Three teachings

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Confucius handing over Gautama Buddha to Laozi Confucius Laozi Buddha.jpg
Confucius handing over Gautama Buddha to Laozi

In Chinese philosophy, the phrase three teachings (Chinese : ; pinyin :San Jiao; Vietnamese: Tam giáo; Indonesian: Tridarma), refers to Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism when considered as a harmonious aggregate. [1] Some of the earliest literary references to the "three teachings" idea dates back to the 6th century by prominent Chinese scholars of the time. [1] The term may also refer to a non-religious philosophy built on that aggregation.


Three teachings harmonious as one

The phrase also appears as the three teachings harmonious as one (Chinese : ). It can also refer to a syncretic sect founded during the Ming dynasty by Lin Zhaoen. In that sect Sanyi Religion, Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist beliefs were combined based on their usefulness in self-cultivation. [2]

Alternatively, in common understanding, three teachings harmonious as one simply reflects the long history, mutual influence, and (at times) complementary teachings of the three belief systems, with little relationship to Lin Zhaoen's sect.


Confucianism is a complex school of thought, sometimes also referred to as a religion, revolving around the principles of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. It was developed in the Spring and Autumn Period during the Zhou Dynasty. The main concepts of this philosophy include Ru (humaneness), righteousness, propriety/etiquette, loyalty, and filial piety, along with strict adherence to social roles. This is illustrated through the five main relationships Confucius interpreted to be the core of society: ruler-subject, father-son, husband-wife, elder brother-younger brother, and friend-friend. In these bonds, the latter must pay respect to and serve the former, while the former is bound to care for the latter. [3] [4]

The following quotation is from the Analects , a compilation of Confucius' sayings and teachings, written after his death by his disciples. "The superior man has a dignified ease without pride. The mean man has pride without a dignified ease." — Confucius, The Analects of Confucius [5]

This quotation exemplifies Confucius' idea of the junzi (君子) or gentleman. Originally this expression referred to "the son of a ruler", but Confucius redefined this concept to mean behavior (in terms of ethics and values such as loyalty and righteousness) instead of mere social status. [3]


Taoism, or Daoism, is a philosophy centered on the belief that life is normally happy, but should be lived with balance and virtue. [6] Its origin can be traced back to the late 4th century B.C and the main thinkers representative of this teaching are Laozi and Zhuangzi. [3] Key components of Daoism are Dao (the Way) and immortality, along with a stress on balance found throughout nature. There is less emphasis on extremes and instead focuses on the interdependence between things. For example, the yin/yang symbol does not exemplify good or evil. It shows that there are two sides to everything -"Within the Yang there exists the Yin and vice versa." [6]

The basis of Taoist philosophy is the idea of "wu wei", often translated as "not doing". But, in practice, it refers to an in-between state of "not doing" and "being, but not acting". This concept also overlaps with an idea in Confucianism as Confucius similarly believed that a perfect sage could rule without taking action. Two other assumptions in the Taoist system are 1) any extreme action can initiate a counteraction of equal extremity and 2) excessive government can become tyrannical and unjust, even government created with good intentions. [6]

The following is a quote from the Dao De Jing, one of the main texts in Daoist teachings. "The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth." ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing) [7]


Buddhism is a religion that is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. The main principles of this belief system are karma, reincarnation, and impermanence. Buddhists believe that life is full of suffering, but that suffering can be overcome by attaining enlightenment. Nirvana (a state of perfect happiness) can be obtained by breaking away from (material) attachments and purifying the mind. However, different doctrines vary on the practices and paths followed in order to do so. [3] Meditation serves as a significant part of practicing Buddhism. This calming and working of the mind helps Buddhists strive to become more peaceful and positive while developing wisdom through solving everyday problems. The negative mental states that are sought to be overcome are called "delusions", while the positive mental states are called "virtuous minds". [8] Another concept prominent in the Buddhist belief system is the Eight-Fold Path. The Eight-Fold Path is the fourth of the Four Noble Truths, which is said to be the first of all Buddha's teachings. [9] It stresses areas in life that can be explored and practice, such as right speech and right intention. [10]


