs. Some may argue that Hsun Tzu s impact was equally important. Hsun Tzu, through his teachings, brought meaning to li, as Confucian had originally theorized about. He transformed what most Chinese people did in their normal routine. While Mencius and Confucius preached about li and it s importance in society, Hsun Tzu implemented it. By the end of Hsun Tzu s journey the li was not only an idea but a standard to be followed for all Chinese youth. An easy way to see the differences between Mencius and Hsun Tzu is this, Mencius believed that nature was good and nurture was important only to re-enforce what was already there. While Hsun Tzu believed that nature was bad and that the nurturing effects of teaching and work were the only way to overcome mans natural disadvantage.
Their constantly disagreeing nature has forced many Confucian s to examine their faith more independently and made Confucianism a religion for the thinkers, not just the faithful worshipers.
In Conclusion, the works of Mencius and Hsun Tzu drastically altered how many people though of the Confucian tradition and how governments of the time were run. By the end of their lives Confucianism was a strong and stable religion that has survived even up to now, and it s beliefs continue to grow as the world does. Influential speakers like this show various parallels to saints and profits in the Catholic faith and maybe even miniature representations of Gods in faiths like Hinduism. Their impact was at least as large as any of those. Footnotes