The Connection between Confucianism and Taoism
Confucianism and Taoism are some of the major religions in China. They have greatly influenced the culture of the Chinese people as well as their world view. The connection between the two religions has influenced many people over time. It can also be said that when the principles of both philosophies are put together, the outcome is a well-rounded person. The following is a discussion of the principles and philosophies behind these two religions as well as how the two religions interact and connect to influence an individual.
Confucianism is a religion that bases its philosophy and principles on the teachings of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher who lived between 551 and 478 BC. The Philosophy behind Confucianism is humanism. Confucian adherents have a positive view of human beings and human nature. The world in the Confucian religion in seen through the ideal of humanism. This means that adherents of Confucianism hold it true that human beings are improvable, teachable and perfectible. Human beings can become perfect through individual and communal effort for example self creation and cultivation. The general philosophy of Confucianism emphasizes individual and governmental morality, rightness of social relationships, sincerity and justice of the whole community.
All adherents of Confucianism should practice ethics that are exemplified by the propagation of virtues or principles. There are many virtues that adherents of Confucianism should follow for instance loyalty, continence, piety, bravery, gentleness, among others. However, there are five fundamental principles in Confucianism that include humaneness (Ren), Righteousness (Yi), Knowledge (Zhi), Etiquette (Li) and Integrity (Xin).
Humaneness obliges people to show altruism to other people in a community. This means that one should be loyal to his true nature, should show reciprocity to good deeds, be kind and show piety. Humaneness dictates that people observe the Golden Rule, ‘Do not do to others what you do not want done to 0yourself’. Being righteous means being morally disposed to do good. Etiquette on the other hand is a system of propriety and norms that dictate what proper and improper behavior within a community is. Knowledge means to appreciate the true and deep significance of something. Integrity on the other hand means honesty and standing by ones words.
Taoism is a Chinese religious tradition that stresses the importance of living harmoniously with the essence and source of all that exists or the Tao. In Chinese, Tao means the path, way or principle but it can also mean nature or reality. In Taoism, the right path is working in harmony with nature or reality. Taoism ethics stress the three jewels of the Tao which include moderation, compassion and humility. The philosophy of Taoism centers on nature and how human beings should relate with the cosmos. Inner fulfillment can be achieved through contemplation of nature. Nature is like a stream of wisdom and by experiencing it through innocent eyes, we are able to internalize its pleasantness, its intrigue and its excitement and achieve serenity.
There are four fundamental principles in Taoism including Tao, De, Pu and Wu wei. Tao in Taoism is the natural, spontaneous, eternal and indescribable way everything began and took course. It is the force that is behind natural order, the natural flow of the universe or that which keeps the universe ordered and balanced. De on the other hand is the integrity, virtue and power that are an active expression of the way or Tao. It is the living out or cultivation of the way. Wu wei, the third principle in Taoism which literally means ‘without purposeful action’. It means effortless doing and the unseen power in all things. In practice, it means that people should not exert their will in the world as this will cause a disruption in the harmony that is within things. Human beings should put their will in harmony with that which is natural or the nature. This way, their objectives would be achieved without effort. Pu in Chinese is translated to mean simplicity. It is used to symbolize pure perception and potential without discrimination. Taoists believe that everything should be perceived as it really is without illusions. Pu is the true and pure nature of the mind, uncontaminated by experiences or knowledge. When someone is in Pu, there neither is beautiful nor ugly, right nor wrong, only pure awareness.
When the principles of both Confucianism and Taoism combine, they are able to make a well rounded and self actualized person. First off, both philosophers advocate for people to move from having an ‘individual’ attitude and adopt a more communal attitude. Selflessness is therefore advocated for. The greater whole is give precedence over the individual. This is probably the reason why the Chinese as a people are very communal. If people adopted this notion, then a lot of useless conflicts between people would be done away with. This is because according to these philosophies, left to his means, the individual would not only hold himself back but also fragment the society. When individuals come together, the society is made stronger because people do only that which is advantageous to society. If therefore people adopted this principle as taught in both Confucianism and Taoism, the world would be a peaceful place to live in and our political leaders would work for the electorate instead of protecting themselves and the haves.
