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Religion Library: Confucianism

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

Written by: Jeffrey Richey

Because of the emphasis placed on the Yijing by Zhu Xi and other "Neo-Confucian" thinkers, it alone of the Wujing texts remained prominent and influential after the Wujing was superseded by the newer canon of the Sishu (Four Books) championed by the "Neo-Confucians." Nonetheless, the Yijing remained important not because it continued to be  used in the traditional way -- as a mere divination tool -- but because of the profound moral and cosmological significance that it acquired as an element of personal Confucian ritual life, thanks to the work of Zhu Xi and  others.

Like other Confucians (and indeed all religious persons), Zhu Xi took for granted that the universe makes sense, specifically moral sense. It is up to human beings to discover the universe's moral rhyme and reason as ordained by Tian, however. In order to do that, one must cultivate one's own heart-mind. As Mengzi said, "To fully develop one's mind is to know one's nature. To know one's nature is to know Tian. Preserving one's mind and nourishing one's nature is how one serves Tian" (Mengzi 7A1). Thus, self-examination and self-cultivation are fundamentally religious activities in the Confucian tradition.

To this understanding of the Confucian spiritual path, Zhu Xi added the idea that the hexagrams of the Yijing are graphic symbols of li, which operates in a dynamic mode of balanced exchange between the complementary opposites of yin and yang to transform the raw qi of the universe (not to mention the human heart-mind) into a world that perfectly mirrors li and thus Tian. Zhu Xi drew not only from the Mengzi, but from other Sishu texts such as the Zhongyong (The Doctrine of the Mean), which says:

Only that one in the world who is most perfectly authentic [or sincere -- cheng] is able to give full development to his nature. Being able to give full development to his nature, he is able to give full development to the nature of other human beings and, being able to give full development to the nature of other human beings he is able to give full development to the natures of other living things. Being able to give full development to the natures of other living things, he can assist in the transforming and nourishing powers of Heaven and Earth; being able to assist in the transforming and nourishing powers of Heaven and Earth, he can form a triad with Heaven and Earth.

One ritual method for learning how "to give full development to [one's] nature," according to Zhu Xi, was to consult the Yijing prayerfully and meditatively so as not merely to obtain a predicted outcome (as in the usual method of consulting the text), but so as to become sensitive to the most subtle and gradual patterns of change in the ever-shifting patterns of yin and yang. By learning to understand how the universe at large operated, one would come to understand oneself, and by coming to understand oneself, Zhu Xi: Public Domainone would enter into deeper communion not only with Tiandao (the Way of Heaven), but with all things.

Although not all present-day Confucians practice Zhu Xi's method of consulting the Yijing, it remains the second-most widely-read book in the world (after the Bible), especially in East Asia, where it is used daily by millions of people. The text's assumption that apparent chaos can disclose underlying order continues to inspire Confucians and others to use it to find their place in the ever-changing universe.


Study Questions:
1.    What is the Yijing?
2.    What is the role of the Yijing in Confucian spiritual life?
3.    How do Confucian spiritual practices relate to Confucian scriptures?


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