Monday, January 24, 2011

Political Morality and Confucianism: The Interpretation of Li, Yi and Ren - Dr. Ravindra Kumar

Li, Yi and Ren, the three principles, fully imbued with morality, and propounded by Confucius, the matchless Chinese thinker, constitutes the fundamentals of his philosophy known as Confucianism. I am of the opinion that akin to Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism these principles may also be hailed as the Triratnas of Confucian philosophy. Moreover, Li, Yi and Ren are all inter connected with the bond of morality and forms the broad basis of human equality. Therefore, due to their presence, Confucian philosophy becomes peerless, important and significant. This is because morality is one of the principal foundations of civilized life; in other words, it is one of the fundamentals of civilization. Without morality civilization is meaningless. Confucius not only emphasized upon its necessity in life, but also laid great stress on its inclusion in routine practices. He proclaimed morality to be indispensable for human existence and urged to make life more meaningful and significant through its adoption in day-to-day practices. How? To comprehend this let us analyze Confucianism, accepting Li, Yi and Ren as its Ratnatreya, particularly starting with Ren, which, despite being placed at last is, in fact, the foremost among them.
Ren: The principle of Ren is based on understanding others and expressing sympathy towards fellow human beings. There is no discrimination in this principle on the basis of low and high or poor and rich. The principle may be applied to one and all. According to Confucius, this is the best equality-based worldly human practice, and in comparison to any of the declared divine orders, it is the source of true and stable morality. The one who carries out his day-to-day practices by staying within the scope of Ren, in fact, lives well and justifiably. Furthermore, it marks the golden state of life. It is the best, most effective and practical way of ensuring harmony, equality and unity among human beings in the true spirit of Confucius who believed, “Behave with juniors in the same manner in which you want seniors to behave with you.”
Yi: Yi means thereby justified, and/or pious. It originates from Ren in which a human being detaches himself entirely from self-interests and carries out his routine practices adhering to the norms of justice. Thus, he bears a good conduct and embarks briskly on the pathway to morality. By doing so, he sets an example for others to emulate and is, thereby able to sail through the warp and woof of the society with the help of morality. He, by dint of his common practices and virtuous acts ascends to the peak of humanity. Hence, he not only emerges as a source of inspiration for others to lead a consequential life, but also revitalizes and strengthens the civilized life, at the same time he adds to the treasures of civilization. \
Li: Li has originated from Yi. It is the root of human behaviour as it leads a man towards the good or evil. It is, in a way, Li, which acts as the basis of routine progress as well as of creating prosperity and worth for one’s existence. Confucius, in fact, refining the old Chinese tradition pertaining to Li as per the demand of time, associated it with day-to-day human practices, in other words, with humanity and called for the creation of a society based on its ideals.
Hence, all three of Confucian principles, viz., Li, Yi and Ren are closely linked to each other. Each is rather the genesis and sustenance of the other. All three create high morality at the individual and social levels and pave the way for happy and prosperous living with a sense of responsibility in prevailing circumstances. Needless to say, the virtuous human deeds and the highest level of morality constitute the nuclei of the whole process. Consequently, they may be hailed as the Triratnas as well as the fundamentals of Confucian philosophy.
Importance and Relevance in the Current Perspective
It is clear that the Triratnas - Li, Yi and Ren - of Confucian philosophy are dedicated to the highest level of morality. In other words, they instill a human being with ethical values and inspire him to perform virtuous acts. Not only this, they show the way to follow morality through day-to-day practices and mutual dealings. As stated already, morality is an essential condition for a civilized life. Like Ahimsa and freedom it is one of the fundamentals of human civilization, therefore, its importance and significance cannot be minimized. Rather, the more we incorporate morality in our daily routines and accept it as a duty at individual and social levels, the more we contribute towards the prosperity and solidarity of society.
It is the law of nature that every worldly thing undergoes change and refinement as per the demand of time and space. Every thought or view comes within the domain of this law. Therefore, in this constant process of change morality also cannot be an exception to this law. In this regard, Confucius himself, refining the old Chinese concept pertaining to morality in the prevailing circumstances of his own time, called for making it a part of daily human practices. Contrary to the view popular in the Chinese society of his own times that morality is a divine grace, Confucius made it clear that it was consequent of human behaviour. Therefore, under any state of affairs man should not get away from it. Rather, accepting morality as an essential part of his duty one must ascertain that:
1. It works for the growth of harmony in society; and
2. No one is deprived of her/his freedom under its cover.
This is the essence of Triratnas of Confucian philosophy. Undoubtedly, the principles of Li, Yi and Ren, are as important and relevant even today as they were in the time of Confucius himself. Not only this, they will continue to be relevant likewise in the times to come, if accepted in their refined form under prevailing situations and as per the demands of time.
