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Christine Barrera

Ancient Religious Texts Compared 4-10-07

Confucius lived between the years 551 – 479 BCE, while the Mahabharata, the

book which contained the Bhagavad-Gita, was written between 400 BCE – 400 CE. As

Confucious was philosophizing and teaching his students what would become The

Analects in China, the Bhaghavad-Gita, one of the historical Hindu texts, was being

written in India. The religions of Hinduism and Confucianism evolved with many

differences as well as similarities. Forms of both Confucianism and Hinduism have been

around since prehistory. The Bhagavad-Gita was directly influenced by popular religion,

“Hinduism is not based on the teachings of a founder… it has evolved over centuries

through the continual interplay of diverse religious beliefs and practices (2, Miller).” The

religion of Hinduism partly came from the prehistoric Indus Valley Civilization, along the

Indus River in the north-west region of India, dating back to as far as 7000 BCE. Little is

known about the Indus Valley Civilization, but much of their art, mainly works of clay,

depict scenes and figures similar to those of the Hindu religion. Thus, Hinduism was

never brought into the country by missionaries or any oppressive religious force except

for the Aryans, who came to India about 1500 BCE. They too helped form many aspects

of Hinduism that are part of the modern religion today. One major aspect brought by the

Aryans was their use of oral hymns which preserved their culture and stories. These can

be linked to the Vedas, which are important in Hinduism because they tell how to protect

the family, keep the universe safe and overall how to be a good religious person. Just as

there was no single creator of Hinduism, Confucius used popular religion as a basis for

what he organized into his new beliefs which would later be called Confucianism. He was
only a teacher and philosophizer of the Dao, or “The Way.” It was not until after his death

that his beliefs were compiled by his former students in a book which became The

Analects. Confucius’ book had many examples of what he said was the right way to act.

The Analects remains important today, though Confucianism is no longer a prominent

religion in China, he has influenced other important modern religions such as Buddhism

and Daoism. Confucian morality has remained important as well.

Because of the way Hinduism evolved, it has “no single scripture, religious

teacher, deity that is the core of the religion (14, Shattuck).” Hinduism has many books of

scripture important to the people including the Bhagavad-Gita. The story is that of a war

between cousins of royalty. Arjuna is a warrior, but seeing his family get slaughtered, he

begins to doubt whether doing caste duty as a warrior is the correct thing to do. The

Bhagavad-Gita is a dialogue between Arjuna and the henotheistic god, Krishna. Krishna

elaborately tells Arjuna how important it is to live life according to his varna or caste,

and his varnashrama-dharma, duties according to caste and stage of life. Krishna says

that since Arjuna is part of the kshatriya or “warrior” caste, even though killing feels

wrong, it is necessary because that is his duty prescribed by his caste, and it will affect his

karma. Karma translates as “action” and is the past actions one makes in life which

affects the caste and world in which one is reincarnated. For humans on earth there are

four castes one could be born into. These are arranged as a social hierarchy so one who is

born at the top of the caste hierarchy as a Brahmin, “priest,” acted positively and had

good karma so to be able to be reborn in a higher caste. These different castes do not

often intermix, but they are all necessary as part of society.

Since Confucianism evolved in a similar way to Hinduism, it also does not have a

singular deity, though Confucius is the central religious figure and his Analects are the

central text. What he says in the Analects is similar as well to what Krishna preaches to

Arjuna. Ancient Chinese society that Confucius talked about to his students was not made

up of a caste system, and in fact it was important to respect people of social status above

and below ones self because everyone can mix or move up and down the social hierarchy.

Ren means “humanity” in Chinese and was one of the Confucian “cardinal virtues” which

he summed up in the Analects as simply meaning “love others.” (33, Adler). Being good

was one of the main virtues, but it is not as directly related to one’s fate as karma. Both

Confucianism and Hinduism have rituals as an important part of their religion. As

explained in the Vedas, ritualism in Hinduism is historically a sacrificial fire ritual which

serves the purpose of keeping the world and the cosmos balanced and safe for the people

living within and gods happy. Confucius says that all social interaction is sacred, and is a

ritual in itself. Enacting the ideals that are explained in The Analects are, as Confucius

believes, the key to achieving Dao, which is explained as “a way to act or the way the

cosmos as a whole acts (42, Sommer).” Confucian and Hindu rituals are different, but the

importance of rituals is the same because their general aim is to maintain control of the


An excerpt from the Analects in which Confucius explains rituals is as follows:

