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Religion Library: Confucianism

Sacred Texts

Written by: Jeffrey Richey

Bamboo slip manuscript of Yijing: Public DomainProbably beginning around the time of Kongzi's death, sayings attributed to him and recollections of his life were collected by various generations of his disciples and their followers, eventually producing the Lunyu by sometime during the Han dynasty (although the greater part of the text no doubt is of much earlier origin). The Lunyu is a highly varied work that contains depictions of the life and teachings not only of Kongzi, but also of his foremost followers. Some of these depictions are at odds with others, as in the narratives about Kongzi and his beloved disciple Yan Hui. Some passages describe Yan Hui as first among Kongzi's students, while others downplay his status in the early Confucian community. Other examples of tensions in the text include how various passages describe Kongzi's primary concerns. Some passages emphasize his teaching about ritual, others his love of literature, others his views of Tian, and still others his ideas about government. Both the collection of so many different representations of Kongzi in one text and the subsequent canonical status of that text show that Confucians, like shapers of scripture in other traditions, have been able to harmonize these varying images of their master.

Candidates for Confucian civil service examinations awaiting results: Public DomainThe process that produced the Lunyu was mirrored in the development of texts associated with Mengzi and Xunzi, as well as two other texts, the Zhongyong (The Doctrine of the Mean) and the Daxue (The Great Learning). The Zhongyong traditionally is attributed to Kongzi's grandson Zisi, who supposedly taught Mengzi, and is concerned with the proper relations between people in a hierarchical society modeled after early Confucians' idealized view of the Western Zhou dynasty. The Daxue traditionally is attributed to Kongzi's disciple Zengzi and is characterized by somewhat more mystical concerns than the Zhongyong, such as harmonizing oneself with the Tao by understanding its patterns both within and without oneself. [The Lunyu and Zhongyong were originally chapters in the Record of Rituals.]

By the Han dynasty, the Lunyu, Mengzi, Zhongyong, and Daxue were well known in their current forms but still were not valued as highly as the allegedly-older Wujing texts. It was not until these four texts were canonized as the Sishu (Four Books) by the Confucian reformer Zhu Xi (1130-1200 C.E.) that the Wujing texts were superseded as the primary Confucian scriptures. By that time, Confucians had experienced more than one thousand years of encounter and rivalry with Buddhism, not to mention sectarian Taoism.

 

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