What is Ruism?

[Ruism] has been and still is a vast, interconnected system of philosophies, ideas, rituals, practices, and habits of the heart…[Ruism] encompassed all the possible domains of human concern…John Berthrong & Evelyn Berthrong, Confucianism: A Short Introduction

A Statue of Confucius in New York City’s Chinatown.

Most Americans have heard of Confucius.

Confucius, the latinized version of the name Kongzi (“Master Kong”) was one of the first and most important teachers of Ruism. The term Confucianism was coined by early Christian missionaries to refer to the Ruism.

Some people in the West still refer to Ruism as Confucianism, but this is slowly changing.

Some of America’s Founder’s–including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison–expressed admiration for Confucius’ teachings. Although the teachings of Confucius were popular in colonial America, most 21st century Americans know very little about Ruism–and what little we do know tends to be corrupted by myths, exaggerations, and stereotypes.

Confucius (left) is portrayed on the East Portico of the U.S. Supreme Court Building, alongside Moses and Solon.

Ruism is a living tradition stretching back over 2,500 years and it adapts to new times, places, and cultures. Here are a few key ideas from the tradition that just about every Ruist would agree on.

Self-Cultivation

…all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything besides.The Great Learning

Ru (those dedicated to Ruism) are dedicated to lifelong, continuous self-improvement. By becoming better and more effective people, we believe we’ll influence our families, our communities, and our societies to become better, too. Through self-cultivation, we hope to become junzi (“noble person”) and cultivate ren, sometimes translated as humaneness or virtue. Three of the most important methods for self-cultivation are learning, self-examination, and ritual.

Learning

Isn’t it satisfying to learn and apply what you’ve learned?The Analects

Ru take learning very seriously. Most Ru spend some time every day reading and reflecting on classic texts from our tradition. For Ru, though, learning isn’t just about acquiring new knowledge. It’s about applying what we learn in our everyday lives to become better people.

Self-Examination

Every day I examine myself on three counts.The Analects

Most Ru keep a journal or set aside time every day to make an honest assessment of our progress. What are we doing well? Where do we need to improve? By keeping track of our progress, we hope to make progress on the Way, which is what we call the entire Ruist path.

Ritual

The noble person takes justice as their essential, carries it out in accordance with ritual…The Analects

When you hear the word ritual, you probably think of formal ceremonies like weddings. For a Ru, though, ritual encompasses virtually every human interaction–from shaking someone’s hand to holding a door open for them.  We believe that by paying special attention to these rituals, we can become more thoughtful, considerate, and compassionate people.

Family

Isn’t filiality and respect for parents and elders the root of humaneness?The Analects

Ru pay special attention to family life. We believe that family life is one of humanity’s greatest goods. By treating our family members with respect and kindness, we learn how to treat others outside the family with kindness and respect, too.

Art, Culture, & Public Life

The noble person makes friends through an interest in culture and refinement. Together, they cultivate humaneness.The Analects

For a Ru, the good life also involves creating and enjoying art and culture, as well as being fully engaged in public life, business, and community service.

[Ru] paid attention to art, morality, religion, family life, science, philosophy, government, and the economy. In short, [Ru] were concerned with all aspects of human life…..John Berthrong & Evelyn Berthrong, Confucianism: A Short Introduction

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