Confucianism isn’t a religion that worships a concrete god (although they have the idea of Tian), but more closely resembles a philosophy that stems from the folk religions of China, particularly the Shang-Zhou official religion that has lasted for three thousand years. These people worship their supreme god, Shangdi. As different rulers came into power, beliefs about their gods changed, and many thinkers began to question the legitimacy of their religion. The “Hundred Schools of Thought” were created to propose theories for the reconstruction of the Zhou moral order.
Confucius appeared during this time in the mid-500s BCE, and he wanted to give centrality to self-cultivation and the agency of humans, and to allow people to help others in establishing themselves in the world. After the Zhou reign failed, traditional values were abandoned, religion declined, and there was a period of low morality. Confucius took this opportunity to reinforce values of compassion and tradition in his society. He taught that Tian, the idea of heaven or a deity, was driven to respond to hearts that were sincere, humane, right, decent, and full of altruism. Confucius believed that these were the pillars of a socio-politically harmonious society.
Confucius also changed some of the classical books from the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties, and created his own book, called the “Spring and Autumn Annals.” Afterward, Confucius’ ideas influenced Chinese metaphysics, cosmology, and Chinese religious practices.
Confucianism is centered around unity and the individual. It also focuses on the relationship between humanity and heaven. They believe that heaven is the source of divine authority and the order of creation. People can become one with heaven by realizing their humanity and contemplating their relationship with heaven. This bond creates harmony within their society.
Followers of Confucianism seem to worship five entities: Heaven and Earth, the government, ancestors, and masters.
Their idea of heaven is shared with all Chinese religions, being that the universe creates itself out of a primary chaos of material energy. It organizes life based on balance (yin and yang). Rather than believing that a god existed in a sphere that predated life, they believe that creation is a continuous ordering, like the seasons changing, the landscape being both shady and bright, or the ideas of order and disorder. One primary goal of Confucianism is to find a balance between yin and yang in every facet of life.
They also focus on finding both inner spirituality and outward spirituality. This comes from humaneness and a compassionate mind. They believe that these characteristics are a virtue created by heaven and that achieving them created oneness with heaven.
In 2003, a Confucian manifesto was written by Kang Xiaoguang that stated that Confucian education should enter official education, the state should establish Confucianism as the state religion by law in China, Confucianism should enter the lives of everybody through the development of doctrines, rituals, organizations, church, and activities, and that is should be spread through non-governmental organizations. There are modern Confucian philosophers who also agree with Confucianism being the basis of a state church.
In 2005, the Center for the Study of Confucian Religion was established, and Confucianism started being implemented in schools in China. Confucian preachers now appear on television, and Chinese people take pride in this ideology and its prevalence over Western culture in their society.
The idea of a state religion is a new idea for Confucianism that is based on the European national Christian churches. People are also reconstructing lineage churches, ancestral temples, and temples to gods that were within traditional Chinese religions in order to renew Confucianism within society. There are also revivals for folk religious movements that have a Confucian focus.
Sometimes, Chinese temples may choose Confucian liturgy that are led by Confucian ritual masters to worship the gods. But due to the fact that Confucianism is debated as being a religion, but rather a philosophy, there is no specific organization to the religion or concrete ideas of gods that are worshipped. This differs based on the region and whether there is a folk religion combined with the ideals of Confucianism. Temples have been created for thousands of years to honor Confucius and offer him sacrifices, although the primary purposes of temples to him have been to better understand his teachings and to offer education.
There are nine pieces that form the foundation of Confucianism: the Five Classics and Four Books. The Five Classics are made up of the Books of Odes, Book of Documents, Book of Changes, Book of Rites, and the Spring and Autumn Annals. The Book of Documents is a book containing 58 chapters about the events of ancient China. It tells about the deeds of early kings and helps to understand the practices and behavior of a safe. The Book of Odes is a poetry book of 305 poems, containing topics such as love, marriage, agriculture, daily lives, and war. It has some poems about folk songs, and some that are hymns. The Book of Rites describes the Zhou dynasty and the ways that people interacted within their society. This detailed social norms, governmental organization, and ritual conduct, which influenced many ritual practices that arose in imperial China. The Book of Changes discusses a system of divination that focuses on balance. The Spring and Autumn Annals were created specifically to document the State of Lu.
The Four Books are made up of the Doctrine of the Mean, the Great Learning, Mencius, and the Analects. The Great Learning is a guide for moral self-awakening and growth. It teaches that the goal to moral growth within an individual is through learning and investigating the world. Mencius is a collection of conversations between a man named Mencius and Confucius. It teaches about the proper way an emperor should rule, along with the idea that humans are inherently good. It says that everybody is born with the ideas of righteousness and goodness, but that the individual must learn to carry this out. The Doctrine of the Mean is about maintaining perfect balance and harmony in an individual’s life. It says that people try to act correctly, but sometimes fail. This can be countered with self-cultivation and the desire to act properly. It also states that good rulers not only encourage balance, but also encourage other people to act with goodness and harmony. The Analects were written by Confucius as a collection of his teaching and discussions with disciples. They encouraged a devotion to learning.