East Asian religions

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Worship ceremony at the Great Temple of Yandi Shennong in Suizhou, Hubei; a practice of Chinese folk religion. Worship at the Great Temple of Shennong-Yandi in Suizhou, Hubei.jpg
Worship ceremony at the Great Temple of Yandi Shennong in Suizhou, Hubei; a practice of Chinese folk religion.
Main hall of the City of the Eight Symbols in Qi, Hebi, the headquarters of the Weixinist Church in Henan. Weixinism is a Chinese salvationist religion. Main temple of the City of the Eight Symbols (Ba Gua Cheng ), the holy see of Weixinism (Wei Xin Jiao ) in Hebi (He Bi Shi ), Henan, China.jpg
Main hall of the City of the Eight Symbols in Qi, Hebi, the headquarters of the Weixinist Church in Henan. Weixinism is a Chinese salvationist religion.

In the study of comparative religion, the East Asian religions or Taoic religions [1] form a subset of the Eastern religions. This group includes Chinese religion overall, which further includes Ancestral Worship, Chinese folk religion, Confucianism, Taoism and so-called popular salvationist organisations (such as Yiguandao and Weixinism), as well as elements drawn from Mahayana Buddhism that form the core of Chinese Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism at large. The group also includes Japanese Shintoism and Korean Sindoism (both meaning "Ways of Gods" and identifying the indigenous shamanic religion and ancestor worship of such peoples), which have received influences from Chinese religions throughout the centuries. Chinese salvationist religions have influenced the rise of Korean and Japanese new religions—for instance, respectively, Jeungsanism, and Tenriism; these movements draw upon indigenous traditions but are heavily influenced by Chinese philosophy and theology.

Contents

All these religious traditions, more or less, share core Chinese concepts of spirituality, divinity and world order, including Tao ("Way"; pinyin dào, Japanese or , and Korean do) and Tian ("Heaven"; Japanese ten, and Korean cheon).

Early Chinese philosophies defined the Tao and advocated cultivating the de , "virtue", which arises from the knowledge of such Tao. [2] Some ancient schools merged into traditions with different names or became extinct, such as Mohism (and many others of the Hundred Schools of Thought), which was largely absorbed into Taoism. East Asian religions include many theological stances, including polytheism, nontheism, henotheism, monotheism, pantheism, panentheism and agnosticism. [3] East Asian religions have many Western adherents, though their interpretations may differ significantly from traditional East Asian religious thought and culture.

The place of Taoic religions among major religious groups is comparable to the Abrahamic religions found in Europe and the Western World as well as across the Middle East and the Muslim World and Dharmic religions across South Asia. [4]

Terminology

Despite a wide variety of terms, the traditions described as "Far Eastern religions", "East Asian religions" or "Chinese religions" are recognised by scholars as a distinct religious family. [5] [6]

Syncretism is a common feature of East Asian religions, often making it difficult to recognise individual faiths. [7] [8] Further complications arise from the inconsistent use of many terms. "Tao religion" is often used for Taoism itself, [9] as well as being used for many Tao-based new religious movements. [10]

The terms "Far Eastern religion" or "Taoic religion" may be used to refer only to faiths incorporating the concept of Tao, may include Ch'an and Japanese Buddhism, and may even inclusively refer to all Asian religions. [11] [12] [13]

The Tao and its virtue

The Tao may be roughly defined as the flow of reality, of the universe, or the force behind the natural order. [14] Believed to be the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered, the Tao is associated with nature, due to a belief that nature demonstrates the Tao. [15] Similar to the negative theology of Western scholars, the Tao is compared to what it is not. [16] It is often considered to be the source of both existence and non-existence. [17]

The Tao is often associated with a "virtue" of being, the de or te. This is considered the active expression of Tao. [18] Generally, those religions closer to Taoism explain de as "integrity" or "wholeness", while those faiths closer to Confucianism express this concept as "morality" or "sound character". [19]

Religions

Taoism

Altar to Shangdi (Shang Di  "Highest Deity") and Doumu (Dou Mu  "Mother of the Great Chariot"), together representing the principle of the universe in masculine and feminine form in some Taoist cosmologies, in the Chengxu Temple of Zhouzhuang, Jiangxi. Shangdi and Doumu altar in Chengxu Temple, Zhouzhuang, Jiangxi.jpg
Altar to Shangdi (上帝 "Highest Deity") and Doumu (斗母 "Mother of the Great Chariot"), together representing the principle of the universe in masculine and feminine form in some Taoist cosmologies, in the Chengxu Temple of Zhouzhuang, Jiangxi.

