Superior Man Concept: Analysis of Use in Confucianism and Taoism
In both Confucianism and Taoism, there exists a concept called the "Superior Man." In essence, the superior man is one who is able to lead his life in a way that allows him to be both completely whole and at peace with himself and his actions in a variety of circumstances. While this concept maintains the same foundations in each religion, the superior man differs somewhat between its Confucian and Taoist uses. In order to view the similarities and differences between the two versions, one must first understand the basic definitions and principles that exist within Confucianism and Taoism. In understanding the basis for this ideal within each religion, one can better understand why this standard of living was modeled after in these differing religions, as well as garner an understanding of why the concept of the superior man is still studied and valued today.
Confucianism: Definition and Principles
For centuries, the central idea of Confucius notes that every normal human being relishes at the notion of becoming a superior man -- "superior to his fellows, if possible, but surely superior to his own past and present self" (Mendander-Dawson, 2002, pp. 4). It is this standard that allows a man or woman to go above and beyond in an effort to not only better themselves within the world spectrum, but better themselves for their own moral enlightenment and personal fulfillment. Confucius long preached this concept as not a means for perfection but a means for growth and personal accomplishment. In truly become a superior man, an individual does not relish in the idea of others' praise but finds fulfillment in his or her own personal quiet achievements.
The attributes of the superior man and the principles to which he must adhere are vast and varied, ranging from "purpose" to "mental hospitality." These standards allow an individual to fully understand what they must strive to achieve in many various areas of life. In looking more deeply at several of these held principles, one can better understand the model of behavior that Confucius expected from a truly superior man, which, as seen is no easy feat to attain. Confucius preached the principle of sincerity, saying: "The superior man must make his thoughts sincere for is it not his absolute sincerity which distinguishes a superior man? (Doctrine of the Mean, C. XIII, 4). The superior man must also live by the principle of "reserved power," understanding that one must never become what is today referred to as a "show-off." In reserving one's full power and aptitude, the superior man maintains a sense of personal modesty which is revered in the Confucian teachings.
In addition to these many personal virtues and principles which are meant to be adhered to under Confucius' teachings, he further noted that the superior man must understand the true "Art of Living." The art of living as described by Confucius' philosophy is the practice of "right-living," which involves a continuous search for truth, knowledge, education, and sense of self. A superior man must never become complacent in his status within life in any capacity. Complacency in thought or state of mind, as well as in morality or in knowledge is unacceptable under the Confucian model of the superior man. In viewing even the most basic principles of this model of living, one can immediately understand that becoming a superior man is essentially signing oneself up for a life-long quest that will never fully be achieved. Confucius fully understood that no one can ever be truly perfect, but setting oneself on a path to continuous improvement is a significantly valid way to continue bettering oneself as time goes on, ensuring that each day lived is better than the last.
Taoism: Definition and Principles
While Confucianism focuses largely on one's place in a centered society, Taoism, on the other hand, is largely focused on how individuals act in respect to the nature that exists around them. The superior man, in Taoist philosophy, adheres to the principles that are set in place by nature. In Taoist society, one can never be at peace with oneself unless he or she is at peace with nature. Thus, the superior man has found a way to achieve both of these standards, and often does so by adhering to a set of principles that are set forth for those in search of becoming the superior man by Taoist teachers.
The Taoist focus on being one with nature further incorporates an air of mysticism into the understanding of the superior man, as can be seen in viewing the following quote by Taoist thinking Chuang-tzu:
"The perfect man is a spiritual being. Were the ocean itself scorched up, he would not feel hot. Were the Milky Way frozen hard, he would not feel cold. Were the mountains to be riven with thunder and the great deep be thrown up by storm, he would not tremble. In such case, he would mount upon the clouds of heaven and, driving the sun and moon before him, pass beyond the limits of this external world where death and life have no victory over man" (Taoist Inspiration, 2012, pp.1).
In viewing this depiction of this Taoist superior man, one can understand the importance of adhering to a deep and defined connection with nature, for as one becomes superior, he in essence becomes one with nature itself. In viewing the aforementioned quote, the superior man is unharmed by the adverse effects of natural disasters because he himself is part of nature, remaining unharmed unlike those individuals who have not achieved the inner peace or peace with nature that he has.
The goal of Taoist life, and therefore the goal of the Taoist superior man, is to foster a mystical relationship to the Tao, or the "way" that is set before them. The truly superior man under the Taoist philosophy has the capacity to shun the distractions of the earthly world and delve in to a relationship with something much deeper and more profound -- the world around him. In Taoism, the superior man is able to not only connect with, but become part of the nature around him, concentrating fully on life itself. The Taoist believes that the superior man, having achieved this connection to the earth and to nature, would stem into the life of the superior man himself, extending his life along with his knowledge.
In viewing each concept of the superior man, one can understand that the man difference between the two concepts lies in the differences between Confucianism and Taoism themselves. While the Confucian superior man is educated, moral in his actions with others, and exceptionally talented in his thoughts and in his speech in order to better himself and society around him, the Taoist superior man appears much different. The Taoist superior man also seeks to better himself, but does not do so with society in mind. The Taoist superior man is enlightened to the point of being one with himself and one with nature, overly unconcerned with the dealings of others within a societal landscape.
While the overarching goal of the quest to become a superior man is much the same in each religion, the differences in reasoning behind this quest are what set the two apart significantly. For instants, Confucianism sets those on the quest of becoming a superior man in motion in order to achieve social harmony, while Taoists set forth on this journey to gain a balance in life that stems from the teachings of nature. Additionally, each religion's view on human nature differs significantly, with Confucians believing that humans should respect and follow the teachings and actions of those who are superior to them, while Taoists believe that humans can attain enlightenment by…