Ethics in the Confucian Text:
Comparative Study With Risale-i Nur
Prof. Dr. Hee-Soo Lee
Hanyang University Seoul/Korea
This humble paper is designed to dig out certain common ethical elements to be found in the Confucian Text and Risale-i Nur based on comparative analysis. Risale-i Nur is a Qur'anic commentary providing the truths of beliefs by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. It blends science and the truths of religion and uniquely addressed the mentality of modern men. The Principles and ethical teaching of Risale-i Nur in many parts are parallel with the Confucian texts.
In the famous Damascus Sermon(Hutbe-l Samiye), Said Nursi pointed out the importance of truthfulness. He says this is the basis and foundation of Islam. Truthfulness and honesty are the principles of Islam's social life. Hypocrisy, flattery and artifice, duplicity and double-dealing are all forms of lying. Unbelief in all its varieties is lying and falsehood, while belief is truthfulness and honesty. But politics and propaganda have mixed and confused them, and as a result have confused man's achievements. Also salvation, he told them, is only to be found through honesty.(vahide: 102)
The keynote of Confucian ethics is jen, variously translated as "love," "goodness," "humanity." Jen is a supreme virtue representing human qualities at their best. In human relations, jen is manifested in chung, or faithfulness to oneself and others, and shu, or altruism, best expressed in the Confucian golden rule, "Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself." Other important Confucian virtues include righteousness, propriety, integrity, and filial piety.
These basic ethics and guidance can be found in the Risale-i Nur to a great extent. It's very clear that the ethics and teaching of a great Ustad, which are based on Qur'an and Islamic principles, are in parallel with East Asian ethical system which is much based on Confucian teachings. It is very time to rediscover and reinterpret the teachings of the great Ustad Said Nursi, by which we would secure strong foundation for Islamic upgrading in the East Asia and new cooperation with Asian counterparts.
1) Confucian Conception on Ethics
Ethical goods are goods in relation to persons - goods for persons. There are multiple persons, and these are divided generally into self and others. Ethical goods thus fall into two categories: goods for the self and goods for others. All ethical goods are autonomously defined by selves (i.e. people know what they like), except in relation to morality, which contains absolute ethical goods. The pursuit of goods for the self is self-interest, and in general it is no moral duty, only prudence, to pursue one's own self-interest.
"Their own interests" are self-defined in the areas or matters where, according to the types of interests considered below, we have rights of possession, use, and exchange. It has become common to say that people have rights wherever they have interests, but this principle does not allow for "compossibility," the possibility that the rights can all be exercised at the same time, since many interests overlap and conflict. Such "rights" must necessarily be abridged, a dangerous characteristic, since any rights can then be abridged for any expedient reason. If not all interests are protected by rights, however, then rights can be moral and legal claims that cannot be abridged.
Interests of person and property in general forbid wrongs of commission, i.e. fraudulent or violent damaging acts against persons and property, by others. Moral duty also forbids wrongs of omission - or posits duties of commission (or duties to act) - requiring positive actions for the sake of another because of contract or where fundamental interests, such as life and limb, are endangered.
The Gentleman in the Confucianism should keep the most righteous virtue above mentioned and have the task of guidance for other ordinary peoples.
2) Fine Morality in the Risale-i Nur
The one who undertakes the task of guidance should have a better character than everyone else. Universal moral values should irradiate form him, like knowledge, chastity, patience, self-sacrifice, compassion, kindness, and altruism. As far as possible, he should not think unfavourably of others, but should think well of them. He should aim to be affable, pleasantly spoken, mild, ready to uphold right.
The Bediuzzaman Said Nursi gathered together in himself all the above mentioned qualities is testified by both his works and his biography. In this sense, Islam very clearly defined selfish richness is harmful to his own community.
2. Common Background of Civilizations between Islam and East Asia
Civilizations ordinarily affect and transform one another. The give-and-take among civilizations is the norm of history. Islam also played a kind of civilizational bridge between Eastern and Western civilizations. In this sense, the notion of "middleness" is a key concept in the understanding of the civilizational nature and identity of Islam. The idea of Islam as the "middleness" is to be found in Islam's holy book, Al-Qu'ran(2:143). Under the notion of "middleness", through the 1400 years' Islamic history, Islam clearly showed the wisdom of ethnic and cultural pluralism, inter-cultural cooperation in the pursuit of the common good for all mankind and a common responsibility for the protection of human society. The notion of "middleness" is the basic teaching of Confucianism on which East Asian culture is absolutely rely.
