Taoism & Confucianism

Religions, Cults & Worldviews: Valuable Answers for Valid Questions.

Chinese Religions Compared

This page will provide a comparison of Taoism, Confucianism and Shintoism with an analysis of how these faith systems answer the most important questions in the world.

Confucianism

Founder of Confucianism
Chiu King 550-479 B.C. - Shantung Province, China Chiu King was a contemporary of Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha) and born just before Plato and Socrates, he went from state to state in China calling for social and political reform.
Founder Protogé
As with all world religions, sects and cults, an infant belief system requires a transferral from the founding leadership to a strong successor in order to survive, in the case of Confucianism, that successor was Meng-tzu (Latinized Mencius) born in 371 BC. He would became the major proponent of Confucianism and was raised to the rank of 2nd only to Confucius himself
Adherents Of Confucianism
6 Million worldwide
Chiu King was referred to by his disciples as “King Fu-tzu” or ‘Kung the Master’ which was Latinized into the word Confucius. Although Confucius referred to himself as simply a “story teller”, his disciples considered him a wise teacher and his belief system spread rapidly.
Confucian Philosophy of Religion
Referred to as “optimistic humanism”, along with Taoism, Confucianism is not a theistic system as Confucius is simply revered as a "master of wisdom" and not necessarily worshipped as deity. Because no belief of deity exists within Confucianism, it is considered an atheistic system built around proper thinking and secular living
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Authoritatitve Writings for Confucianism​

The authoritative writings of Confucianism consists of the Five Classics called Wu Jing these are the collected manuscripts of the ancients which Confucius edited and annotated with commentaries. He put these works into 4 books and wrote the 5th one himself. They have gone through much editing and alteration over the last 2500 years:

Book of Changes (I Ching)

A collection of 8 trigrams and 64 hexagrams consisting of solid and broken lines. Supposed to have great power if the key were ever found.

Book of Anals (Shu K’ing)

A work of history of the 5 prior Chinese dynasties to Confucius time.

Book of Poetry (Shih Ching)

An ancient book of poetry believed by Confucius to make one virtuous.

Book of Ceremonies (Li Chi)

Taught man to act in an honorable way like the ancients (an important value to Confucius)

Anals of Spring & Autumn (Ch’un Ch’iu)

Commentaries written by Confucius on the state of Lu during Confucius time.

Along with the Five Classics listed above, Confucians also utilise The Four Books (Si Shu) known as “The Teachings of Confucius” some of which were used by him for teaching, while others were written by his disciples and comprise instruction collected into the following works:

The Analects

The sayings of Confucius, collected by his followers. Contains biographical information of Confucius.

The Great Learning

The Doctrine of the Mean

Details the relationship of man to the universal order.

The Book of Mencius

The first exposition on Confucianism ever written.

What constitues 'god' to the Confucian?

Confucianists have historically been non-theist (moral-code living) or in some cases they retain their animist roots in ancestor worship like Shintoism.

Moral Condition of Man in Confucianism

  • Confucius hinted at the fact that man at his core, was basically good.
  • Mencius taught that man was ‘basically good’ and likened his goodness to the flow of water that can flow downward or made to flow uphill by force.
  • Basically, man is good unless an external force causes him to be otherwise. (c.f. Humanist Manifesto)
  • This fails to explain how small toddlers lie and strike out without being taught to do so. Nor does it explain the degenerative moral condition of mankind over the last 2500 years.
  • This position is contrary and utterly incompatible with Christianity in that Christ came specifically because mankind was evil and is destined toward a tormenting separation from God were it not for the saving grace of God provided through the death and resurrection of His eternal Son Jesus Christ.

How Confucianism attempts to solve the problem of evil

  • Confucianism attempts to solve the problem of evil by teaching people to adhere to an ethical code which will bring about a more fulfilling life as this life is all there is or will be. (c.f. the "random acts of kindness" code amongst modern atheist)

Ancestor worship was prevalent in China during Confucius’ day:

Confucianism is not a religion in the sense of man relating to the Almighty but is rather an ethical system teaching man how to get along with his fellow man. Considering the truthful condition of mankind being enslaved to sin and destined for eternal separation from God, the Confucian approach to life is much like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic while not escaping the sinking ship.