Confucianism, its Triratnas and Political Morality
An important feature of Confucian philosophy can be seen in its laying stress on political morality. In this regard, Confucius, particularly stated that the people in rule should carry out their administrative activities on the basis of spirit in the root of Ren. As already discussed, being the source of true morality and based on human equality, Ren is the leading principle of Confucianism. It also points out that the best rule could be the one in which pressure and partialities have no place. This statement along with his emphasizing on accepting Ren as the guiding force in carrying out administrative activities, is really relevant and significant even today for fair and smooth working of a democracy, especially to determine that those in public life follow morality and ethics, and values that are essential for the success of the democracy. In the contemporary times of corruption, eroding values, crass materialism and violent assertions of the individualistic notions of the society, the three valuable principles of Confucianism, if practiced diligently can go a long way refilling the vacuity of political morality, created by the degenerating practices of modern civilization.

Education and Peace: A Gandhian Perspective - Dr. Ravindra Kumar

“By education I mean an all-round drawing out of the best in child and man-body, mind and spirit. Literacy is not the end of education or even the beginning.” –M. K. Gandhi [Harijan: July 31, 1937]  
            Education certainly is a means to all-round progress of man. In other words, the pathway to human-development goes through the lanes of education. Moreover, true education is the sole basis of achieving one’s purpose in life. It is education, which can ascertain ultimate peace for a human being.
            Needless to say, the importance of education in man’s life cannot be described in words. In addition, the essence of all the ancient scriptures, messages of scholars and thinkers of repute have always categorically expounded the significance of education in human life. By illustrating the mutual relationship between the education and peace, they have also declared education as the means and basis of peace. Furthermore, they enlighten people of the importance of education in all walks of life, in particular, its role in making life prosperous and peaceful under the prevailing circumstances. Further, the implications in the absence of true education, especially in creating an atmosphere of disharmony and conflict are examined. In this regard the following Shloka from an oldest Hindu scripture is worth quoting here:
            “माता शत्रु पिता वैरी येन बालो न पाठितः न शोभते सभा मध्ये हंस मध्ये वाको यथा”
Mata Shatru Pita Vairi Yen Balo Na Pathitah, Na Shobhate Sabha Madhye Hans Madhye Vako Yatha
            [Meaning thereby: The parent who does not facilitate and guide their child for studies is like the greatest enemy of the child. The presence of an uneducated person in the company of educated people is like a goose in the company of swans.]
            The utility, significance and importance of education are inevitable at all levels in all walks of life. It develops into the most beautiful and valuable ornament of human life. 
            Now, before further discussion regarding mutual relations between education and peace, we should understand the meaning and purpose of the both-education and peace-separately. To do so with particularly emphasis on the Gandhian view is important and considered the prudent approach for this article. 
Education: The English meaning for education is derived from the Latin word ‘Educare’, which further relates to ‘Educere’, the symbolic of manifestation or expression. This definition reveals the inner capability of man that guides him continuously at various levels. The whole process, which leaves an impact upon the mind, character and physical strength, plays a vital role in human development. It accords continuity to intellect, knowledge and values, which provides the base and scope of education. 
            If we analyse education from the Indian viewpoint, education [Shiksha] is one of the six Vedangas.1 Clarity of understanding and systematic method or the orders, which are the basics for the all-round development of one’s personality, are within its domain. Hence, the educational process is fully dedicated to continuity; it is for growth or for accumulation; it is the means to lead a human being on the pathway to prosperity in prevailing circumstances on the basis of knowledge and accomplishments.
Peace: The use of popular English word ‘peace’ can be found in words like ‘Pax’ [Vulgate], ‘Eirene’ [Greek] and ‘Shalom’ [Hebrew]. Besides desiring harmony in day-to-day human practices at individual and social levels, the urge for a situation free from conflicts and struggles is derived here. Generally, a situation free from tension, struggle, dispute or conflict, particularly in socio-economic spheres, is considered the state of peace in this context. This phenomenon signifies the absence of fight or war between or among the nations and is generally the accepted notion of peace at the international level. It is almost the same in the Indian perspective. Popular Hindi words, which are derived from Samskrit, such as ‘Vishram’, ‘Nivriti’, ‘Nistabdha’ and ‘Ananda’ are used to describe a state of peace.
