jen


jen
/zhun, rddun/, n. (in Chinese philosophy)
a compassionate love for humanity or for the world as a whole.
[ < Chin (Wade-Giles) jên2, (pinyin) rén]

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      in Confucian philosophy, one of the most fundamental of all virtues, variously translated as humaneness, warmheartedness, or benevolence. Before Confucius' time jen was understood as the kindness of rulers to their subjects. It was gradually broadened to mean benevolence, still a particular virtue but no longer restricted to rulers. Confucius changed it to connote perfect virtue, which includes all particular virtues and applies to all men. Mencius and the Doctrine of the Mean went on to say that “jen is jen”—that is, jen is the distinguishing characteristic of man. During the Han period, it was generally interpreted as love, and Han Yü in the T'ang period stressed it as love for all mankind.

      Under the influence of Buddhism, which extended its compassion to include all things, the Neo-Confucianists of the Sung and Ming dynasties similarly extended jen to mean “forming one body with Heaven, Earth, and all things.” This thought was common to both the rationalistic Ch'eng-Chu and the idealistic Lu-Wang schools. Some Sung Neo-Confucianists, however, took jen to be a state of consciousness. Chu Hsi called it “the character of the mind and the principle of love,” and Wang Yang-ming equated it with the “clear character” of innate knowledge.

      All these were too quietistic and too Buddhistic for the 17th- and 18th-century Neo-Confucianists, who went back to an early Han commentary on an ancient classic that defines jen as “people living together.” The new emphasis was on the social and active aspects of jen. All Neo-Confucianists agreed, however, that jen, or humanity, is a moral quality imparted by Heaven, and, since the “great characteristic” of Heaven and Earth is to produce and to reproduce, so jen is characterized by production and reproduction; that is to say, it is life-affirming and life-giving, not only active but creative. Under the influence of Western science in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, modern Confucianists likened jen to electricity and ether, a dynamic force and an all-pervasive substance.

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Universalium. 2010.

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