Taoism consists of a wide variety of religious, philosophical and ritual orders. There are hermeneutic (interpretive) difficulties in the categorisation of Taoist schools, sects and movements. [20]

Taoism does not fall strictly under an umbrella or a definition of an organised religion like the Abrahamic traditions, nor can it purely be studied as a variant of Chinese folk religion, as much of the traditional religion is outside of the tenets and core teachings of Taoism. Robinet asserts that Taoism is better understood as a way of life than as a religion, and that its adherents do not approach or view Taoism the way non-Taoist historians have done. [21]

In general, Taoist propriety and ethics place an emphasis on the unity of the universe, the unity of the material world and the spiritual world, the unity of the past, present and future, as well as on the Three Jewels of the Tao (love, moderation, humility). [22] Taoist theology focuses on doctrines of wu wei ("non-action"), spontaneity, relativity and emptiness. [23] [24]

Traditional Chinese Taoist schools accept polytheism, but there are differences in the composition of their pantheon. [25] On the popular level, Taoism typically presents the Jade Emperor as the head deity. Professionalised Taoism (i.e. priestly orders) usually presents Laozi and the Three Pure Ones at the top of the pantheon. [26]

Worship of nature deities and ancestors is common in popular Taoism, while professional Taoists put an emphasis on internal alchemy. The Tao is never an object of worship, being treated more like the Indian concept of atman. [27]

Confucianism

Temple of Confucius in Liuzhou, Guangxi. Liu Zhou Shi Kong Miao Temple of Confucius in Liuzhou, Guangxi.jpg
Temple of Confucius in Liuzhou, Guangxi.

Confucianism is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious thought, influential in the history of East Asia. It is commonly associated with legalism, but actually rejects legalism for ritualism. [28] It also endorses meritocracy as the ideal of nobility. [29] Confucianism includes a complicated system governing duties and etiquette in relationships. Confucian ethics focus on familial duty, loyalty and humaneness. [30]

Confucianism recognises the existence of ancestral spirits and deities, advocating paying them proper respect. [31] Confucian thought is notable as the framework upon which the syncretic Neo-Confucianism was built. [32]

Neo-Confucianism was developed in reaction to Taoism and Chan Buddhism. It was formulated during the Song dynasty, but its roots may be traced to scholars of the Tang dynasty. It draw Buddhist religious concepts and Taoist yin yang theory, as well as the Yijing , and placed them within the framework of classic Confucianism. [33]

Despite Neo-Confucianism's incorporation of elements of Buddhism and Taoism, its apologists still decried both faiths. [34] Neo-Confucianism was an officially endorsed faith for over five centuries, deeply influencing all of East Asia. [35]

New Confucianism is a modernist Confucianism, which accommodates modern science and democratic ideals, while remaining conservative in preserving traditional Neo-Confucianist positions. The influence of New Confucianism prompted since Deng Xiaoping became the leader of China in 1978 and helped cultural exchanges between China and Taiwan. [36]

Shintoism

Two women praying in front of a Japanese Shinto shrine. Plum trees Kitano Tenmangu.jpg
Two women praying in front of a Japanese Shinto shrine.

Shintoism is the ethnic religion of Japan. Shinto literally means "Way of the Gods". Shinto practitioners commonly affirm tradition, family, nature, cleanliness and ritual observation as core values. [37]

Taoist influence is significant in their beliefs about nature and self-mastery. Ritual cleanliness is a central part of Shinto life. [38] Shrines have a significant place in Shinto, being places for the veneration of the kami (gods or spirits). [39] "Folk", or "popular", Shinto features an emphasis on shamanism, particularly divination, spirit possession and faith healing. "Sect" Shinto is a diverse group including mountain-worshippers and Confucian Shinto schools. [40]

Taoism and Confucianism

The concepts of Tao and de are shared by both Taoism and Confucianism. [41] The authorship of the Tao Te Ching, the central book of Taoism, is assigned to Laozi, who is traditionally held to have been a teacher of Confucius. [42] However, some scholars believe that the Tao Te Ching arose as a reaction to Confucianism. [43] Zhuangzi, reacting to the Confucian-Mohist ethical disputes casts Laozi as a prior step to the Mohists by name and the Confucians by implication. However, secular scholars usually consider Laozi and Zhuangzi to have been mythological figures. [44] [45]

Early Taoist texts reject Confucian emphasis on rituals and order, in favour of an emphasis on "wild" nature and individualism. Historical Taoists challenged conventional morality, while Confucians considered society debased and in need of strong ethical guidance. [46]

Interaction with Indian and South Asian religions

A painting of Confucius presenting a young Buddha to Laozi. Confucius Laozi Buddha.jpg
A painting of Confucius presenting a young Buddha to Laozi.