  • The continued existence of the ancestors in spirit is dependent upon the attention given them by their living relatives.
  • It is also believed that the ancestors can control the fortunes of their families.
  • This results in the living sometimes living in fear of the dead.
  • It expresses the hope that the ancestors will bless the living with children, prosperity, and harmony, and all that is most worthwhile. (c.f. tribal survival of Animism)
  • The ethical system of self-effort leaves no room nor need for any God.
  • “You are not able to serve man, how can you serve the spirits?” – Confucius
  • In 195 BC, the Emperor of China offered sacrifice at Confucius’ tomb and from that time up to at least 1914 AD, Confucius was worshiped as deity.

Religious Practices of Confucianism

The key practices of Confucianism primarily consist of Doctrinal Principles and a term which has recently become popular in Western culture: Feng Shui. The Doctrinal Principles are sometimes called the "6 ways":

Jen

Jen is the “negative” form of the golden rule - given by Jesus except that Jen states it in the negative: Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire” – Confucius, The Analects XV:24

Chun-tzu

Acting like a true gentleman by the following practices: Humility, magnanimity, sincerity, diligence, and graciousness.

Cheng-ming

Everyone must act his proper part (know your place and do not attempt to be or act otherwise). “The ruler must be the ruler, the subject must be the subject…”

Te

Means "power" – to rule is achieved by leaders who are virtuous and can inspire their subjects to obedience through example.

Li

Has multiple meanings depending on the context where it is found: propriety, reverence, courtesy, ritual, or the ideal standard of conduct.

Wen

Arts of peace: music, poetry, & art should be manifest throughout China.

Feng Shui

Chinese word of “geomancy” a branch of divination to determine appropriate sites for houses or graves. c.f. divining rods for water

Confucianism and the Afterlife

“You do not even understand life, how can you understand death?” – Confucius

          • The Analects teach that Confucius believed that if there was indeed a heaven, it was on his side regarding the principles he taught.
          • Confucius never necessary declared belief in or taught of a heaven. He just shifted the current emphasis in China from heaven to earth to bring about better conduct.
          • Confucius felt it was dangerous to delve into study of the supernatural so the question has remained open for 2500 years to his followers.

A Final Analysis of the Confucian idea of Afterlife

  • Confucianism is the earliest organised form of atheism on record in that Confucius focused solely on the here and now and considered study of the supernatural to be dangerous.
  • This is early empiricism which erroneously concludes that if you can’t see feel hear touch an entity, it is either non-existent or not worthy of researching.
  • This view of life allows wickedness and evil to go unpunished forever and contradicts the Biblical truth that there is a personal God and an eternity awaiting us after this lifetime. Therefore a judgement.
  • The Confucianist must ignore the general revelation of this holy righteous perfect God in all creation around
  • He must also ignore the internal witness of a moral law put within mankind (the conscience) to know he/she is condemned before this God and therefore in desperate need of a Saviour which this God provided in His Son.

Taoism

    • Founded by Lao Tzu or Laozi, appx 5-6th century B.C, China
    • Taoism is a mystical enigmatic belief system whose founder, Lao Tzu was a contemporary of Confucius(604-570 BC)
    • Philosophical Taoism began around 300 BC
    • Religious Taoism began 2nd century BC – It is ultimately considered a “dead religion” but is finding strange revival in “hippies” of the drug cultures of the 60s and even today (The Tao of Steve, The Art of War).

Fast Facts of Taoism

Founders

  1. Lao Tzu “Old Philosopher” – like Confucius, Lao Tzu was a lower level ruler in China except that Lao Tzu railed against the tyranny of rulers and government in general.
    • He believed that men were supposed to live simple lives without honour and without a fruitless desire for knowledge.
  2. Chuang-Tzu – Prolific author in the 4th century who wrote 33 books popularising the teachings of Lao Tzu.

Authoritative writings

Tao Te King “The Way and Its Power” also known as the Lao Tzu.
Written by Lao Tzu himself, it is a little booklet of about 5000 words (about 15 pages)

Beliefs of Taoism

According to the Tao Te King:

  1. It is the way of the Tao to act without thinking of acting
  2. To conduct affairs without felling the trouble of them (stress)
  3. To taste without discerning any flavor
  4. To consider what is small as great, and a few as many
  5. To recompense injury with kindness.
  6. The master of it (The Tao) anticipates things that are difficult while they
    are easy, and does things that would become great while they are small.