Another way in which the combination of the two philosophies can help make a well rounded person is that they both advocate for virtues that would make an individual better. While Confucianism emphasizes on humaneness, Righteousness, Knowledge, Etiquette and Integrity, Taoism centers on nature and how it can bring harmony to the human being and society. If one combined the two, he would in essence be a person who does good, follows societal norms and also conserves the environment. This in essence would be a law abiding citizen who respects the role of nature in the world. The environment and nature which we salvage any how would be safe and global warming and the extinction of some species of animals would not be there. Crime would be a thing of the past. The society would be full of well rounded people.
Both philosophies encourage people to live well conducted lives, to fulfill all their obligations and duties and balance their lives. This means that people should respect their different roles in social relationships as mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, siblings, friends, relatives, ruler, subject etc. The two religions encourage that one should be able to balance all his roles and perform them to the fullest. This balance is also encouraged in other issues in life as such as there should be a balance between cowardice and courage. Striking a balance between things and observing moderation is makes a well conducted life which is encouraged in both religions. If people adopted the principles of Confucianism and Taoism, issues like violence, negligence, divorce, adultery, deceit would be unheard of as everyone would know their place and execute their roles efficiently.
If people adopted Confucian and Taoist principles, we would believe in the inherent potential in human beings to be changed and transformed to be good people. If one went wrong for example, they would really believe they could change and therefore they would work towards becoming better people because they truly believe in transformation. People would be aware of their inner self and cultivate it for the betterment of humanity. Our Judicial and justice systems would also be tailored with this notion in mind, with their primary role being to fully rehabilitate people.
If a person combined both Confucian and Taoist principles in their lives, they would learn to appreciate the little things that we take for granted like the sun, the rain, the air and even art among other. Such a person would appreciate uncontaminated beauty and thus give way for art to develop. Such people would use art to unify society. This is the reason why the Chinese appreciate art so much. In conclusion, Confucian and Taoist principles combined would make a person happy, contented, fulfilled and self actualized. It would make a person not to burden themselves with the insignificances of life but rather to live life to the fullest. The principles of both religions combined would ensure that individual, the society and indeed the world over is focused on what really matters. It would make an individual to be at peace with himself and the society.
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Taoism is one of the two great philosophical and religious traditions that originated in China. The other religion native to China is Confucianism. Both Taoism and Confucianism began at about the same time, around the sixth century B.C.E. China’s third great religion, Buddhism, came to China from India around the second century of the common era. Together, these three faiths have shaped Chinese life and thought for nearly twenty-five hundred years (Hartz 3). One dominate concept in Taoism and Buddhism is the belief in some form of reincarnation. The idea that life does not end when one dies is an integral part of these religions and the culture of the Chinese people. Reincarnation, life after death, beliefs are not standardized. Each religion has a different way of applying this concept to its beliefs. This paper will describe the reincarnation concepts as they apply to Taoism and Buddhism, and then provide a comparison of the two. Taoism The goal in Taoism is to achieve tao, to find the way.
Tao is the ultimate reality, a presence that existed before the universe was formed and which continues to guide the world and everything in it. Tao is sometimes identified as the Mother, or the source of all things. That source is not a god or a supreme being, as Taoism is not monotheistic. The focus is not to worship one god, but instead on coming into harmony with tao (Hartz, 8). Tao is the essence of everything that is right, and complications exist only because people choose to complicate their own lives. Desire, ambition, fame, and selfishness are seen as 1 hindrances to a harmonious life. It is only when a person rids himself of all desires can tao be achieved. By shunning every earthly distraction, the Taoist is able to concentrate on life itself. The longer the person’s life, the more saintly the person is presumed to have become. Eventually the hope is to become immortal, to achieve tao, to have reached the deeper life. This is the after life for a Taoist, to be in harmony with the universe, to have achieved tao (Head1, 65). To understand the relationship between life, and the Taoism concept of life and death, the origin of the word tao must be understood. The Chinese character for tao is a combination of two characters that represent the words head and foot. The