C O U R S E L E C T U R E
Confucius' Use of Ritual as a Tool
Notes taken on February 7, 2015 by Edward Tanguay
it restrains and reforms human nature
without ritual we don't know how to act
metaphor of carving and polishing
becoming a proper human being is like shaping a raw material
reshaping your emotions
acting out ritual emotions
allowing you to achieve the mean
in our natural state we tend toward excess
the concept of ritual which Confucius has inherited from the Zhou is very broad
in what order you eat your food
If you are respectful but lack ritual you will become exasperating, if you are careful but lack ritual you will become timid, if you are courageous but lack ritual you will become unruly, if you are upright but lack ritual you will become inflexible."
e.g. today Chinese hand things to each other with two hands
becomes part of our affective landscape
ritual is the "right kind of feeling"
Confucius wants you to feel certain social values
gives you scripts to perform to make you feel new virtues
evidence in contemporary social science and cognitive science that indicates this is an effective way to attain desired behavior
if you want to develop the virtue of gratitude, sitting down daily for ten minutes and writing in a gratitude journal can be an effective way to do this
like in a film or a movie
social scripts are standard ways we have for behaving in certain public situations
words have to have fixed references in order for people to be able to communicate
the same is true for ritual
this can morph into e.g. fist bumping, but this is still understood as a similar gesture to shaking hands
rituals tend to be conservative in this way, even if they evolve over time
for Confucius you are engaging in ritual all the time, it pervades your entire life
even if you are eating alone, it structures the way you arrange your utensils
the way you dress properly even if there is no one to see you
ritual is not just about the social communication but about the shaping of internal dispositions
in this way, ritual becomes internalized
not just motions that you go through, but when perform the ritual, you feel what the ritual expresses
you are not just putting out incense, but you are feeling the emotion of respect and honor
Sacrifice as if the spirits were present, comport yourself as if the spirits are present.
If I am not fully present at the sacrifice, it is as if I did not sacrifice at all.
ritual as striking a balance
native substance, what is on the inside
the raw material is merged with the form
e.g. the grain in a wood bowl
this is the Confucian gentlemen
When native substance overwhelms cultural refinement, the result is a crude rustic. When cultural refinement overwhelms native substance, the result is a foppish pedant.
a series of passages which describe Confucius' ritual behavior
most Western scholars don't know what to do with this book
"With a black upper garment he would wear a lambskin robe; with a white upper garment he would wear a fawn skin robe; and with a yellow upper garment he would wear a fox-fur robe...His informal fur robe was long, but the right sleeve was short. He required that his nightgown be knee-length."
"When receiving a gift from a friend, even something as valuable as a cart or a horse, he did not bow unless it was a gift of sacrificial meat."
this book gives examples of how Confucius had internalized the rituals of the Zhou dynasty
shows that when you internalize the rituals you attain a certain degree of autonomy
book 10 is a kind of training video
an example of how a perfectly balanced gentleman moves through the world