Confucius Day was recently commemorated by people and institutions extolling the teachings of the Chinese sage, and Prof. Lino Baron of the University of Sto. Tomas wrote a timely article in the Manila Times about Confucianism, an ethical-socio-political philosophy and ideology that has strongly influenced Chinese, Korean, and Japanese governments and societies.
Though its impact is mostly felt in Northeast Asian countries, Confucianism has also influenced other countries. In Southeast Asia, Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew is a well-known advocate of Confucianism and I remember his son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, on an interview with Bloomberg’s Charlie Rose, saying that “Singapore is governed according to the precepts of Confucianism”. In the Philippines, Confucianism as applied in the body politic has attracted many followers as well. Among the many advocates of Confucianism that I know is the founder of the Asian Institute of Management, Mr. Washington SyCip and Philippine Star columnist and real estate businessman Wilson Lee Flores.
Prof. Baron’s article “Confucianism and its relevance to Filipino thoughts” was first posted in the Manila Times and I have asked his permission to repost it here on PH.CN for my subscribers reading pleasure. Below is the complete text of his article.
Many philosophers of ancient China, who taught the proper way of life, wielded the strong influence of Chinese culture in the field of the people’s spiritual life and their relation with nature and fellowmen. During those times, the teachings and doctrine of these philosophers were considered the basis of life of the people with the family and the society and molded the leaders and the spiritual lives of many. With their wisdom and untiring search for knowledge, ideologies were produced and the religious beliefs and political tenets saw light.
One of the philosophers was Confucius. His teachings still greatly influence the human relations of Asia and are the foundation of family life. In many other parts of the world the wisdom of Confucius has gained ready acceptance. An emphasis upon moral principles as the basis of harmony in the home, in society, and among nations is contrary to Buddhist thought but is both Confucianism and Christianity.
The life and teachings of Confucius has been the subject of an enormous writing, much of it highly fanciful. Arthur Waley, the great translator of Confucian texts, concludes that “one could construct half a dozen other Confuciuses by tapping the legend at different stages of its evolution. What is known of the original man is drawn from the Analects (Lun Yu) and from a brief eulogistic biography written by China’s most famous historian, Ssu-ma Chien, who lived three hundred years after Confucius.”
Confucius, born 551 years before Jesus Christ in Tsou, a small town in the old state of Lu (which today is known as Shandong province), worked for the restoration of the glory of the Chou dynasty as his life-long crusade. For historians, this is quite a paradox, for as men reached the apex of his development during the Chou dynasty, so did man’s inhumanity reached its zenith.
These puzzling questions remind us of the Philippine situation today. A quick glance at the headlines of the newspapers will underscore the alarming reality of our time: blatant corruption in high places, grinding poverty among the greater majority, heinous crimes with the hapless children, women and old people as victims and an escalating apathy among the youth who see no hope in their country’s future.
In our anger, shame and desperation, we are driven to shake our fist at the universe and ask why, despite the advancement in technology and science, our society is still mired in the quagmire of violence and crass opportunism. We cannot wait for a child as pure as crystal who will save the country from doom. What we can do is examine our frames of mind, the wellspring of our thoughts, our national psyche in order to get the root of this discomfort.
In the Lun Yun or Book of Analects, comprised of wise saying that embody Confucius’ ethical principle, it is stated:
“Each day I examine myself on three counts: whether or not I am loyal to those in whose behalf I act; whether or not I am trustworthy in my dealing with friends; whether or not I practice what is imparted.”
From this passage alone, we glean what are preeminent in Confucian thoughts as a foundation of the life of perfect goodness: sincerity, benevolence, filial piety and propriety. These are the very values which should govern Filipino thoughts towards the attainment of harmony and peace in our beleaguered society.
In the ancient days before Spain’s colonization of the Philippines, these were values esteemed highly by the Filipinos who traded freely with the Chinese. It is chronicled in the Sung Annals of 982 AD that Chinese merchants value their commerce with our ancestors because they always honored their end of the bargain. They would leave their wares by the shore of the islands, which the natives would pick up and barter inland. After three to six months, they would return with recompense of abundant goods that was well worth the long wait by the traders. There were no written contracts and recorded ledgers, but the Filipinos’ word was worth its weight in gold.
However, with the passage of time, as our people exchanged one colonial master for another with the failed revolution of 1898, our values turned to a steady decline. We had a succession of inept governments, helmed by confused leaders and hemmed by the vicissitudes of economic misfortunes. We had a second martyrdom after Bagumbayan, the tarmac assassination of Ninoy Aquino who tried to roll the great rock of the dictatorship, but which tore asunder the moral fiber of the nation. We had several chapters of people power with EDSA 1,2 and 3, with their promise of moral regeneration that ended with a whimper and a sigh. At present, we are petrified with fear and trepidation for the next scandal that will rock our government’s all too shaky foundation and further erode the value of our all too puny peso.
Filipinos should think long and hard about the iniquities which have been crippling the country for centuries: the mentality of palusot, palakasan, padrino, bahala na, and other self-aggrandizing behavior which tramples our inherent sense of decency and fairness.
Leaders in government, in particular, must hearken to his rebuke:
“In leading a state of a thousand chariots, respect the office and be trustworthy; economize in the use of resources and love the people, and employ the people when it is timely.”
It is said the doctrines of Confucius have been through a thousand autumns and will continue without change for ten thousand generations to come. With his precepts, let us continue to think for the good of humanity, and as his disciple Hsia resounded:
“To revere virtue instead of beauty, to devote all strength to serving our parents, to be willing to die in serving the Lord, to speak with trustworthiness in dealing with friends.”
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