Live Like a Confucian
Ritual cuts off what is too long and extends what is too short. It subtracts from what is excessive and adds to what is insufficient. It achieves proper form for love and respect and it brings to perfection the beauty of carrying out righteousness. Thus, fine ornaments and coarse materials, music and weeping, happiness and sorrow—these things are opposites, but ritual makes use of all of them, employing them and alternating them at the appropriate times.
– Xunzi 19In every case, ritual begins with what must be released, reaches full development in giving it proper form, and finishes in providing it satisfaction. And so when ritual is at its most perfect, the requirements of inner dispositions and proper form are both completely fulfilled.
– Xunzi 19
Both Mengzi and Xunzi follow Kongzi’s lead in recognizing the importance of ritual in shaping cooperative, flourishing human lives together, but Xunzi gives it particular emphasis. The passages quoted here emphasize that ritual works with one’s native dispositions, shaping or re-fashioning them so that they can be satisfied in ways that are consistent with broader social harmony. Thus, as Xunzi says elsewhere, “ritual is a means of nurture”: it nurtures one’s dispositions so that they eventually come to be spontaneously well-ordered. This is to have become a sage, like Kongzi who—according to Analects 2:4—by age seventy was able to “follow his desires without overstepping the bounds.”
Even if ritual has this long-term goal of nurturing one’s dispositions, its means of doing this is through a form of externally imposed control. One forces oneself (perhaps with the aid of one’s parents or others) to abide by the rules of ritual until they come to seem natural.
Throughout the day today, pay careful attention to the ways in which rituals shape your feelings, actions, and interactions with others. What clothes do you wear? Where do you walk? When conversing, how do you hold yourself and where do you look? Insofar as you are conscious of rituals, try to hold yourself to them as strictly as possible.