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Li - Propriety, Rites, Ritual, Tradition

DEFINING [ WU SHU LI ]- Through Confucius:

1:12 Yu Tzu said: "In the actual practice of propriety, flexibility is important. This is what the ancient kings did so well--both the greater and the lesser used flexibility. Yet you should be aware: If you understand flexibility and use it, but don't structure yourself with propriety, things won't go well."

[Comment {by Muller}] Propriety is the English rendition of the Chinese li. This is a word that also has a wide spectrum of meaning in Classical Chinese thought, and is difficult to translate by a single word. Its most basic meaning is that of "ritual" or "ceremony," referring to all sorts of rituals that permeated early East Asian society. The most significant of course, would be wedding ceremonies and funerals. But there were also various agricultural rituals, coming-of-age rituals, coronations, etc. Confucius was an expert on the proper handling of all sorts of rituals.

The term li however, has, in the Analects, a much broader meaning than ritual, since it can also refer to the many smaller "ritualized" behavior patterns involved in day-to-day human interactions. This would include proper speech and body language according to status, age, sex--thus, "manners." In this sense, li means any action proper, or appropriate to the situation. For instance, in the modern context, I might go up and slap my friend on the back. But I certainly wouldn't to that to my professor, or to a student in my class whom I don't know very well.

In the Analects, li, as a general category, is clearly defined in a relationship with jen, where jen is the inner, substantial goodness of the human being, and li is the functioning of jen in the manifest world. That is to say, li is Righteousness, filial piety, fraternal respect, familial affection, etc.]

3:3 Confucius said: "If a man has no jen what can his propriety be like? If a man has no jen what can his music be like?"

3:4 Lin Fang asked about the fundamentals of ritual. Confucius said, "What an excellent question! In ritual, it is better to be frugal than extravagant; in funerals deep sorrow is better than ease."

3:26 Confucius said: "Men of high office who are narrow-minded; propriety without respect and funerals without grief: how can I bear to look at such things?!"

8:2 Confucius said: "Courtesy without propriety is wasted energy. Caution without propriety is timidity. Boldness without propriety is recklessness. Straightforwardness without propriety is rudeness. When the ruler is kind to those who are close to him, the people will be moved toward jen. If he does not forget his old friends, the people too, will not be fickle."

8:8 Confucius said: "Be aroused by poetry; structure yourself with propriety, refine yourself with music."

12:1 Yen Yuan asked about the meaning of jen. The Master said, "To completely overcome selfishness and keep to propriety is jen. If for a full day you can overcome selfishness and keep to propriety, everyone in the world will return to jen. Does jen come from oneself, or from others?"

Sayings about Hsiao

Sayings from the Muller translation of the Analects (http://www.human.toyogakuen-u.ac.jp/~acmuller/contao/analects.htm) accessed 4-19-01 and 4/11/02

1:2 Yu Tzu said: "There are few who have developed themselves filially and fraternally who enjoy offending their superiors. Those who do not enjoy offending superiors are never troublemakers. The Superior Man concerns himself with the fundamentals. Once the fundamentals are established, the proper way (tao) appears. Are not filial piety and obedience to elders fundamental to the enactment of jen?"

1:6 Confucius said: "A young man should serve his parents at home and be respectful to elders outside his home. He should be earnest and truthful, loving all, but become intimate with jen. After doing this, if he has energy to spare, he can study literature and the arts."

1:11 Confucius said: "When your father is alive, observe his will. When your father is dead observe his former actions. If, for three years you do not change from the ways of your father, you can be called a 'real son (hsiao).'"

[Comment {from Muller}] In terms of the development of the character of the human being, the most fundamental practice is that of "filial piety," the English translation of the Chinese hsiao, which means to love, respect and take care of one's parents. Confucius believed that if people cultivated this innate tendency well, all other natural forms of human goodness would be positively affected by it.]

2:5 Meng I Tzu asked about the meaning of filial piety. Confucius said, "It means 'not diverging (from your parents).'"" Later, when Fan Chih was driving him, Confucius told Fan Chih, "Meng Sun asked me about the meaning of filial piety, and I told him 'not diverging.'" Fan Chih said, "What did you mean by that?" Confucius said, "When your parents are alive, serve them with propriety; when they die, bury them with propriety, and then worship them with propriety."

2:7 Tzu Lu asked about the meaning of filial piety. Confucius said, "Nowadays filial piety means being able to feed your parents. But everyone does this for even horses and dogs. Without respect, what's the difference?"

2:8 Tzu Hsia asked about filial piety. Confucius said, "What is important is the expression you show in your face. You should not understand 'filial' to mean merely the young doing physical tasks for their parents, or giving them food and wine when it is available."

4:18 Confucius said: "When you serve your mother and father it is okay to try to correct them once in a while. But if you see that they are not going to listen to you, keep your respect for them and don't distance yourself from them. Work without complaining."

4:19 Confucius said: "While your parents are alive, it is better not to travel far away. If you do travel, you should have a precise destination."

4:20 Confucius said: "If, for three years (after your father's death) you don't alter his ways of doing things, you can certainly be called 'filial.'"

13:18 The Duke of Sheh told Confucius: "In my land, there are Righteous men. If a father steals a sheep, the son will testify against him."

Confucius said, "The Righteous men in my land are different from this. The father conceals the wrongs of his son, and the son conceals the wrongs of his father. This is Righteousness!"

{Source: Muller Translation Of The Confusion Analects:}


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