character for foot represents the idea of a person’s direction or path. The character for head represents the idea of conscious choice. The character for head also suggests a beginning, and foot, an ending. Thus the character for tao also conveys the continuing course of the universe, the circle of heaven and earth. Finally, the character for tao represents the Taoist idea that the eternal Tao is both moving and unmoving. The head in the character means the beginning, the source of all things, or Tao itself, which never moves or changes; the foot is the movement on the path (Harts 9). Taoism upholds the belief in the survival of the spirit after death. “To have attained the human form must be always a source of joy. And then to undergo countless transitions, with only the infinite to look forward to, what comparable bliss is that! Therefore it is that the truly wise rejoice in, that which can never be lost, but endures always” (Leek 190). Taoist believe birth is not a beginning, death is not an end. There is an existence without limit. There is 2 continuity without a starting point. Applying reincarnation theory to Taoism is the belief that the soul never dies, a person’s soul is eternal. “You see death in contrast to life; and both are unreal – both are a changing and seeming. Your soul does not glide out of a familiar sea into an unfamiliar ocean. That which is real in you, your soul, can never pass away, and this fear is no part of her” (Head2 199). In the writings of The Tao Te King, tao is described as having existed before heaven and earth. Tao is formless, stands alone without change and reaches everywhere without harm. The Taoist is told to use the light that is inside to revert to the natural clearness of sight. By divesting oneself of all external distractions and desires, only then can one achieve tao. In ancient days a Taoist that had transcended birth and death, achieved tao, was said to have cut the Thread of Life (Kapleau 13). The soul, or spirit, is Taoism does not die at death. The soul is not reborn, it migrates to another life. This process, the Taoist version of reincarnation, is repeated until tao is achieved. The following translation from The Tao Te King best summarizes the the theory behind tao and how a Taoist can achieve Tao. The Great Way is very smooth, but the people love the by-paths. . . The wearing of gay embroidered robes, the carrying of sharp swords, fastidiousness in food and drink, superabundance of property and wealth: – this I call flaunting robbery; most assuredly it is not Tao. . . He who acts in accordance with Tao, becomes one with Tao. . . Being akin to Heaven, he possesses Tao. Possessed of Tao, he endures forever. . . Being great (Tao) passes on; passing on, it becomes remote; having become remote, it returns (Head3 109). 3 Buddhism The followers of the Buddha believe life goes on and on in many reincarnations or rebirths. The eternal hope for all followers of Buddha is that through reincarnation one comes back into successively better lives – until one achieves the goal of being free from pain and suffering and not having to come back again. This wheel of rebirth, known as samsara, goes on forever or until one achieves Nirvana. The Buddhist definition of Nirvana is “the highest state of spiritual bliss, as absolute immortality through absorption of the soul into itself, but preserving individuality” (Head1 57). Birth is not the beginning and death is not the end. This cycle of life has no beginning and can go on forever without an end. The ultimate goal for every Buddhist, Nirvana, represents total enlightenment and liberation. Only through achieving this goal is one liberated from the never ending round of birth, death, and rebirth (Head3 73). Transmigration, the Buddhist cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, involves not the reincarnation of a spirit but the rebirth of a consciousness containing the seeds of good and evil deeds. Buddhism’s world of transmigration encompasses three stages. The first stage in concerned with desire, which goes against the teachings of Buddha, is the lowest form and involves a rebirth into any number of hells. The second stage is one in which animals dominate. But after many reincarnations in this stage the spirit becomes more and more human, until one attains a deep spiritual understanding. At this point in the second stage the Buddhist gradually begins to 4 abandon materialism and seek a contemplative life. The Buddhist in the third stage is ultimately able to put his ego to the side and become pure spirit, having no perception of the material world. This stage requires one to move from perception to non-perception. And so, through many stages of spiritual evolution and numerous reincarnations, the Buddhist reaches the state of Nirvana (Leek 171). The transition from one stage to another, or the progression within a stage is based on the actions of the Buddhist. All actions are simply the display of thought, the will of man. This will is caused by character, and character is manufactured from karma. Karma means action or doing. Any kind of intentional action whether mental, verbal or physical is regarded as karma. All good and bad actions constitute karma. As is the karma, so is the will of the man. A person’s karma determines what he deserves and what goals can be achieved. The Buddhists past life actions determine present standing in life and current actions determine the next life, all is determined by the Buddhist’s karma (Kapleau 20). Buddha developed a doctrine known as the Four Noble Truths based on his experience and inspiration about the nature of life. These truths are the basis for all schools of Buddhism. The fourth truth describes the way to overcome personal desire through the Eightfold Path. Buddha called his path the Middle Way, because it lies between a life of luxury and a life of poverty. Not everyone can reach the goal of Nirvana, but every Buddhist is at least on the path toward enlightenment. To achieve Nirvana the Buddhist must follow the steps of the Eightfold Path. 5 1. Right Knowledge is knowledge of what life is all about; knowledge of the Four Noble Truths is basic to any further growth as a Buddhist. 