“Yen Yuan asked about humanity. The master said, ‘if one can prevail over the self and
turn toward ritual that is humanity. If one can do this for just a single day, the whole
world will incline toward humanity. But is it the humanity just comes from one’s own self
alone, or from interacting with other people!’ Yen Yuan said, ‘I would like to ask about
the specific details of this.’ The master said, ‘Look at nothing contrary to ritual; hear
nothing contrary to ritual, speak nothing contrary to ritual, do nothing contrary to ritual.’
Yen Yuan said, ‘even though I am not gifted, I will try to practice what you have just
said.’” (46, Sommer)
Yen Yuan asks Confucius, the master, about humanity, ren, how to be a good

person, and he responds that to be a good person, one must act with rites/ritual (li),

preferably in all aspects of life which Confucius explains as look, hear, speak, do

“nothing contrary to ritual.” Being a good person, by interacting with other people, has

the ability to make the whole world be more inclined to be a better place. Acting with

humanity, however, must be a selfless act, “if one can prevail over the self and turn

toward ritual,” and do what is good it will help move the world toward goodness.

However, one must be being good in society because being a good person in seclusion is

neither a ritual nor a selfless act. In China, as Confucius sees it, there are no boundaries

or distinct divisions between social classes. Anyone can become a junzi, “a gentleman,”

and is part of the ritual of society.

In Hindu society the dynamics are different because of the Upanishads which are

later books of Hindu philosophy concerning samsara, the cycle of rebirth, a central

aspect of Hinduism. The ultimate goal of the people is to separate themselves from

samsara. This is done through renouncing more worldly practices and living as a yogin

who “is able to progress through ever deepening stages of meditation until he reaches the

transcendent state of awareness that grants freedom from rebirth.” (30, Shattuck) This can

be successfully done through karmayoga meaning the action of fulfilling one’s duty with

the discipline to do what is right as well. In The Bhagavad-Gita Krishna explains that

“freedom lies not in renunciation of the world, but in disciplined action, karmayoga (9,

Miller).” “The Sixth Teaching – The Man of Discipline” is an important conversation

between Arjuna and Krishna on the act of this sort of discipline:

“Lord Krishna,
‘One who does what must be done
Without concern for the fruits
Is a man of renunciation and discipline
Not one who shuns ritual fire and rites.

Know that discipline, Arjuna,

Is what men call renunciation; no man is disciplined
Without renouncing willful intent.

Action is the means for a sage

Who seeks to mature in discipline;
Tranquility is the means
For one who is mature in discipline.”’ (66, Miller)

In the first stanza, Krishna simply explains that one must do one’s duty, follow

caste norms and expectations and in doing so with religious values in mind and for non-

worldly desires. In fulfilling one’s duty, becoming a man of discipline is achieved.

Krishna says that world renunciation is not necessary nor a desirable path. In the second

stanza when Krishna says, “no man is disciplined/ Without renouncing willful intent.” He

is saying in other words that one should not fulfill his caste duties if it is because he

simply wants to, it must be because it is his religious obligation, and in doing so without

desire he is acting out the ritualized process like a yogin. “Similar to The Analects, when

“The Master” says to do nothing contrary to ritual. Also the statements in The Analects,

“if one can prevail over the self and turn toward ritual,” and The Bhagavad-Gita, “one

who does what must be done without concern for the fruits”, share the mantra of not

being selfish and doing what is right for the well-being of the world and making the self

better within society and other worlds. This can only be done through acting out religious

duties and rituals.

Though the religions of Confucianism and Hinduism arose in separate areas of a

continent, they share a number of values. There could be plausible reasons for this,
perhaps that the ancient Asian continent shares a similar religious background, or the

beliefs in morality are universal despite opposing religious values. The ancient Confucian

and Hindu text, The Analects and The Bhagavad-Gita have been and in fact still are very

influential scripture to many people of Asia and the rest of the world. The Analects is a

talk about humanity and ritual and presents well the idea that ritual is something that one

needs to strive to achieve because it may not come naturally to all. Ritual, Confucius

says, relies on social interaction to maintain humanity and order in the world. The

Bhagavad-Gita uses a more detailed and specific example of the warrior Arjuna and the

necessity of acting through karmayoga in order to practice a more directly self-centered

ritual to defeat samsara, though overall the varnashrama-dharma benefits society as

people maintain their duties of their caste which keeps the cosmos in order. These

influential books are multi-faceted and incredibly intertwined in various ways.

Adler, Joseph A. Religons of the World Chinese Religious Traditions. New Jersey:
Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 2002.
Miller, Barbara Stoler. The Bhagavad-Gita – Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War. New
York: Bantam Classics, 2004.
Shattuck, Cybelle. Religions of the World Hinduism. New Jersey: Calmann & King Ltd.,
Sommer, Deborah. Chinese Religon an Anthology of Sources. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1995.