Even in historical sense, cultural contacts between Islamic world and East Asian countries(China proper- Korea- Japan) have more 1000 years long history since the first Hijra century without any antagonism and wars. This peaceful and gradual
Islamization gave valuable opportunity to the East Asians cosmopolitan, open-minded, tolerant and amenable to cultural diversity. So, relations between Muslims and non-Muslim Asians must be governed by moral and ethical considerations.
Therefore, the future of Islam-East Asia relations seems to be very optimistic due to such several reasons as Islamic and Confucian tolerance toward other civilization. Moreover many aspects of the East Asian Confucian tradition value system are in agreement with Islamic principles, furthermore historically there has existed friendly relations between East Asia and Islamic world from the first Hijra century.
3.Common Values Described in the Risale-i Nur
1) Ethical Teachings of Risale-i Nur Comparing to Confucian Ethics
Risale-i Nur is a Qur'anic commentary providing the truths of beliefs by a method developed by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi. It blends science and the truths of religion and uniquely addressed the mentality of modern men.
The Principles and basic thought of Risale-i Nur written by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi in many parts are parallel with Confucian value system.
Balanced Personalty and Confucian middleness is extraordinary important for both teachings.
A.Balanced Personality and Confucian Middleness Power of animal appetites
Power of anger
Power of intellect
Excess >perfidious deception
B.Excess and wastefulness
These two factors lead to greed, and greed has three serious consequences.
Dissatisfaction; disappointment and loss; destroying sincerity.
In short, excess and wastefulness lead to lack of contentment. And lack of contentment destroys
enthusiasm for work; it causes laziness, opens the door to complaining about life, and makes the
dissatisfied person complain continuously. Also, it destroys sincerity, and opens the door to
hypocrisy. And it destroys self-respect, and points the way to begging.
In the Confucian text, contentment and frugality are main topic which are regarded as the most important virtue in the daily life and community.
"Just as lavishness leads easily to presumption, so does frugality to meanness. But meanness is a far less serious fault than presumption."
To the gentleman and leaders, the Confucian analects require frugality as the basic condition. The contentment arisng from frugality opens the door of thanks and closes the door of complaint. It means the door of sincerity is opened, the door of hypocrisy closed.
According to the Hadith, "The contented person is respected, and the greedy person despised", a consequence of contentment is self-esteem. Also it encourages efforts and work by increasing enthusiasm.
The famous Muslim physician, Ibn-i Sina also advise us that the most harmful thing for the body is to eat without having had a break of four to five hours, or to fill the stomach with variety of foods one on top of the other. These eating habits are completely paralleled with daily life in the East Asia which are based on Confucian teaching.
" O my brothers of the Hereafter! And O my companions in the service of the Qur'an! You should know that in this world sincerity is the most important principle in works pertaining to the Hereafter in particular; it is the greatest strength, and the most acceptable intercessor, and the firmest point of support, and the most wondrous means of achieving one's goal, and the highest quality, and the purest worship. Since in sincerity lies much strength and many lights..."(Flashp.212)
The noble saying of the Prophet on sincerity is as follow;
"All men will perish, except the scholars, and all scholars will perish except those who act in accordance with their knowledge, and all of them will perish except the sincere, and even the sincere are in great danger,"(Flash p.200)
Bediuzzaman evaluated the value of sincerity as follow; the conflict and rivalry arise; concord is changed into discord; and agreement into dispute. The cure and remedy for this appalling disease is sincerity. Sincerity may be attained not by one's own soul, but by the worship of God(FIash p.201-202).
In the Confucian culture, sincerity means one's best efforts without any egoism or not interfering other right. And it teaches us that man should exert all his capability and potentiality under the sincerity spirits, and then wait for the response from the Heaven.