2. Right Aspiration means a clear devotion to being on the Path toward Enlightenment. 3. Right Speech involves both clarity of what is said and speaking kindly and without malice. 4. Right Behavior involves reflecting on one’s behavior and the reasons for it. It also involves five basic laws of behavior for Buddhists: not to kill, steal, lie, drink intoxicants, or commit sexual offenses. 5. Right Livelihood involves choosing an occupation that keeps an individual on the Path; that is, a path that promotes life and well-being, rather than the accumulation of a lot of money. 6. Right Effort means training the will and curbing selfish passions and wants. It also means placing oneself along the Path toward Enlightenment. 7. Right Mindfulness implies continuing self-examination and awareness. 8. Right Concentration is the final goal to be absorbed into a state of Nirvana (Comptons). Compliance to the path does not guarantee reaching Nirvana, but it is the only path that leads to Nirvana. Only through following this path established by Buddha does a Buddhist have a chance to reach enlightenment, to free oneself from the continuous rounds of birth, death and rebirth, to have reached the ultimate goal – to be absorbed into a state of Nirvana. Comparison The goal in both Taoism and Buddhism is to reach the ultimate goal, to transcend life on earth as a physical being, to achieve harmony with nature and the universe. The ultimate goal for both religions is to achieve immortality. The Taoist called this ultimate goal Tao, while the Buddhist seek Nirvana. Whatever the name, the followers of these religions believe there is an existence beyond life which can be achieved provided the right path or behavior is followed. The path to Tao and Nirvana are similar, yet different. Both believe there is an inner light which guides a person in the right direction to the ultimate goal. Personal desires must be forsaken to enable the inner light to guide a person to achieve eternal bliss. “The teaching 6 regarding the inner light is just as prominent in the Taoist schools as it is among the practices of Buddhism” (Politella 36). The inner light concept is similar, but the actual path is the difference between Taoism and Buddhism. The path toward enlightenment for the Buddhist was defined by Buddha in his Eightfold Path. Only through following this path does the Buddhist reach Nirvana. The path to Tao is individual, it comes from within. No one can define a path for the Taoist, it must come from the inner light. “Tao means way, but in the original and succeeding manuscripts no direct path is explored or expounded. Desire, ambition, fame, and selfishness are seen as complications. That idea is consistent with Buddhist teachings; it is the personal life of each individual that gives Taoism its special form” (Leek 188). Taoism and Buddhism perceive life, death and rebirth as a continuous cycle. This cycle has no beginning and no end. The soul is eternal, yet the soul is not the object of reincarnation. Taoist believe the soul is not reborn, it “migrates to another life” (Head3 109). Buddhist also believe the soul is not reborn, but instead a “consciousness containing the seeds of good and evil deeds” is the object of rebirth (Leek 171). One major difference between Taoism and Buddhism is the concept of karma to the Buddhist. This idea that all actions are the display of thought, the will of man, is known as karma. Karma determines the Buddhist actions and position in life. A person’s karma limits the goals which can be achieved. Karma determines where in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth the consciousness returns. This return can be in the form of an animal or human, and the 7 Buddhist must progress through a hierarchy to achieve Nirvana (Leek 171).
The Taoist has no concept similar to karma, and no mention of the soul migrating to an animal form. The determining factor to one’s life is contained in the individual behavior for the Taoist. By forsaking personal desires in life, by concentrating of the self, a longer life is prolonged. Eventually, by following the inner light, immortality can be achieved. The similarities between Taoism and Buddhism in the belief of life after death far outweigh the differences. Both religions believe the individual must focus on the self to achieve the ultimate goal. To focus on oneself, all desires and personal ambitions must be forsaken. One must focus on the self and the proper way of life to reach immortality. The cycle of life continues indefinitely until the Thread of Life is broken. Only through proper living, by following the correct path guided by the inner light, can one achieve the ultimate goal of Tao or Nirvana.
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