As one of India’s greatest epics, the Ramayana provides insights into the life and culture of historical India. Conversely, the Analects was written by Confucius and his disciples in ancient China and reflects the standards of a “Good” person (junzi 君子). While reading the two great texts, I could not help but compare how the Analects and the Ramayana (which arguably characterize ancient Chinese and Indian ideals respectively) differ or concur in their illustrations of the model society and person. In this short blog post, I will highlight some of the major differences and similarities I spotted in the two texts.
Perhaps the most striking similarity is the immense emphasis placed on filial piety. In the Analects, paying respect to one’s ancestors is an important part of the rituals (li 礼), and attaining spiritual perfection (wuwei 无为) and goodness (ren 仁) (Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, p. 1-2). Similarly, characters described as virtuous in the Ramayana often display great dedication to their parents. Such filial piety is considered imperative in upholding dharma or fulfilling one’s duties. Additionally, both Chinese and Indian traditional cultures emphasize a good education, spirituality and kindness towards others.
However, there are some notable differences between the values portrayed in the Ramayana and Confucianism. One example is the contrasting perception of beauty. While good looks are glorified in the Ramayana, Confucianism seems to disapprove of any preoccupation with physical appearance or aesthetics. Indeed, Rama’s (the main protagonist of the Ramayana) “well-proportioned body…endowed with all the auspicious marks” is seen as one of his prominent assets (The Ramayana, p.4). On the other hand, Confucius believes that “a clever tongue and fine b appearance are rarely signs of Goodness” (Analects 1.3).
All in all, I found it very interesting to compare two seemingly separate cultures and value systems. Perhaps now is a good time to reflect on how different or similar our modern society is to the one depicted in the Ramayana. Are we able to relate to the ideals, aspirations and norms of a society thousands of years older than ours?
Thank you for reading!
~Crystal Lee 😀