Though the term "three teachings" is often focused on how well Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism have been able to coexist in harmony throughout Chinese history, evidence has shown that each practice has dominated, or risen to favor, during certain periods of time. [11] Emperors would choose to follow one specific system and the others were discriminated against, or tolerated at most. An example of this would be the Song Dynasty, in which both Buddhism and Taoism became less popular. Neo-Confucianism (which had re-emerged during the previous Tang Dynasty) was followed as the dominant philosophy. [12] A minority also claims that the phrase "three teachings" proposes that these mutually exclusive and fundamentally incomparable teachings are equal. This is a contested point of view as others stress that it is not so. Confucianism focuses on societal rules and moral values, whereas Taoism advocates simplicity and living happily while in tune with nature. On the other hand, Buddhism reiterates the ideas of suffering, impermanence of material items, and reincarnation while stressing the idea of reaching salvation beyond. [1]

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This page lists some links to ancient philosophy, namely philosophical thought extending as far as early post-classical history.

Confucianism Chinese ethical and philosophical system

Confucianism, also known as Ruism, is a system of thought and behavior originating in ancient China. Variously described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or simply a way of life, Confucianism developed from what was later called the Hundred Schools of Thought from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius.

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/philosophical tradition of Chinese origin

Taoism, or Daoism, is a philosophical tradition of Chinese origin which emphasises living in harmony with the Tao. The Tao is a fundamental idea in most Chinese philosophical schools; in Taoism, however, it denotes the principle that is the source, pattern and substance of everything that exists. Taoism 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 "tao". Taoist 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 the "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.

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 under the formulations of Zhu Xi.

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, Protestantism, 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

The Eastern religions are the religions that originated in East, South and Southeast Asia and thus have dissimilarities with Western religions. This includes the East Asian religions, Indian religions as well as animistic indigenous religions.

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".

East Asian religions A subset of the Eastern religions

In the study of comparative religion, the East Asian religions or Taoic religions 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, 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, 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.

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.

Trúc Lâm Yên Tử (竹林安子), or simply Trúc Lâm, is a Vietnamese Thiền sect. It is the only native school of Buddhism in Vietnam. The school was founded by Emperor Trần Nhân Tông (1258–1308) showing influence from Confucian and Taoist philosophy. Trúc Lâm's prestige later waned as Confucianism became dominant in the royal court.

Buddhism faced very different situations and populations philosophically in China and India. Buddhism was in a way a result of the philosophical turmoil between the Brahmins and the Sramanas, as there was a large group of people who were dissatisfied with both groups and were looking for a more moderate religion that could appeal to people from most social backgrounds. The situation was just right for this new religion to spread and prosper. When Buddhism came to China, it was faced with a society that had deeply rooted Confucian ideals and mentality. The Chinese had an entirely different concept of the self which made the idea of enlightenment very different in their minds. Confucian values stress doing things for the good of the group over the individual, so dedicating most of one’s life for the purpose of achieving enlightenment was a completely foreign to Chinese thinkers and society as a whole.

Sanyi teaching Chinese folk religious tradition of Fujian, founded in the 16th century by Lin Zhaoen.

The Harmonious Church of the Three-in-One (三一教协会), or Sanyiism (三一教) and Xiaism (夏教), is a Chinese folk religious sect of Confucian character founded in the 16th century by Lin Zhao'en, in Putian. In 2011 it was officially recognised by the government of Fujian.

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

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.


Self-cultivation or personal cultivation is the development of one's mind or capacities through one's own efforts. Self-cultivation is the cultivation, integration and coordination of mind and body. It is associated with attempts to go beyond normal states of being, and enhancing and endless polishing of a person's capacities and potentials. Self-cultivation is a psychological process that belongs to the Confucian philosophy system, which refers to the action and effort of keeping the balance between inner and outer selves, and between self and others.


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