Confucianism and death Confucian doctrines did not focus on life after death. This is because Confucius believed the death was not the standard by which an individual’s way of life on earth was measured. He believed in the eternity of the soul and in the existence of the deceased beyond the grave. He believed that human beings comprehended far too little about life on earth and as such there was no need to waste it planning the thereafter they understood even less.
According to Kaizuka, Shigeki, the Confucian thereafter does not include a realm of eternal reward for those who die in a state of righteousness. His heaven is but a name for the highest spiritual presence known to man. Confucius believed in the retribution of the individual’s soul which continues to live in another form once it is separated from the body at death. He believed that in death, the body and the soul are separated but the soul continues to exist in another form and is punished for sins committed while the body and soul were united. Vertical retribution means the punishment an individual for the sins of their father in the world but the retribution of the soul after death refers to the punishment an individual for the sins they committed when alive.
Confucius taught that life and death were the responsibility of the society and that life and death were determined by fate while wealth and nobleness are determined by “heaven”, thus his emphasis on life rather than death.
Comparison between an approach to death in Confucian philosophy and in Egyptian
In ancient Egypt, religion guided each aspect of life and it was based on polytheism with two chief gods; Amon-Ra who was the sun-god and lord of the universe and Osiris who was the god of the underworld. Osiris was believed to be responsible for a peaceful afterlife and the idea of immortality was associated with him. Unlike the Confucian philosophy whose focus was on life rather than death, Egyptian religion revolved around the afterlife and Egyptians devoted a lot of time and wealth to prepare for the life after death. To Egyptians, death was a transition towards a better life in the next world where they believed they would reach their full potential. Each person was thought to have three (3) souls; the “ka”, the “ba” and the “akh”. For these souls to function properly, it was essential for the body to remain intact after death. As such, belief in rebirth was the focus in funeral rites whereby the dead were mummified (to preserve the body) and buried in a decorated coffin together with useful items they would need in the next life like furniture, food, jewelry, etc. Further, a ritual called “opening of the mouth” whose purpose was to enable the deceased to talk and eat again and to have the full use of the body was done and the tomb sealed.
In Confucianism, ancestor worship was the core element in the spiritual life and what happens after death was less important as compared to the living fulfilling their obligation to the dead.
Similar attributes in human nature Confucius and Ptahhotep
1. Self Control
Both Confucian and Ptahhotep taught that human beings should practice self-control with Confucius asking them to be mindful of the direction of their sight, hearing and speech and Ptahhotep teaching that one should not be a gossiper nor should they covet nor steal.
Emphasis was on moral uprightness with Ptahhotep teaching against stealing, to treat their wives well, to respect the elders and the leaders and not to be quarrelsome. He warned them against pride and encouraged generosity. Confucius advocated for good conduct socially and proper social relationships with an emphasis on self-discipline. A meaningful life is whereby one develops one’s innate moral potential to the fullest while fulfilling all of their social obligations. He argues that humans are born innately good but require nurturing and self-cultivation to reach the highest potential and discipline.
Ptahhotep advises against the vice of greed and advises his son to be humble and respectful to the elders. Confucius advised his followers to be empathetic to other people suffering as empathy is what is unique to human beings. Confucius taught his followers to practice Jen which is can be explained as love, goodness, humanity, and human heartedness.