Three Men Laughing by Tiger Stream – 12 th century, Song Dynasty Depicts a Taoist, a government official, and Buddhist monk by a stream. The stream borders a zone infested by tigers that they just crossed without fear, engrossed as they were in their discussion. Realizing what they just did, they laugh together. The painting illustrates the harmonious relationship between Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism
Religion For the purposes of this lesson, “Religion” means A system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things (Émile Durkheim, “Elementary Forms of the Religious Life,” 1912) There is no general agreement on the meaning of “religion” as the word itself is a western (Greco-Roman) idea, so trying to apply it to non-western beliefs and practices can be a problem Durkheim’s definition has the advantage of being short, simple, and inclusive rather than exclusive, but it is by no means the final word on anything
Religious Identification Most Chinese (68%) do not identify themselves as being religious Most Chinese that are religious do not identify with any particular religion About 22% practice some form of folk religion (beliefs and practices that are unique to a particular region) About 18% practice some form of Buddhism About 13% practice some form of Taoism About 56% practice some form of ancestral veneration There is a lot of overlap between these groups About 2-3% are Christian (mostly Protestant) About 2% are Muslim About 15% are atheist
Taoism – The Way or The Path Attributed to Lao Tze (Laotzu, Laozi) around the 6 th century BC (about the same time as classical Greece) Major beliefs are written in the Tao Te Ching, but it should not be thought of in the same way that Christians think about the Bible Taoism emphasizes naturalness, simplicity, compassion, moderation and humility Taoism is individualistic rather than institutional The goal is to live in harmony within the world and within society Because the goal is to live a harmonious life, its beliefs and practices do not necessarily conflict with other religious systems of belief and practice
Confucianism Founded by Confucius (Kong Futze) during the 6 th and 5 th centuries BC (about the same time or a little later than Lao Tze) Based on the Four Books and Five Classics (believed to have been either written or edited by Confucius and his immediate followers) The goal is a just and orderly society, so the focus is on individual behavior within society (knowing your place and behaving accordingly) Emphasizes the five constants (humaneness, justice, propriety, knowledge and integrity) and the four virtues (loyalty, filial piety, self-restraint and justice) Because the goal is an orderly society, its beliefs do not necessarily conflict with other systems of belief, however its practices include ancestor veneration (filial piety)
Buddhism – Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path Founded by Siddhartha Gautama about 500 BC Buddhism has no central text or book in which the core of its beliefs are written The goal of Buddhism is enlightenment, which will end the cycle of rebirth and suffering Buddhism emphasizes harmony, self-restraint and not doing harm to others
“The Vinegar Tasters” Confucius: Life is sour. Things are worse today than they were in the old days. Obey the ancestors and observe proper protocol. Buddha: Life is bitter. Accept that suffering is normal and get on with living. Use the eightfold path to ease your suffering. Lao Tze: Life is sweet. Live so it lasts as long as possible, enjoy it in the moment, be humble in the moment, but persist in doing what must be done.
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