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The restoration of Li (礼)

September 4, 2011

Im reading Analects of Confucius these days and a certain concept really struck a chord with me. There is a lot of mention to this idea of Li (礼)。In modern days this has come to mean social etiquette, proper behaviour, manners, ceremonies, customs, rules and regulations.  Sad to say, many expressions of this Li have become quite artificial and meaningless activities. People conforming to rules and protocols which are empty and binding, following customs which have long lost their significance, doing things for show. What i figured from the various verses on Li is that Li is something which is innate and within us. It gives us the limits on our conduct as to what is the proper conduct between people, on a small  scale our family members or friends and on larger scale in the society.  I would say Li is the principle which establishes peace and harmony within ourselves and in the outside world. Many problems arise when this Li, the boundary is crossed. In the West people think that freedom is being able to do anything and say anything. Yet the results are often disastrous, as their freedom may be causing hurt or harm to others. By being self restraint and having the humility within us , this could even turn your foes into friends!

People these days i feel are sick of behaving in ways that are expected of them, taught to them, they dont want to conform to the old ways. They want to rebel and be free. The prevalent thinking is why should i be a good  person? There is nothing to gain out of it. They think that having Li is not so important in this modern and competitive world so they neglect this aspect, or another case is Li is only expressed artificially just for show. Like i wrote previously about the Mooncake festival which now has become just a money making occasion.

The real sense of Li requires another element known as Ren (仁),which is the benevolence or compassion. Real Li can only be expressed when one uses their heart, by being sincere in our ways with people and doing things with understanding of the meaning behind.  When we start expressing Li with Ren, then really we start enjoying it ourselves when we see the joy which others get.

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