The entry of Buddhism into China from India was marked by interaction and syncretism with Taoism in particular. [47] Originally seen as a kind of "foreign Taoism", Buddhism's scriptures were translated into Chinese using the Taoist vocabulary. [48] Chan Buddhism was particularly modelled after Taoism, integrating distrust of scripture, text and even language, as well as the Taoist views of embracing "this life", dedicated practice and the "every-moment". [49] In the Tang period Taoism incorporated such Buddhist elements as monasteries, vegetarianism, prohibition of alcohol, the doctrine of emptiness, and collecting scripture into tripartite organisation. During the same time, Chan Buddhism grew to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism. [50]

The Buddha's "Dharma" seemed alien and amoral to conservative and Confucian sensibilities. [51] Confucianism promoted social stability, order, strong families, and practical living, and Chinese officials questioned how monastic lifestyle and personal attainment of enlightenment benefited the empire. [48] However, Buddhism and Confucianism eventually reconciled after centuries of conflict and assimilation. [52]

Ideological and political rivals for centuries, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism deeply influenced one another. [53] They did share some similar values. All three embraced a humanist philosophy emphasising moral behavior and human perfection. In time, most Chinese people identified to some extent with all three traditions simultaneously. [54] This became institutionalised when aspects of the three schools were synthesised in the Neo-Confucian school. [52]

See also

Related Research Articles

Chinese philosophy philosophy in the Chinese cultural sphere

Chinese philosophy originates in the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States period, during a period known as the "Hundred Schools of Thought", which was characterized by significant intellectual and cultural developments. Although much of Chinese philosophy begins in the Warring States period, elements of Chinese philosophy have existed for several thousand years; some can be found in the Yi Jing, an ancient compendium of divination, which dates back to at least 672 BCE. It was during the Warring States era that what Sima Tan termed the major philosophical schools of China: Confucianism, Legalism, and Taoism, arose, along with philosophies that later fell into obscurity, like Agriculturalism, Mohism, Chinese Naturalism, and the Logicians.

Taoism Religious or philosophical tradition of Chinese origin

Daoism, or Taoism, is a philosophical or religious tradition of Chinese origin which emphasises living in harmony with the Dao. The Dao is a fundamental idea in most Chinese philosophical schools; in Daoism, however, it denotes the principle that is the source, pattern and substance of everything that exists. Daoism differs from Confucianism by not emphasising rigid rituals and social order, but is similar in the sense that it is a teaching about the various disciplines for achieving "perfection" by becoming one with the unplanned rhythms of the universe called "the way" or "dao". Daoist ethics vary depending on the particular school, but in general tend to emphasise wu wei, "naturalness", simplicity, spontaneity, and the Three Treasures: 慈 "compassion", 儉 "frugality", and 不敢為天下先 "humility".

Tao or Dao is a Chinese word signifying "way", "path", "route", "road" or sometimes more loosely "doctrine", "principle" or "holistic beliefs". In the context of East Asian philosophy and East Asian religions, Tao is the natural order of the universe whose character one's human intuition must discern in order to realize the potential for individual wisdom. This intuitive knowing of "life" cannot be grasped as a concept; it is known through actual living experience of one's everyday being.

Laozi Semi-legendary Chinese figure, attributed to the 6th century, regarded as the author of the Tao Te Ching and founder of Taoism

Laozi, also rendered as Lao Tzu and Lao-Tze, was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He is the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, the founder of philosophical Taoism, and a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions.

Eastern philosophy Philosophy of the Eastern World

Eastern philosophy or Asian philosophy includes the various philosophies that originated in East and South Asia including Chinese philosophy, Japanese philosophy, and Korean philosophy which are dominant in East Asia and Vietnam, and Indian philosophy which are dominant in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Tibet and Mongolia.

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Comparative religion systematic comparison of the worlds religions

Comparative religion is the branch of the study of religions concerned with the systematic comparison of the doctrines and practices of the world's religions. In general the comparative study of religion yields a deeper understanding of the fundamental philosophical concerns of religion such as ethics, metaphysics, and the nature and forms of salvation. Studying such material facilitates a broadened and more sophisticated understanding of human beliefs and practices regarding the sacred, numinous, spiritual, and divine.

Neo-Confucianism Chinese philosophy

Neo-Confucianism is a moral, ethical, and metaphysical Chinese philosophy influenced by Confucianism, and originated with Han Yu and Li Ao (772–841) in the Tang Dynasty, and became prominent during the Song and Ming dynasties.

