Friday, October 29, 2010

The Bodhisattva of Buddhism and The Superior Person of Confucianism

A Confucian Commentary on Shantideva’s 'Bodhicharyavatara'

It was once a high complement paid to learned scholars in China to say that they understood the three religions; Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. Confucius also said that the superior person is beyond factions and that they never dismiss nor praise what has been said because of the source. With this in mind one can appreciate similarities across religious boundaries. Indeed the virtuous exemplar’s of both Buddhism, the bodhisattva, and Confucianism, the superior person, have many deep similarities.
Working for the benefit of others is the ultimate goal to both the superior person and the bodhisattva. To practice the teachings of Confucius is like taking a bodhisattva vow to live and teach in society for the benefit of all people. The superior person practices loyalty to one’s self and empathy with others to better serve their vow. The superior person has this goal and feels a deep responsibility that influences their actions. The superior person is cautious so as to avoid any action that could harm their virtue thus harming their capacity for beneficial action. The superior person understands and practices humanity, the greatest function of a human being.
Shantideva emphasizes similar practices for the bodhisattva. Shantideva, like Confucius, goes into great practical detail to give, to those who may be of a like mind, instructions on practice for the benefit of one’s self and others. Shantideva addresses everyday occurrences and thought patterns. This emphasis on practical instruction is a signature of the Confucian dialogues. Shantideva’s description of the bodhisattva and the superior person of the Confucian tradition share common altruistic, empathetic motives to help others. They also share many practices of cultivation, ethics, and wisdom that fortify them to help achieve the goal of benefiting others. They each seek to honor the way of past sages and open the way for modern people to cultivate themselves at higher and higher levels. They each show dedication, reverence, commitment, duration, humanity, vigilance, propriety, patience, tranquility, heroic perseverance, righteousness, meditation and wisdom, qualities which we will explore further in coming posts.

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