Filial Piety ; Right Relationships

Filial piety is a concept originating with Confucianism which significantly transformed the way Buddhism was practiced in China.

Tina S
Tina S
Feb 25, 2010
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Confucius (551-479 BCE), according to Chinese tradition, was a thinker, political figure, educator, and founder of the RuSchool of Chinese thought.
"Filial piety" (Chinese: å­; pinyin: xiào) is considered among the greatest of virtues and must be shown towards both the living and the dead (ancestors). The term "filial", meaning "of a child", denotes the respect that a child, originally a son, should show to his parents. This relationship was extended by analogy to a series of five relationships.

Filial piety--relations encompassing not only children to their parents but generations to each other--is the underpinning for all other interactions. Cultivation of genuine feelings for parents and siblings--rather than estrangement and alienation between them--is the principle. This family/communal orientation also plays itself out in salvation schemes. Individualistic approaches are frowned upon. Family, society, country or the whole world must be included in such appeals. We see the depths of family devotion in death and grieving practices.

After a parent dies, the child (son) may retire from public affairs, simplify living arrangements and devote himself to grieving for as long as three years.

Confucius believed that everyone had their role to play based on their relationship to others. If everyone fulfilled their duties and kept their place then society would be stable and harmonious.

Obviously, this is a rather conservative philosophy. There are five basic human relationships in Confucianism:

(1) Ruler to ruled;
(2) Father to son;
(3) Husband to wife;
(4) Elder brother to younger brother; and
(5) Friend to friend.

These bonds and practices are not only critical to a well-ordered society but provide a training ground for the effective development of a humane, flourishing soul. Critics sometimes describe the "three bonds"-- ruler over minister, father over son and husband over wife--as promoting despotic, autocratic, patriarchal, and male-chauvinistic practice. A Confucian response sees these bonds not as confining or limiting practices. Rather, when seen from a broader perspective, the patterns of social stability, maintenance of the social order, and a world at peace overcome particular frustrations of such hierarchical relations.

For Confucius and his followers, the relationship between father and son was the most important. Confucius also incorporated the notion of the four classes: the scholar, the peasants, the artisans (a.k.a. craftsmen), and the lowest of the low, the merchant. Notice two things, the place of the peasant and the absence of warriors. Confucianism had no need of war, because if everyone is following their proper role then there should be no war. Also, the class order put peasants second since they provided the food that everyone else needed to live.

Why is the father-son relationship more important than the ruler-ruled relationship?

Because the ruler is supposed to set a moral example for his people and rule with a paternalistic attitude toward his subjects. Thus, he is expected to rule like a father rules his family. If he had to use his position (rather than personal example) to keep the others in line then he obviously wasn't a worthy ruler.

Here's the kicker: the Chinese came to believe that Heaven didn't recognize the right to power of an unworthy ruler. Thus, if there are rebellions and natural disasters in the land, it is because the Emperor is not fulfilling his proper duties. For Confucianists this is a much greater sin because the Emperor, as head of the household, has more responsibility in addition to more power.
A second son has little responsibility and less power, so his sins are correspondingly less destructive to the family.

End result: if you rebel and win then society views you as the legitimate ruler, since if the previous ruler had been fulfilling his Confucian duties properly you could never have successfully rebelled.

Japanese history:

After establishing his government, Tokugawa Ieyasu consciously encouraged the study and spread of Confucianism. However, in Japan a few little elements were dropped.

First, the idea that a ruler could be legitimately overthrown wasn't real popular with the Tokugawa family. Also, since the samurai had a monopoly on power they inserted themselves at the top of the list of classes--``scholars'' became ``samurai.'' However, most samurai had a decent education and during Tokugawa rule they were expected to be well educated as well as good with a sword. To accommodate the change in policy against rebellion, the most important relationship was changed from father-son to ruler-ruled.

The father-son relationship was still quite important, but it became secondary. Confucianism continued to be stressed and taught to children in Japan right up to 1945.

Confucianism and Christianity are the foundation of Chinese and Western culture. The father–son relation is at the centre of Confucian thinking and the ethical natural relationship is the model for other familial, social and political relationships.

The divine father–son relationship between God and Jesus is also at the centre of Christian consideration and likewise is the model of Christian familial, social and political relationships. The particular appeal of this book is to offer a religious and cultural comparative study from this most cardinal and crucial relationship.

Filial piety exists today and can be seen in China, and outside of it. Many native and immigrant families live in multi-generational family units. It is never “okay” to abandon older family members. Older generations often form a very important part of day-to-day living. Since in both China and in the US, a married couple may both work, care of the children is needed. The mother of either the husband or wife frequently provides that care. This keeps the notion of filial piety strong. The older parent continues to contribute to the adult child, and grandchildren’s well being.

Keywords: Filial piety,Right Relationships,Confucius,Christianity,Chinese,God,conservative,philosophy,social order,parent,conservative,basic,human,genuine.

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