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Religion Library: Confucianism

Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Written by: Jeffrey Richey

Interior of Confucian temple, Suzhou, China: Public DomainIn summary, it might be said that Confucian thought does not tend to draw an absolute distinction between appearance and reality, or between the natural and the supernatural. All agents, entities, and processes -- including both human beings and Tian -- are part of a unified, natural cosmos. Thus, human beings are organically linked to everything else in the universe, and can learn to deepen that kinship and harness its spiritual power by cultivating the cosmic within themselves. This tendency toward "self-divinization" in Confucianism has parallels with both Buddhist and Taoist traditions, but takes on a distinctively Confucian flavor insofar as the cultivation of one's "divine" nature is connected with the development of social virtues such as filiality, ritual propriety, and so forth.

Study Questions:
     1.     Is Tian (Heaven) the Confucian equivalent of God?
     2.     How do Confucians believe that human beings relate to the divine?
     3.     What is the role of the supernatural in Confucian thought?


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