           Despite this similarity between the Western and Indian perspectives, peace is not a motionless state even according to ancient philosophical thought. Peace is not a situation of the status quo. The state of peace provides man the pathway to progress in a tension-free atmosphere. Within a state of peace, efforts are made for healthy co-existence to extend the welfare of the people. Therefore, the state of peace is in fact dynamic. It fills people with enthusiasm and inspires them to move forward. 
Education and Peace: Evidently education is the basis for the all-round development of man; it is the means of developing his personality. Moreover, it is the process that helps make one’s life purposeful. All constructive and welfaristic conditions that may be required for the purpose are also inherent in this process. Similarly, peace, despite a state free from dispute, conflict and war, is also an active and dynamic state in which there is a call to go forward. New benefits are expected in a state of peace. It is the pathway to progress without any fear and confusion. Therefore, one can say that education and peace are linked to one-another. They supplement each other as both contribute to the development and welfare of each and every human being on this planet. 
Gandhian View: According to Mahatma Gandhi, education is an unending exercise [filled with devotion-Sadhana]2 till death. For him, only education can act as a means to a successful life. Likewise, “education can help mould and shape the human body, mind and character in such a manner that they may act as the means to achieve joy and efficiency.”3
           Categorically, education as expounded through Gandhi’s imagination and explanation is a means to guide and lead a human-being from his birth to death. It helps man achieve his goal. The goal however, according to many philosophies including the Vedic-Hindu, could be the attainment of the Mukti or Moksha, or Nirvana [liberation] that it is considered as the highest stage of peace.
           Furthermore, the imagination and explanation of Mahatma Gandhi about education could be better comprehended by the following statement of Kishorelal Mashruwala4:
           “[This] works for the all-round growth of man right from the beginning till the end. Its ultimate aim is to turn human knowledge into his ability. It is for the purpose of making his life worthy and meaningful, and it is not only for earning his livelihood.”5
Mahatma Gandhi wrote many articles on education from time-to-time. On several occasions, besides addressing students and teachers, he issued worthy statements regarding its meaning, purpose and importance in life. We can draw the following viewpoint particularly for the purpose of this short article:
1. The prime aim of education is to make a man self-dependent;
2. The purpose of education is to make the one efficient and skilful; and
3. The objective of education is to guide and lead him to the pathway to progress in the prevailing situation of space and as per the demand of time so that he could ascertain his physical and mental development to achieve a goal in life for himself on the one hand and he could equally contribute to the society, nation and the globe on the other.
            After analysing the above three points, it can be said with certainty that the Gandhian concept of education is one of the most important views on the subject for us today. This concept urges for man to be self-dependent, skilful and efficient. Thereby, his goal and objective, to achieve true education will be open. Not only this, the Gandhian view of education can play the vital role in the establishment of peace not only at the national level but also at the international level. 
1. The six Vedangas are in fact the six auxiliary disciplines traditionally associated with the study and understanding of the Vedas [four in number]. They are Shiksha, Kalpa [ritual], Vyakarna [grammar], Nirukta [etymology], Chandas [meter] and Jyotisha [astronomy].
2. For, he used the words ‘Akhand Sadhana’. Particularly, the word Sadhana has a broad and deep meaning; besides being important in human life, it is a well-known concept in Indian philosophy. Saadhana: [साधना], in fact, is also the way or a means of accomplishing something through spiritual practice, which includes not only a variety of disciplines of the Vedic-Hindu tradition, also the Jain, Buddhist and Sikh traditions followed in order to achieve certain spiritual objectives, or ultimately the Moksha or Nirvana  [salvation], the goal of human life. 
3. Kumar, Ravindra. 1999. Essays on Gandhism and Peace, page 10. Meerut [India]: Krishna Publication.      
4. Kishorlal Mashruwala [1890-1952], a freedom fighter, Gandhian scholar and thinker was the editor of Harijan weekly started by the Mahatma. 
5. Kumar, Ravindra. 1999. Essays on Gandhism and Peace, page 10. Meerut [India]: Krishna Publication.