Religion in China religious beliefs in China

The government of China officially espouses state atheism, though Chinese civilization has historically long been a cradle and host to a variety of the most enduring religio-philosophical traditions of the world. Confucianism and Taoism (Daoism), later joined by Buddhism, constitute the "three teachings" that have shaped Chinese culture. There are no clear boundaries between these intertwined religious systems, which do not claim to be exclusive, and elements of each enrich popular or folk religion. The emperors of China claimed the Mandate of Heaven and participated in Chinese religious practices. In the early 20th century, reform-minded officials and intellectuals attacked all religions as "superstitious", and since 1949, China has been governed by the Communist Party of China, an atheist institution that prohibits party members from practicing religion while in office. In the culmination of a series of atheistic and anti-religious campaigns already underway since the late 19th century, the Cultural Revolution against old habits, ideas, customs and culture, lasting from 1966 to 1976, destroyed or forced them underground. Under following leaders, religious organisations were given more autonomy. The government formally recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestanism, and Islam. In the early twenty-first century there has been increasing official recognition of Confucianism and Chinese folk religion as part of China's cultural inheritance.

Eastern religions Religions that originated in East, South and Southeast Asia

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Vinegar tasters

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East Asian cultural sphere Grouping of countries and regions that were historically influenced by the culture of China

The East Asian cultural sphere, or the Sinosphere, consists of nations in East and Southeast Asia that were historically influenced by the Chinese culture, including literary traditions and religions. Other names for the concept include the Sinic world, the Confucian world, the Taoist world, and the ancient Chinese cultural sphere, though the last name is also used to refer particularly to the Sinophone community.

Buddhism and Eastern religions

Buddhism has interacted with several East Asian religions such as Confucianism and Shintoism since it spread from India during the 2nd century AD.

Taoism in Korea

Taoism or "Do" is thought to be the earliest state philosophy for the Korean people spanning several thousand years. However, its influence waned with the introduction of Buddhism during the Goryeo kingdom as the national religion and the dominance of neo-Confucianism during the Joseon dynasty. Despite its diminished influence during those periods, it permeated all strata of the Korean populace, integrating with its native animism as well as Buddhist and Confucian institutions, temples, and ceremonies. The Taoist practice in Korea developed, somewhat in contrast to China, as an esoteric meditative practice in the mountains taught by the "mountain masters" or "mountain sages".

The history of Taoism stretches throughout Chinese history. Originating in prehistoric China, it has exerted a powerful influence over Chinese culture throughout the ages. Taoism evolved in response to changing times, with its doctrine and associated practices being revised and refined. The acceptance of Taoism by the ruling class has waxed and waned, alternately enjoying periods of favor and rejection. Most recently, Taoism has emerged from a period of suppression and is undergoing a revival in China.

Edo neo-Confucianism Neo-Confucian philosophy that developed in Japan during the Edo period

Edo Neo-Confucianism, known in Japanese as Shushi-Gaku, refers to the schools of Neo-Confucian philosophy that developed in Japan during the Edo period. Neo-Confucianism reached Japan during the Kamakura period. The philosophy can be characterized as humanistic and rationalistic, with the belief that the universe could be understood through human reason, and that it was up to man to create a harmonious relationship between the universe and the individual. The 17th-century Tokugawa shogunate adopted Neo-Confucianism as the principle of controlling people and Confucian philosophy took hold. Neo-Confucians such as Hayashi Razan and Arai Hakuseki were instrumental in the formulation of Japan's dominant early modern political philosophy.

The Mouzi Lihoulun is a classic Chinese Buddhist text. It comprises a purportedly autobiographical preface by Master Mou, a late 2nd-century Confucian scholar-official who converted to Buddhism, and an imaginary dialogue of questions and answers about Buddhist practices.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Taoism:

Chinese folk religion in Southeast Asia

Chinese folk religion plays a dynamic role in the lives of the overseas Chinese who have settled in the countries of this geographic region, particularly Burmese Chinese, Singaporean Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, Thai Chinese and Hoa. The Indonesian Chinese, by contrast, were forced to adopt en masse either Buddhism or Christianity in the 1950s and 1960s, abandoning traditional worship, due to Indonesia's religious policies which forbade Chinese traditional religion. Chinese folk religion, the ethnic religion of Han Chinese, "Shenism" was especially coined referring to its Southeast Asian expression; another Southeast Asian name for the religion is the Sanskrit expression Satya Dharma.

Taoist philosophy

Taoist philosophy also known as Taology refers to the various philosophical currents of Taoism, a tradition of Chinese origin which emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao. The Tao is a mysterious and deep principle that is the source, pattern and substance of the entire universe.

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