China Glossary: Tien

India Glossary
Atman
Brahman
   The earliest writings in Chinese, inscriptions written on the oracle bones used to divinate the future, refer to a god called Shang-ti, the "Lord on High." The early Chinese lived in a universe populated by a diverse group of gods, divine forces, and the spirits of ancestors, all of which influenced human affairs beneficially or adversely depending on whether or not proper sacrifices had been made to them. However, all these gods and spirits were, like the human world, ultimately governed and guided by Shang-ti. The nature of Shang-ti is nearly impossible to piece together; he seems to have been the force in the universe which guides all material, human, and divine affairs. Alongside Shang-ti, there arose at a very early stage in Chinese history the concept of t'ien, or "Heaven," which is often used as a synonym for Shang-ti. Heaven, like Shang-ti, guided and ruled the material and spiritual universe; however, Heaven, unlike Shang-ti, does not seem to be a distinguishable identity. It is rather an abstraction of the concept of Shang-ti, much as Atman, the "Universal Spirit" is an abstraction of Brahman in Hinduism.


China Glossary
Jen
Ming
Tao
T'ien Ming

Chinese Philosophy
Confucius
   Heaven rules the cosmos through two means, ming and t'ien ming, or "destiny" and "the Mandate (or Decree) of Heaven;" the combination of these two in ancient China made up the Tao, or Way of Heaven. Ming governed the material, physical world and was directly under the control of Heaven. Sickness, health, wealth, position, floods, pianos falling on your head, and so on, were all directly the result of ming which was the direct result of the action of Heaven. Therefore, one had no control over anything to do with ming so that any effort to pursue material or physical objects is to engage in an activity which properly belongs to Heaven. Even more than this, the guidance of the physical world by Heaven is beyond human comprehension; Confucius claimed that even though he understood (chih ) t'ien ming , ming was completely beyond human intellectual faculties. T'ien ming was the moral imperative that the rulers of the world fulfill both their religious and governmental duties wisely and justly. The Mandate of Heaven requires that rulers see to the welfare and well-being of the people (jen) over which they rule; when they cease to fulfill this obligation, Heaven removes its Mandate from that particular ruler and confers it on another. By Confucius's time, the t'ien ming had come to encompass all the obligations that individuals owed to other individuals related to them in some way, so that it was a more general moral imperative on every human being. It is this wider meaning of t'ien ming that would develop into Confucius' unitary principle of jen .

Richard Hooker



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1993, Richard Hooker

Updated 2-16-98