World's Religions -- social duty & responsibility

Social Duty and Responsibility in Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism

Social duty and responsibility refers to the individual's obligation towards himself and that to society. Said obligation is heavily dependent on the ethical provision set by the society's religion and more importantly society's interpretation on what is considered as proper and beneficial for the majority. Social responsibility entails a set of rules and procedures that guide individual action and decision. This paper explores the varying interpretations of Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism on the concept of social duty.

The primary thesis of this paper is -- social duty and responsibility in the four religions revolves on the enrichment of oneself and subsequent interplay of the self with the members of the family and the community as a whole. The four religions prescribes what ought to be done and said prescriptions would vary as the individual goes through his or her life as an integral part of society.

For Hinduism, social duty and responsibility is manifested with the four stages that an individual must go through; these stages are encapsulated in the sacred thread concept of Hinduism. According to Hinduism the first stage of life as Brahmacarya, one gains wisdom, knowledge and good judgment. In this stage, the duty of the young Hindu is that that they are expected to gain physical and mental discipline with guidance from parents and teachers. For boys, this stage of life begins with the study of Hindu scriptures and texts which is marked by the upanayana, also known as the sacred thread ceremony, which occurs between ages eight to eleven. At this stage, the young person begin hearing, reading and understanding the most important mantras, prayers and stories of the Hindu texts. (Streissguth, 2002:60) The second stage refers to Garhasthya; the stage is attained upon marriage with a suitable bride or husband. After marriage, a Hindu reaches the stage of Grihasta; it is the duty of the individual to settle into an occupation and sets up a household. The householder raises a family and prepares sons to carry on the family's name and traditions. The householder experiences the busiest, longest and most important stage of life. The person observes certain duties and obligations including educating one's children, increasing the wealth, carrying out proper rituals and pilgrimages and seeing one's daughters properly married to suitable husbands. The householder who successfully carries out these obligations reflects well on the parents and teachers who trained him or her in early life. (Streissguth, 2002: 61)

In relation to the sacred thread, according to Bhagavad Gita, the ideal of the householder is to self less work carried out in the spirit of the community. The fruits of labor are secondary; the good effects of a right livelihood are primary. Altering the ideals brings freedom from material wants, goals towards which all Hindus strive. The final stage of the individual is the vanaprasthya which refers to retirement and retreat from hardwork and obligations. In this stage, the father turns over to his sons, who he hopes are well prepared to take the reins. The stage begins when one first grandson is born, an event that assumes that the family name will continue. The bonds that tie one to a single location and community gradually begin to loosen and ordinary worldly goals are left behind. One can begin to study and meditation of much higher goals that will be fulfilled at the end of one's lifetime. (Streissguth, 2002:62)

The stages of social duties that an individual has to undertake as manifested in Hinduism shows a linear path of progression of roles that a person must fulfill in relation to the family and community. It details the interaction of other duties that an individual must perform and the values present each instance the duty is carried out. In relation, it is a cyclical representation of social duty because it starts off with the development of oneself through education, then serving the family and society and at the latter stages of one's life; the individual seeks further enlightenment away from the material world towards enriching one's spiritual health.

For Buddhism, the social duty of the individual is manifested in the concept of the Noble Truth and the Eight Fold Path. According to the Noble Truth, suffering is a kind of physical and mental suffering through which it is a constant condition rather than intermittent pain. He task was to fully understand suffering. Buddha claims that the source of suffering is the individual craving. One must therefore identify one own craving and to realize that Nirvana -- enlightenment offers deliverance from suffering. (Netzley 2002:29-30)

On the other hand, the Eight Fold Path is done through right understanding which means having Buddha's teachings and developing a full understanding of them, not only by thinking about them but by testing their wisdom through experience. Right thought means developing the motivation to practice Buddhism and to experience selflessness, in part by becoming more concerned with others than oneself. Right action means behaving decently, specifically by not killing, displaying cruelty, stealing or over indulging in activities related to the senses. Right livelihood means earning a living through ways that do not harm living things or the environment or compromise one's integrity. Right effort means regulating one's energy so that the proper amount of efforts is put into each endeavor, overzealousness is to be avoided as much as laziness. (Netzley 2002:31)

Buddhism contends that meditation as a way to weaken the I, the ego and self. Buddha believed that each person's I stood in the way of inner peace and that in order to find such peace it was necessary to behave and think uncertain ways that would bring freedom from ego. As part of forgetting oneself, Buddha advocated concern for others above self. People should not judge or criticize the beliefs and practices of others. (Netzley 2002: 33)

Buddhism explains social duty within the context of suffering and controlling one's carving or desires. Happiness is achieved once craving is regulated from the individual's standpoint. This stance is a clear reflection of Buddhism's intention of refocusing the individual from material needs towards the immaterial or the spiritual side of life. Buddhism talks about the concept of the Eight Fold Path, a guideline through the individual should anchor his or her social duty. The Eight Fold Path discusses the requisites of what one must do to live a righteous and ethical way life by proper discernment and meditation. The Path is a set of recommendations made by Buddhism on how one must and ought to live life that is by putting the interest of others above the self, by earning an honest livelihood and always basing one's action and decision for the common good. The relevance of Buddhist principles in the present time should be taken to account as a good majority of us are too pre-occupied with the material world and consumerism that we at times forget to take a pause to nourish our souls.

Similar to Hinduism, Buddhism places emphasis on the need for meditation. Through meditation, the individual undergoes a process of introspection and with said process the individual realizes that one's social duty is based on serving what would be best for the greater number. It is a point wherein the individual transcends self-interest and starts to function with a communitarian and altruistic mindset.

Confucian philosophy is focused on the Ren and Shu. Ren connotes compassion for all human beings. It goes beyond offering charity to the needy. Confucius asserted that Ren meant that one must love people. On the other hand, Shu meant the willingness to see things from the other person's perspective and take their needs and feelings into consideration what ever one says or does. (Slavicek, 2002: 29-30)

Confucian social duty and responsibility is grounded on the orderly family and orderly society. The orderly family refers to the concept of filial piety -- meaning obedience and respect for parents. It is by loving and honoring one's family that one learns to practice ren and shu. As a person progressed from childhood to adulthood, the selfless concern for others one had developed at home would naturally expand outward for one's relationships with the greater community. When all family relationships are properly ordered, the society would be orderly and harmonious. Confucius asserted that a well ordered family is hierarchical and patriarchal, wives must submit to their husbands, children must obey their fathers and young brothers must defer to older brothers. (Slavicek, 2002:31)

Pertinent to the discussion on the social duty of the individual is Confucianism's Five Relationships or Five Basic Loyalties among human beings. These include the following: relationship between the father and son, sovereign and subject, husband and wife, older and younger sibling and friend. However, whereas subordinate owe their superiors respect and obedience, Confucius argued that superiors also have obligations to those beneath them. Rulers must treat their subordinates with compassion and consideration at all times. Only…