Essence of Confucianism Confucius--"Li" and "Ren"
Let us now talk about the essence of Confucianism. We cannot talk about Confucianism without talking about Confucius. Who was this person known as Confucius? First, let's look at the context, the era in which he lived. The Zhou Dynasty's weakening control after 770 B.C. led to the capital being transferred to Luoyang in the east. The Spring and Autumn period started that year and continued until 403 B.C. Soon, in a region known as Zhongyuan, the central part of the Chinese continent, twelve states rose to battle in recurrent wars, which turned this into a period of instability. Confucius lived from 551 to 479 B.C., and he was a product of that period. Many thinkers longed for a return to stability from that period of instability, and advanced their own theories about what was needed. This is called the "Hundred Schools of Thought" and "Contention of a Hundred Schools of Thought." Confucius is one of these thinkers. And Confucius tries to make the concept of "Li"(礼), or "propriety," the source of that order.
The ancients observed the vast universe and discovered that absolute order exists within it. If that were not true, then stars would collide with other stars here and there in this universe, and extreme chaos would occur incessantly. But the universe is working properly and with orderliness. And they thought that if this absolute order could descend to earth, then perhaps the world of war--which is the extreme destruction of order--could end. It was this concept of "propriety" that was revealed, by the ancients, to be the source of order in the universe. And it is this "propriety" that is the most important for the society in which we live to function with the proper order. They wanted society to be shaped by "propriety." The Japanese language has words for impoliteness (非礼, pronounced hirei, literally anti-propriety) and rudeness (無礼, pronounced burei, literally no propriety). Considering how "impoliteness" and "rudeness" are present in behavior lacking in propriety today at the inception of all kinds of chaos, maybe that assertion is on the right track. It was Confucius who clarified the concept of "propriety" and attempted to position it as the driving force to sustain a peaceful society.
Confucius believed that another thing-"Ren" (仁), or "benevolence"-was also needed to maintain a peaceful society. What is this "benevolence"? It means consideration of others, sympathy, and compassion. If people have consideration of others when they interact, human relations will be shaped without resistance and opposition, arguments and conflicts, hatred and malice. It is necessary to move away from roots of the disorder of people killing each other. For that, he believed that it is important to educate people to treat benevolence as something precious.
In this way, Confucianism showed us the most important factors to create a peaceful society-a society where people are not killing each other-"propriety" and "benevolence," with the addition of "Yi" (義, "righteousness"), "Zhi" (智, "wisdom"), and "Xin" (信, "trustworthiness"). With those last three elements, the list became the five cardinal virtues of Confucianism-Ren (humanity, benevolence), Yi (righteousness), Li (propriety, rites), Zhi (wisdom, knowledge), and Xin (trustworthiness).