|Part of the series Confucianism|
|3||Themes in confucian thought|
|4||Influence in 17th century Europe|
|6||Religion or philophy debate|
|7||Names for confucianism|
Translations from the 17th century to the present have varied widely. Comparison of these many sources is needed for a true "general consensus" of what message Confucius meant to imply.
Confucius argued that under law, external authorities administer punishments after illegal actions, so people generally behave well without understanding reasons why they should; whereas with ritual, patterns of behavior are internalized and exert their influence before actions are taken, so people behave properly because they fear shame and want to avoid losing face. In this sense, "rite" (Chinese: 禮; ||pinyin]]: lǐ) is an ideal form of social norm.
The Chinese character for "rites", or "ritual", previously had the religious meaning of "sacrifice". Its Confucian meaning ranges from politeness and propriety to the understanding of each person's correct place in society. Externally, ritual is used to distinguish between people; their usage allows people to know at all times who is the younger and who the elder, who is the guest and who the host and so forth. Internally, rites indicate to people their duty amongst others and what to expect from them.
Internalization is the main process in ritual. Formalized behavior becomes progressively internalized, desires are channeled and personal cultivation becomes the mark of social correctness. Though this idea conflicts with the common saying that "the cowl does not make the monk," in Confucianism sincerity is what enables behavior to be absorbed by individuals. Obeying ritual with sincerity makes ritual the most powerful way to cultivate oneself:
Respectfulness, without the Rites, becomes laborious bustle; carefulness, without the Rites, become timidity; boldness, without the Rites, becomes insubordination; straightforwardness, without the Rites, becomes rudeness. (Analects VIII, 2)Ritual can be seen as a means to find the balance between opposing qualities that might otherwise lead to conflict. It divides people into categories, and builds hierarchical relationships through protocols and ceremonies, assigning everyone a place in society and a proper form of behavior. Music, which seems to have played a significant role in Confucius' life, is given as an exception, as it transcends such boundaries and "unifies the hearts".
Although the Analects heavily promote the rites, Confucius himself often behaved other than in accord with them.