Learning from eastern wisdom

Essence of Confucius and Confucianism: "Yi," "Zhi," and "Xin"


(This mini-essay is part of a regular series by Noriko Takigami of the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom, sharing personal observations from her ongoing study of the Analects of Confucius.)

 In the previous article on the "Essence of Confucianism and Confucius" , I introduced "Li" (礼, propriety) and "Ren" (仁, benevolence), two of the five cardinal virtues of Confucianism. This time we look at the three remaining virtues.

 "Yi" (義) could be translated as "righteousness" and means being in accordance with a rational path and moral principles. It means following natural laws and conducting oneself correctly.

 What is the correct way to conduct oneself? This refers to human norms. You can go just so far, not further, and should stop there. It relates to standards of behavior and a sense of discretion shared among people. For us to have norms and standards of behavior or discretion, we need to have clear internal reference points that we can refer to always and everywhere.

 Next is "Zhi" (智). This is "wisdom." It means not just having knowledge, but with that knowledge, also having the capacity to make correct judgements and decisions. If you have "wisdom" you also have reason. You have discretion regarding good and evil, right and wrong, what is acceptable or not acceptable to do. Knowing all of that could be called "wisdom".

 Finally comes "Xin" (信), which is "trustworthiness." It relates to believing and trusting. It is about virtue in dealing with people, not breaking promises, not deceiving others, and doing exactly what you said you would do.

 With these two articles I have introduced the five cardinal virtues of Confucianism. It is not enough just to know what they are. We must also actually experience them and make them our own. In future articles we will look at Analects of Confucius from the perspective of the five cardinal virtues. I hope you will keep all of these in mind as you go about your daily life.