All things emanate from the Tao (The Way) which is an “impersonal force”
however as time went on gods were brought into the religious system, along with a belief in heaven and hell and the ultimate deification of Lao-Tzu.

Practices of Taoism

“The Tao that can be understood is not the real Tao.” or “Those who know, don’t say. And those that say, don’t know.”

– Tao Te King chapter LVI
Wu Wei
The Tao is “The Way” of ultimate reality, the universe, and how someone should order their life. To achieve this, one must practice “Wu Wei”
Inaction
Wu Wei – literally means ‘inaction’ – avoidance of all aggressiveness by doing that which is natural and spontaneous. Live passively, avoiding all forms of stress and violence to properly commune with all nature.
Yin & Yang
Natural opposites found in nature used to explain the ebb and flow of man and nature. By finding a balance of these opposites, one can find ‘harmony’ and ultimate fulfillment.
Balance of Opposites
  • yang yin
  • Male Female
  • Positive Negative
  • Good Evil
  • Light Darkness
  • Life Death
  • Summer Winter
  • Active Passive
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Moral condition of mankind according to Taoism

  • In Taoism, man is a creature that is simply a transformation from material force that proceeded from the Tao and will return to the Tao.
  • The Taoist belittles human effort and tells its adherents to refrain from any action via TOTAL passivity. c.f. hippy generation ‘tune in drop out’
  • This is a mystical recipe for spiritual laziness and is utterly incompatible with Christianity in that it denies the creation of the Creator and, like evolution, substitutes an unsubstantiated and uncorroborated narrative which arises out of the vain imagination of Lao Tzu and Chuang-Tzu. c.f. Darwin's Origin of the Species

How Taoism attempts to solve the problem of evil

  • The Taoist believes that “always without desire we must be found” c.f Buddhism
  • The Taoist looks for ways to find harmony between the opposites of life: The Yin and Yang.
  • Ultimately the Taoist has no way to solve the problem of evil due to its passivity and emphasis on withdrawing from the ills of society.
  • This life is all there is as it pertains to “consciousness”. After this life there is a mystical return to the original energy from which the person originally emenated.
  • Unlike Christianiaty, there is no historical record nor eyewitnesses to substantiate the mystical Taoist claims.

Taoism and the Afterlife

When asked about his reaction to his wife dying, Chuang Tzu gave the following response which is very telling of the Taoist founder’s belief of what happens after death:

“I realize that originally she had no life; and not only no life, she had no form; not only no form, she had no material force. In the limbo of existence and non-existence, there was transformation and the material force transformed to became form, and the form transformed to became life and life became birth has transformed to become death. This is like the rotation of the 4 seasons: spring, summer, fall, & winter. Now she lies asleep in the great house (universe). For me to go about weeping and wailing would be to show my ignorance of destiny.”

– Chuang Tzu

          • Ultimately, there is “Tao” which equates to the mystical and unknown “nirvana” &
            “Brahman” of Hinduism and Buddhism. People go to ‘sleep’ and are transformed into this mysterious state as part of nature’s cycle.

A Final Analysis of the Taoist idea of Afterlife

  • The belief of Taoism regarding what happens to a person when they die arises from pure speculation which is based on nothing substantial like recorded history or eyewitnesses to a resurrection. Instead it postulates very similar myths to that of Buddhism and Hinduism where there is a supposed energy force that swallows the human.
  • This ignores the Biblical true in the Book of Hebrews which states that “Man is appointed once to die and after that is the judgement.” (Heb 9:24)
  • It provides the Taoist with a vain imagination whereby he can reject any notion of sin leading to eternal torment and separation from the Creator God and therefore the Taoist has to ignore the general revelation of this God in creation all around him.
  • The Taoist also has to ignore his conscience which is an internal witness against him that he stands condemned and is therefore desperately in need of a Saviour.
  • The believer of Taoism must repent of rejecting the God who made everything with a word from His mouth and then cry out to this God of the Bible for mercy and forgiveness in the person of His one and only begotten Son Jesus Christ.