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Li is the Chinese word for ritual. Ceremonies, rites, and moral codes are other terms used to describe rituals. Ritual performances intended to demonstrate respect for a sacred being, which could be a god, an ancestor, or spirits. They were done on purpose to appease these terrified spirits so that the performer may experience fate and good fortune. The political roles played by rituals are the most pronounced since the political underpinnings of a state were critical for the other areas of life to function fully. Confucianism was a ritualistic tradition that played an important part in the establishment of an imperial Theo-political regime. Rituals were closely associated with Confucian because it was a tradition of rituals and possessed psychological, social, and religious aspects.
Psychological aspects of rituals made people love their personal experiences and duties shaping their behaviour and thus ensuring harmonised expression of feelings. The social aspect of rituals determined how people coexisted between and among themselves. He who accomplished ritual lived and he who lost it perished (Yao, 192). The religious aspect showed how people talked to spiritual powers during their communication with the spiritual realm.
Sacrifice was the most crucial character of rituals and it was endowed with a symbolic meaning. Confucians understanding and keeping of into practice let to establishment of a politically, ethically and religiously moral society. Rituals were treated with care, sincerity and reverence and they were observed and followed with respect and accordance to the sacred texts. Confucians held rituals with great importance because they served social, political and religious role as discussed below.
Rituals were media by which behaviour was modelled and transformed between and among the living so as to adhere to the social expectations. Proper performance of the rituals in the correct manner with sincerity helped in perfecting someone’s behaviour. Ritual performance were able to distinguish between the right and the wrong making people in the very society act in accordance to the expectations of the society. They were used as societal determination factor which gave a clear difference between what is sacred and what is profane. They were aided towards regulations of behaviour as poor behaviours among the people could be shunned by performance of rituals to show that such an act was to be avoided. In the book introduction to Confucianism by Yao (2000) stated that a Proper and sincere performance of rituals had correspondence effect in perfection of personal character.
Rituals were a way of giving people identification in the society. Sincerity and reverence in performance of rituals served a big role in giving people identification. Communal identity was conceived and strengthened through shared experiences. For the Confucians, rituals and especially rituals to ancestors were crucial for continued existence because the world contained a lot of harmful things and habits which could have led to negative effects among the Confucians. Performance of rituals up held family ties between the living and the ancestors as the rituals changed and marked important events. Expression of feelings pertaining happiness or sorrowful events was majorly done by performance of rituals. Rituals were most importantly meant for creation and sustenance of identity since they created a feeling of belonging to the Confucians. Familiarity, shared experiences, togetherness as well as connectedness feelings among Confucians were expressed during rituals. The people who took part in a given ritual developed a sense of belonging to their families, society and state in respect to the level at which the rituals were performed. The web of ceremonies gave everyone an unusual position in the family and society (Yao 192). Sacrifice to ancestors helped the Confucians realise themselves fully during their lives and after death as they were assured protection because they could be looked after.
Rituals were a mean by which ethnics were transformed. Through performance of rituals, ethnics of the society were transferred from one generation to the other. They were means by which the character and meaning of life was experienced. It was a vehicle by which virtue and meaning of life was manifested.
Rituals were also meant for acquisition of morals. For the Confucians, rituals were means by which they attained morality. To them, spirits and sacrifices to the spirits were understood both literally and intellectually. Confucians held on to the believe that what they required as people was the same things the spirits required hence they did not believe that for an ethically pleasant ritual they were to provide a better quality of the sacrifice items meant for the ritual.
Rituals served as a central part of the way of life. To a broader application, rituals were at the core of living for the Confucians; to them they were never complete human beings without purifying themselves via rituals performance. No matter someone’s experience, capability or levels of courage involvement into rituals was part and parcel of the Confucians living.
With Confucianism being a state Theo-political ideology, rituals played an important role in how the Chinese were governed. Rituals were used to express honour. Leaders were honoured for their good performance towards serving the state through performance of rituals. The act of performing rituals was a way of giving a congratulations to the leaders for their work well done. Only those who had given more support to the spiritual and material well-being were entitled to sacrifice (Yao 195).
