The Next Step Forward - the Great Trilogy

By Weiss, Julian | The World and I, March 2000 | Go to article overview

The Next Step Forward - the Great Trilogy


Weiss, Julian, The World and I


The great hybrid trilogy of Asian faiths consists of Taoism, which is mystical and individual centered; Buddhism, which stresses acceptance of life's circumstances for the benefit of the afterlife; and Confucianism, which offers teachings appropriate for daily concerns. In practice, the trilogy owes much to Confucianism. It is considered a philosophy of life (rather than a religion in the Western sense) and evolved into essentially ethics and definitions of a suitable code of conduct. Sinologist J. Patrick Gunning notes Confucius "tried to find a 'hook' that everyone would understand," particularly in an age of turmoil and violence. "His solution was harmony ... that everything has its equal opposite in a natural balance."

The philosophy emphasizes relationships between people, individuals and society, and monarchs and those governed. By sheer force of numbers, Confucius' followers overwhelmed intellectual life across the countryside. For nearly twenty-two hundred years, until the collapse of the Qing dynasty (1911), Confucianism remained a virtual state religion.

Taosim is treated as religion because it focuses on the relationship between man and a creator, or Creation. Tao, or the Way, teaches disciples--who may number as many as three hundred million--that "the Tao abides in inaction, yet nothing is left undone." Taoism, which is a century older than Confucianism, stresses individual salvation and asks the believer to engage in a form of mysticism. The name tao means, literally, "life force," the result of complementary forces, yin and yang. Taoists take purification seriously, favoring consumption of healthy foods and "pure" beverages. Good deeds are important in the self- purification process.

At much the same time that Lao-tzu ("the master") proclaimed his doctrine of Taoism, Siddartha Gautama, a prince on the subcontinent, offered an eightfold "path" to existence. Buddhism was launched in India but spread eastward. Several of its tenets parallel those of Taoism: Sincerity and effort are required to abandon worldly desire and strive for righteousness. There are points upon which the pair differ. For example, Buddhism insists the self should be a nonentity, while Taoism preaches belief in an immortal soul with a distinct personality.

Regarded as a teacher-philosopher, Confucius never intended to create a religion. He believed society could be best brought to harmony by virtue of just leaders and benign despots who would rule with "the Mandate of Heaven." Confucius befriended local officials in the coastal regions near Shandong and offered them advice. …

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