Prince Shotoku and what it means to be a Confucian leader

Excerpted from “Kagami, Susanoo no mikoto and Confucianism”

Confucianism is called in Japan, Japan’s unofficial third religion after Buddhism and Shinto. With only one Confucian shrine (by Chinese in 1893) in Nagasaki, and the Yushima Seido

Prince Shotoku (source: Prince Shotoku)

Prince Shotoku (source: Prince Shotoku)

Confucian learning center in Tokyo, there is not much evidence for this that I’m aware of.
The Japanese social and moral structure and family values, the devotion to hard work, and the submission to concerns of group rather than the individual is said to be Confucian. In the Shuri castle in Naha, Okinawa, on the wall of the Usasuica, of the Seidan, the main hall and center of political and ceremonial activities involving the king, was a picture of Confucius.
Yakamage saya “Confucianism is in effect the fountainhead of Japanese ideas of decorum”.
One author said:
Prince Shotoku (574-622) was the first Japanese person to understand Buddhism, saying, “the world is false, Buddha alone is true”. This was the first concept of world negation in Japan. Prince Shotoku issued a document known as 17-Article of the Constitution. “Its moral precepts are largely Confucian, somewhat influenced by ideas of the Legalists [those who opposed Confucianism in the time of the burning of the books], a school of thought in China which held that social order depended not on Confucian ethical precepts but on the development and application of a body of law.”
But for his ultimate source of legitimacy, Shotoku turned to Buddhist teachings.

But for his ultimate source of legitimacy, Shotoku turned to Buddhist teachings.
Confucianism (Rújia) was developed from the teachings of Confucius (Kong Fuzi, or K’ung-fu-tzu, lit. “Master Kong”, 551–479 BC). Cultures influenced by Confucianism include China, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore. Japan was influenced by Confucianism in a different way. Confucianism stresses the importance of education for moral development of the individual so that the state can be governed by moral virtue rather than by the use of coercive laws.

Master Kong or Confucius painted by Wu Daozi, a Tang Dynasty artist

Master Kong or Confucius painted by Wu Daozi, a Tang Dynasty artist

Lead the people with administrative injunctions and put them in their place with penal law, and they will avoid punishments but will be without a sense of shame. Lead them with excellence and put them in their place through roles and ritual practices, and in addition to developing a sense of shame, they will order themselves harmoniously.
Analects II, 3

The above quotation explains a difference between legalism and ritualism. Translations from the 17th century to the present have varied widely. Comparison of these many sources is needed for a true “general consensus” of what message Confucius meant to imply. Confucius argued that under law, external authorities administer punishments after illegal actions, so people generally behave well without understanding reasons why they should; whereas with ritual, patterns of behavior are internalized and exert their influence before actions are taken, so people behave properly because they fear shame and want to avoid losing face. In this sense, “rite” (li) is an ideal form of social norm.
The Chinese character for “rites”, or “ritual”, previously had the religious meaning of “sacrifice”. Its Confucian meaning ranges from politeness and propriety to the understanding of each person’s correct place in society. Externally, ritual is used to distinguish between people; their usage allows people to know at all times who is the younger and who the elder, who is the guest and who the host and so forth. Internally, rites indicate to people their duty amongst others and what to expect from them.
Internalization is the main process in ritual. Formalized behavior becomes progressively internalized, desires are channeled and personal cultivation becomes the mark of social correctness. Though this idea conflicts with the common saying that “the cowl does not make the monk,” in Confucianism sincerity is what enables behavior to be absorbed by individuals. Obeying ritual with sincerity makes ritual the most powerful way to cultivate oneself:
Respectfulness, without the Rites, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the Rites, become timidity; boldness, without the Rites, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the Rites, becomes rudeness.
Analects VIII, 2

Ritual can be seen as a means to find the balance between opposing qualities that might otherwise lead to conflict. It divides people into categories, and builds hierarchical relationships through protocols and ceremonies, assigning everyone a place in society and a proper form of behavior. Music, which played a significant role in Confucius’ life, transcends such boundaries and “unifies the hearts”.
Although the Analects heavily promote the rites, Confucius himself often behaved other than in accord with them. Later, more rigid ritualists forgot that ritual is “more than presents of jade and silk” (XVII, 12), and strayed from their master’s position.
In Confucianism the term “ritual” (li) was soon extended to include secular ceremonial behavior, and eventually referred also to the propriety or politeness which colors everyday life. Rituals were codified and treated as a comprehensive system of norms. Confucius himself tried to revive the etiquette of earlier dynasties. After his death, people regarded him as a great authority on ritual behaviors.
In Confucianism, the acts of everyday life are considered ritual. Rituals are not necessarily regimented or arbitrary practices, but the routines that people often engage in, knowingly or unknowingly, during the normal course of their lives. Shaping the rituals in a way that leads to a content and healthy society, and to content and healthy people, is one purpose of Confucian philosophy.
To govern by virtue, let us compare it to the North Star: it stays in its place, while the myriad stars wait upon it.
Analects II, 1

Another key Confucian concept is that in order to govern others one must first govern oneself. When developed sufficiently, the king’s personal virtue spreads beneficent influence throughout the kingdom. By being the “calm center” around which the kingdom turns, the king allows everything to function smoothly and avoids having to tamper with the individual parts of the whole. Early Chinese shamans believed the king was the axle between the sky, human beings, and the Earth. The very Chinese character for “king” 王 shows the three levels of the universe, united by a single line.

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