"D. Self and Other
Confucius is clear that this does not mean complete denial of self. We have seen a hint of this with Analects XV:23, which begins with the character for "self and ends with the characters for "others" (or "persons"). If what you don't want for yourself, you shouldn't to do others, then you would like others to do for you what you would indeed like for yourself. We see a similar word structure, and stronger implication, at Analects VI:28, "If you desire to establish yourself, also establish others." This sounds "mutual profitableness," but it is clearly essential to Confucius. This can, of course, also be read in Chinese, as shown. It contains different characters for "self and "other" than Confucius uses, but these
could easily be substituted, as can be seen as the animated image displays the older characters. Helping oneself and others at the same time is characteristic of what we might even call the "worldliness" of Confucianism and Chinese civilization.
Risale-i Nur teach us "My outlook is true, or the best", but not that "My outlook alone is true and good" Bediuzzaman always advise us to act positively avoiding enmity for other outlooks, not criticizing them, interfering in their beliefs and sciences. Moreover he emphasize to overlook each other's fault, close your eyes to each other's shortcoming and to behave according to the rule of courtesy established by the criteria.
The Qur'an also clearly mentioned the remedy for the disease of discord among peoples.
"Do not fall into dispute, lest you lose heart and your power depart."(8:46) "Work together for the sake of virtue and piety"(5:3)
E. Fearing God
The Prophet Muhammad(s.a.w) saying, "I swear that I fear God more than any of you, but nevertheless some days I fast and some days I don't fast. At night I pray, but I also sleep. I also approach my wives. Whoever turns away from my Suuna, turns away from me". He said too, "Piety in this world is not to consider the licit to be illicit", which means as a warning to those who unsatisfied with the principles of the Qur'an and Sunna, try to find a ay following their own caprice.
For Said Nursi, the enemy of human happiness and ethical uprightness is unbelief and irreligion. It is people deciding to find their own path through life, not seeking Divine Guidance, not caring about God's will or wise design for humankind, not wishing to give up their own pet desires and ideas to submit to God's teaching about human nature and destiny.
He has several times emphasized in the Damascus Sermon the essential virtue of ethical uprightness mentioning six dire sickness on European's development while backwardness of Islamic world. He pointed out such sickness as the despair, hopelessness, the death of truthfulness in social political life; restricting endeavor to what is personally beneficial.
Bediuzzanman had started by quoting the verse, "Do not despair of God's mercy", and the Hadith: "I came to perfect good moral qualities", which provide the theme of the six Words of which the Sermon is composed.
2) Confucian Basic Thought Comparing to Risale-i Nur
Confucianism, major system of thought in China, developed from the teachings of Confucius and his disciples, and concerned with the principles of good conduct, practical wisdom, and proper social relationships. Confucianism has influenced the Chinese attitude toward life, set the patterns of living and standards of social value, and provided the background for Chinese political theories and institutions. It has spread from China to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam and has aroused interest among Western scholars.
Although Confucianism became the official ideology of the Chinese state, it has never existed as an established religion with a church and priesthood. Chinese scholars honored Confucius as a great teacher and sage but did not worship him as a personal god. Nor did Confucius himself ever claim divinity.
Unlike Christian churches, the temples built to Confucius were not places in which organized community groups gathered to worship, but public edifices designed for annual ceremonies, especially on the philosopher's birthday. Several attempts to deify Confucius and to proselyte Confucianism failed because of the essentially secular nature of the philosophy.
The keynote of Confucian ethics above mentioned is jen, "goodness" and "human-heartedness." While the essence of morality is the limitation of self-interest, The core of Confucianism are all attributed to the Master. The range of topics is wide, Ritual and Sacrifice; The Individual Path; Goodness; Aesthetics; Government and A Gentleman's Conduct. A few excerpts and paraphrases follow:
A."Is courage to be prized by a gentleman? A gentleman gives the first place to Right. If a gentleman has courage but neglects Right, he becomes turbulent. If a small man has courage but neglects Right, he becomes a thief."
B."It is Goodness that gives to a neighborhood its beauty. ... Imperturbable, resolute, tree-like, slow to speak - such a one is near to Goodness. Neither the scholar who has truly the heart of a scholar nor the man of good stock who has the qualities that belong to good stock, will ever seek life at the expense of Goodness, and it may be that he has to give his life in order to achieve Goodness."
