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China Philosophy & Religion (1)


Chinese Philosophies & Religions --- Confucianism

The age of Confucius is often described as the period of the "hundred schools" of thought in ancient China. Of course, the designation of a "hundred schools" did not come about on the basis of an exact count of competing schools but rather reflects a general recognition that the period was one of great ferment in the world of ideas, a time when many different points of view on politics and ethics were being brought to the forefront and actively debated.

CONFUCIUS is a latinized form of the honorific title Kong Fuzi (Master Kong) given to a wandering scholar from the state of Lu in Shandong Province in northeastern China (history link here). Although little known in his lifetime, Confucius was revered as the greatest of sages throughout most of China's history. His teaching, Confucianism, was the state teaching from the beginning of the Han Dynasty in 202 BC to the end of the imperial period in 1911.

Disturbed by constant warfare among the states, Confucius taught that most of the ills of society happened because people forgot their stations in life and rulers lost virtue. He advocated a return to the golden antiquity of emperors Yao and Shun, when rulers were virtuous and people knew their places. Therefore, Confucius' primary concern lay in social relations, proper conduct and social harmony. Confucius defined five cardinal relationships: between ruler and ruled, between husband and wife, between parents and children, between older and younger brothers and between friends. Except for the last case, all of the defined relationships are between superiors and inferiors. He emphasized the complete obedience and loyalty of the inferior to the superior but also mentioned the benevolence of the superior to the inferior. The ideal Confucian family was an extended one of three or four generations in which authority rested with the elderly male members. Filial piety (obedience to parents) was one of the most important virtues emphasized by later Confucians.

Confucius reportedly spent his last years editing and completing some of the books that came to be known as Five Classics. These include the `Classic of Poetry', `Classic of History', `Spring and Autumn Annals', `Record of Rites', and `Classic of Changes', or `I Ching'. Memorized by scholars for generations in China, these books and four other works, including the `Analects', a compilation of Confucian teachings, were the subjects of civil service examinations for over 2,000 years.

Confucianism commanded a greater following some 200 years later, during the time of Mencius, or Mengzi (371-289 BC). He was second only to Confucius himself in shaping Confucianism. His three main tenets were the basic good nature of human beings, the notion of society with a distinct distribution of functions and the ruler's obligation to the people. On the last point, Mencius elaborated on the concept of the mandate of heaven, which allows that rulers lose support of heaven when they cease to be virtuous. The concept served as the basis of revolts in China and the succession of new rulers.

Chinese Philosophies & Religions --- Menicius Mengzi

The `Mengzi', meaning "Master Meng," was written by the philosopher Mencius (a Latinized form of the name Mengzi) in 4th century BC. The work earned for its author the title of "second sage" in China. The book deals with government and asserts that the welfare of the people comes before all else. When a king no longer is good to the people, he should be removed--by revolution if necessary. Mencius, like Confucius, declared that filial piety was the foundation of society. One unusual doctrine that Mencius supported was that of the natural goodness of mankind, for which he found proof in the natural love children have for their parents.

Two other philosophies that have had an enduring influence on Chinese thought are Taoism and Legalism. Taoism gave the Chinese an alternative to Confucianism--passivity and escape to nature--while Legalism provided the Chinese state with one of its basic doctrines.

Confucianism, based on the teachings and writings of the philosopher Confucius, is an ethical system that sought to teach the proper way for all people to behave in society. Each relationship: husband-wife, parents-children, ruler-subjects - involved a set of obligations which if upheld, would lead to a just and harmonious society. Following his teachings would also promote a stable, lasting government.

Chinese Philosophies & Religions --- Laozi(604?-531 BC)

Some people believe that only one man, Lao-tzu, wrote the most translated work in all the literature of China, the `Laozi' (also called `Dao De Jing'). The book is the earliest document in the history of Taoism ("the Way"), one of the major philosophical-religious traditions that, along with Confucianism, has shaped Chinese life and thought for more than 2,000 years. It is a viewpoint that emphasizes individuality, freedom, simplicity, mysticism and naturalness.

Knowledge of Laozi is so scarce that only legends remain. His earliest biographer, who wrote in about 100 BC, relates that Lao-tzu lived in the district of Hu Province (in present-day Henan) during the Zhou Dynasty (1122-221 BC). Presumably, he worked in astrology and divination at the court of the emperor. The biographer tells of a meeting of Lao-tzu with the younger Confucius, which would mean Lao-tzu lived in about 500 BC. Another story says that he left China during the decline of the Zhou Dynasty and on his way west wrote the `Dao De Jing', after which he disappeared. He was worshipped as an Imperial ancestor during the T'ang Dynasty (618-907). Scholars today believe that the book cannot have been written by one man. Some of the sayings in it may date from the time of Confucius while others are from a later period. It is possible that the name Laozi represents a type of scholar and wise man, rather than one individual.

"dao de jing"The `Dao De', meaning "Classic of the Way of Power" is one of the great works of ancient China not included among the Confucian Classics. The presumed author, Laozi, is considered to be the founder of Taoism. He may have been alive at the same time as Confucius but older. The book is not only significant philosophically, but is also one of the most sacred scriptures of the Taoist religion.

Communal religious Taoism is quite distinct from its philosophical counterpart. It emphasizes moral teachings and collective ceremonies. Good moral conduct is rewarded with health and long life while bad conduct results in disease, death and suffering in the afterlife. There is an array of gods who are administrators of the universe of which they are a part. From these gods come revelations of sacred texts. There is an order of married priests who live in the communities they serve and perform exorcisms and complex rituals.

Folk religion Taoism is part of the everyday lives of the people. The gods are intimately connected with each individual's life as bringers of calamities or givers of bountiful gifts. Each object of daily life has its presiding spirit that must be consulted and appeased.

All types of Taoism have in common the quest for a harmonious, well-ordered universe. They emphasize the individual's and the group's need for unity through mysticism, magicand ceremony.


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