Rituals served a great role in the well-being of the state. Rituals were performed by community local officers toward the heavens and venerated toward the ancestors for the society welfare. These local officers held governance responsibility accorded to them and they were supposed to give sacrifices at the community alter toward the spirits so that the spirit could look after the community by ensuring that no disaster befell them to cause any mischief to the society. Performance of rituals was done so as to experience a harmonised, happy and prosperous state and land. Confucians trusts that proper adherence and performance of rituals would help transform their nation especially in times when they were experiencing calamities. Drought, insect infestation and inversion could only be dealt with through performance of rituals. Confucians interceded for a peaceful reign as peace would lead to a strengthened sovereign power. Rituals towards the heavens was an official matter and an exclusive privilege to the emperor as it strengthened the political regime (Yao 198).
Rituals acted the same roles played by the opposition parties in a political systems. Rituals served as a positive influence for the state. Performance of rituals provided a criticism based on performance of the government. The ruling regime was held accountable to the public through rituals. Government policies were subjected to challenge hence ensuring that the public was served with transparency and accountability. Rulers were reminded their duties during worships of heavens since it was not merely meant for restraining citizens. This served a religious political roles. Among the Confucians performance of rituals kept the ruling regime under check as the rituals helped keep leaders on their toes in performance of their duties. Poor service to citizens by a leader could lead to impeachment of a ruling emperor. Confucians would risk their lives to reprimand a dissolute emperor for failure to fulfil his duties to the state (Yao 198).
Rituals were used as a symbol of political sovereignty. Rituals toward the ancestors served not only religious matters but also as a foundation for the government. Performance of rituals with sincerity towards the ancestors was seen as a basis for establishment of a politically strong government. Royal ancestral temple was a sacred place for the state as it was the place where divination and enthronement of a king was formally installed.
Rituals were used as a tool for restraining citizens. For the Confucians, leaders were heavenly sent with power to govern and rule and it was only through ritual performance these powers would be firmly established. Leaders therefore had to put in to consideration that their roles and service to the people was equivalent to serving the heavens.
Rituals played a role in uniting the Confucians. Rituals helped to a great extent integration of the state into a manageable community as unity was a key construction of a Theo- political state. For the Confucians, rituals were a mean by which the universe was kept together as they unified humankind as well as a link between the living and the dead. During ritual performance, people could come together as part and parcel of the performers to the very ritual and hence strengthening bond between the socially, religiously and politically. By use of rituals, the division between the states people could be sealed bonding them together by renewing their previous relationships.
Rituals were performed to ensure citizens a peaceful and orderly coexistence. For peace to prevail, harmony is an inherent virtue. It was a key factor in manifestation of human character because it acted as an inner state for proper expression of feelings and emotions. Trough rituals, humans were aided and guided on how to react because all human beings have feelings and not all can express them properly. Harmonised existence among the Confucians was a virtue of political importance because it regulated character ensuring no body violates the rights and freedom as well as privileges of each other. Rituals helped to regulate character toward the positive side given that going against them will spoil our character. Order and peaceful coexistence was to be established personally, communally, internally, and externally. People who have lost harmony in their hearts are accountable for the disorder in the world (Yao 171). For the Confucians, if everyone did in accordance with rituals taking responsibility of ones actions, then the state would be peaceful and orderly even without rulers, orders, or governance. This would be merely because people would strictly adhere to rituals in fear of the consequences of going against these rituals. As stated in the book introduction to Confucianism by Yao (2000) People would be ruled without ruling, governed without governance and ordered without ordering.
Rituals were communication channel between humanity and the spiritual realm. Proper performance and adherence to rituals is of great effect for the Confucians in communication with their gods, ancestors and spirits. Rituals served as a factor behind molarity. Rituals were through meant to teach, educate and cleanse people of their ill behaviours. Through rituals people experiences spiritual and moral reunion with the spiritual words. It was meant for achieving moral perfection (Yao 194). Confucians invests much of their resources to ritual. Great importance was confined on rituals because they helped in procurement of personal values and moral perfections. Although Confucians spiritually was not only confined in rituals, it stretched far much beyond the rituals.
Rituals were used for religious dependency and spiritual reliance. Rituals acted as a channel by which ancestors were linked to their descendants. The Confucians doctrine supposed that all things originates from ancestors (Yao 202). The rituals to ancestors helped the Confucians on remembering their origin as the worship required filial piety helping in associating descendants with their parents and ancestors.
Proper performance of rituals with the reverence and sincerity due among the Confucians was of great importance as it offered solutions to social, religious and political problems. Rituals had positive impact by which they served political, social and religious roles. Strict observance of rituals with sincerity helped to a great extent in the Confucians politics. Despite these political roles, veneration to the ancestors as well as sacrifices to heavens also served social and religious roles as per the above discussion
Yao, Xinzhong. An introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge University Press, 2000.
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