C."There are three things that a gentleman fears: he fears the will of Heaven, he fears great men, he fears the words of the Divine Sages. The small man does not know the will of Heaven and so does not fear it. He treats great men with contempt, and he scoffs at the words of the Divine Sages."
D."Wealth and rank are what every man desires, but if they can only be retained to the detriment of the Way he professes, he must relinquish them. Poverty and obscurity are what every man detests, but if they can only be avoided to the detriment of the Way he professes, he must accept them. ... Never for a moment does a gentleman quit the way of Goodness. He is never so harried but that he cleaves to this; never so tottering but that he cleaves to this."
In short, Confucian ethical teachings include the following values:
A. Li: includes ritual, propriety, etiquette, etc.
B. Hsiao: love within the family: love of parents for their children and of children for their
C. Yi": righteousness
D. Xin: honesty and trustworthiness
EJen: benevolence, humaneness towards others; the highest Confucian virtue F. Chung: loyalty to the state, etc.
In the practical daily life East Asian peoples still under strong influence of Confucian philosophy and basic maxim. The essence of relationships is fivefold, and fundamental to his social order: ruler and subject; father and son; husband and wife; older brother and younger brother; older friend and younger friend. The ideal of conduct, ordering all human relationships and resulting in an ideal social structure and harmony is: li.
His disciples later on developed ten attitudes that are to govern the five relationships: love in father and filial piety in the son; gentility in the oldest brother and humility and respect in the younger; righteous behavior in the husband and obedience in the wife; humane consideration in elders and deference in juniors; benevolence in rulers and loyalty in subjects.
Through history, Islam played a central mediating role by introducing East Asians to the highest scientific and academic achievement of Muslims. At the same time, East Asian technology and philosophy penetrated into Muslim world through the Silk Roads. Thus Islamic-East Asian interactions were mostly peaceful. For centuries, both worlds interacted with each other in a positive framework as we evaluated the historical mutual relations. This was essential point for mutual cooperation because of the common cultural values and trade interests.
For all the above, Islam is a religion of tolerance and Islamic civilization usually respects the rights of others and freedom and has a positive attitude toward others. In this concern, it is the very time to review and reflect mutual relations and cultural confluence in history between Islamic world and East Asia. Surely it leads to mutual benefit and world peace.
Surprisingly, these Confucian basic philosophy and guidance, in particular, the matter of ethics and morality can be found in the Risale-i Nur to a great extent. The Risale-i Nur is almost comprehensive source book for the East Asia for his most desirable direction to new life. Islamic principles explained by Said Nursi in the Risale-i Nur are more attractive than any other traditional ways of Islamic teaching.
It's very clear that the thought and teaching of a great Ustad Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, which are based on Qur'an and Islamic principles, are in parallel with East Asian value system and philosophy which is much based on Confucian teachings. The latter is confines in regional teaching in the East Asia, the former as an universal model text might be adopted to all human beings through reinterpretation. In this sense, Risale-i Nur has a great possibility, to disseminate in the East Asia by more systemic and comparative academic researches in the days to come.
Risale-i Nur is no more the message for Turkish or certain limited area and peoples. Risale-i Nur is a universal reinterpretation of Holy Qur'an to be most effectively appealed to the West and the East as well. It is very time to rediscover and reinterpret the teachings of the great Ustad Said Nursi, by which we would secure strong foundation for Islamic upgrading in the East Asia and new cooperation with Asian counterparts. Thanks.
Note 1) Confucius was born in 551 BC in China. He lived during the Chou dynasty, and era known for its moral laxity. Later in life, he wandered through many states of China, giving advice to their rulers. He accumulated a small band of students during this time. The last years of his life were spent back in Lu. where he devoted himself to teaching. His writings deal primarily with individual morality and ethics, and the proper exercise of political power by the rulers. In China, and some other areas in Asia, the social ethics and moral teachings of Confucius are blended with the Taoist communion with nature and Buddhist concepts of the afterlife, to form a set of complementary, peacefully co-existent and ecumenical religions. There are approximately 6 million Confucians in the world. About 26,000 live in North America; almost all of the remainder are found throughout China, Korea and the rest of Asia.
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