China is a multi-religion society with the major religions being Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism (Daoism). According to research, about eighty-five percent of the Chinese people are bound to a belief or have some religious practices while the remaining fifteen percent are atheists (Ching 6-77). These three principles hold different philosophical notion mostly on the nature of humanity and superiority of life.
Role of Gods
Buddhism: Buddhists ideologies consistently refutes the idea of creation deity. In its Samsara doctrine, Buddhism teaches the concept of rebirth, gods, and heavens. However, it does not consider these beings (gods) as creators. Buddhism is the most widely practiced religion in China (Ch’En, 7-46). Furthermore, it is developed into three parts namely the Tibetan, Southern, and Han Buddhism. Buddha is a principle such as love, and thus Buddhists do not believe in a personal god.
Confucianism: this is not a real religion but a system of philosophical and ethical beliefs. It was based on Confucius’s thoughts and was later treated as a form of faith to educate the ordinary people. Confucianism achieved stable grounds during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty. Similarly, its ideologies became integral in the establishment of a feudal system (Ebrey 58-118). Based on Five Classics and Four Books, the principles and traditions in the Confucianism held a significant part in the formation of Chinese people’s teaching methods and thinking pattern.
Taoism: this is the earliest religion in the Chinese history. Tao refers to the natural law or the nature of the universe. Taoists believe on finding the ultimate truth based on reasoning. They agree that everything is linked to life (Dean 12-53). Moreover, Taoist regard things that are related or opposing as crucial such as the notion of Yin and Yang. However, they do not worship a single god but instead, worship numerous gods (deities).
The View of the Self
Confucianism: this belief states that the purpose of life is self-realization. Therefore, self-cultivation is primary for the fulfillment of this goal, which occupies a focal point in the Confucian description of selfhood. In Confucianism, the family is central but is not regarded as the end in itself. For family relationships to be harmonized and regulated, self-cultivation is a necessary condition (Ebrey 58-118). As a result, the self is a subdued self, which is conditioned to respond to perception for the social obligation and requirement and not for its aspirations and needs.
Taoism: Taoists believes that good life is spontaneous, in harmony with nature, is simple, and free from the desire of achieving social ascendancy. Taoism is therefore concerned with individual freedom and individuality (Dean 12-53). The belief rejects a hierarchical perception of the cosmos, self or society. Contrary to Confucianism, Taoism disregards the self as an extension defined by, and of social relationships. Instead, the self is among the countless manifestation of the Tao and is an extension of the cosmos.
Buddhism: at the core of Buddhism is the philosophical notion that rejects the ontological reality of the self. To seek for the self in Buddhism is therefore in itself a contradiction. Buddhists rebut any construction of the self. From its doctrine, the notion of “owning” the self is just an illusion (Ch’En, 7-46). Moreover, this fantasy is born from primal ignorance and is the source of suffering – an obsession when held. Final deliverance or salvation demands the freeing of one’s self from it and dismissal the cycle of rebirths.
Salvation and the Afterlife
Confucianism: Confucians ideologies hold no belief regarding the damnation of a person or an individual’s salvation beyond life. However, their faith and practices hold ancestral worship with significance. The worship of ancestors is a typical cult frequently practiced in China even by other religions. Confucius did not regard the afterlife as though it was the ultimate benchmark against which the success of life on earth was to be measured (Ebrey 58-118). However, he undoubtedly believed in some spiritual survival as well as the ongoing process of life and thus the significance of ancestors’ veneration.
Taoism: according to Taoist death is neither desired nor feared, and therefore a person should enjoy life. The afterlife does not exist, and life is eternal. The afterlife is inside life itself, and thus in death, one is still alive eternally in essence (Dean 12-53). Taoism describes death as when one is outside his or her story. It holds the expression that “life is within life.” When one dies, he or she can either live in others memory, be reincarnated into new form or story, bounce back to his or her life and relive it, discover many truths that exist or rejoin the universe and become a god especially if one believed in a supreme being.
Buddhism: it states that every life is in a cycle of birth, and rebirth known as Samsara. After death a person’s energy shift into another form. Similarly, Buddhism believes in “international action” or karma. Through good deeds and by focusing on wisdom, Buddhists hope to either ensure a good future for themselves or gain enlightenment. These acts are set in the Eightfold Path (Ch’En, 7-46). Buddhism believe that ending these cycle cuts the chain of futility especially when life is perceived as a condition of inherent misery and degradation. Moreover, the rebirth process can result in a ghost, an animal, a human or even a demi-god, or god. The escape from Samsara is known as enlightenment or Nirvana.
Views of Morality
In Taoism, the most significant moral precept is Harmony. Taoism believe that nature is divine and the interference of humanity mostly destroys this natural order. As a result, Taoists seek to uphold this harmony. Similarly, forces such as light and darkness cancel each other. Therefore, ethical Taoists esteem this balance and do not tip it in any way (Dean 12-53). Actions such as promiscuity, and murder, which violates this balance are forbidden. Taoism molarity thus accentuates on self-control, and thereby desires should not compel a follower to any action.
Buddhism stresses that there is no right or wrong in reality. Things such as moral guilt or sin do not exist. “Evil and Good” is claimed to be a deceitful duality, which one should overcome in the quest for viewing the world as it is and enlightenment (Ch’En, 7-46). According to Buddhism, morality is a notion created based on what one considers as beneficial instead of objectively excellent or right. Therefore, no standards can be within or without humanity.
As a humanistic belief, Confucianism predicts that human nature can be perfected or even improved through a logical approach to self-cultivation. This self-cultivation is based on the cultivation of essential virtues with the important once being Li, Ren, and Yi (Ebrey 58-118). Li is a sequence of proprietary behaviors and social norms that allow the society to operate in harmony with no internal or external dispute. Ren focuses on humanity or humanness and describes the concern or care that permit a community to function, which in theory every person should show to others. Yi outlines a framework of moral conducts, the etiquettes, and ethics that shapes behavior.
Ch’En, Kenneth Kuan Sheng. Chinese Tranformation of Buddhism. Princeton University Press, 2015, pp. 7-46
Ching, Julia. Chinese religions. Springer, 2016, pp. 6-77
Dean, Kenneth. Taoist ritual and popular cults of Southeast China. Princeton University Press, 2014, pp. 12-53
Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. Confucianism and family rituals in imperial China: A social history of writing about rites. Princeton University Press, 2014, pp. 85-118