Daoism and Confucianism are two of China’s oldest and most pervasive philosophies. They arose during the same period in Chinese history, called the Hundred Schools of Thought, a time often marred by unrest and feudal strife. Both philosophies reflect this, as their overarching goals are to seek order and harmony in one’s life, relationship with society, and the universe. Confucianism is a philosophy originated by the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, which teaches that logic and reason can solve all human problems, and rejects excessive emotion and superstition.
Confucianism also teaches that following the traditions of early Chinese culture is the best way to organize society. Traditional ritual, music and poetry are also seen as important tools in maintaining societal harmony. Confucius was concerned with matters of human relationships. His philosophy inspires scholars to take up civil service with the goal of building a society based upon their discernment of good and bad and to desire that which is judged to be good. The way of Confucius is to forge a moral society protected from the world. The main source of Confucian teaching is the Analects of Confucius.
Daoism on the other hand was started by Lao Tzu, and is mainly concerned with living a balanced life based on following Nature. Lau Tzu saw the natural world as a sort of teacher which could impart wisdom to mankind if we only observed it and modeled our lives on what we see in nature. Extremes are to be avoided, passivity is encouraged over force, going with the flow of things and avoiding conflict is the goal. Lao Tzu rejects worldly concerns, limited knowledge and flawed judgments as creating an imbalance in the nature of things. The way of Lao Tzu is to allow man and nature to come into a harmonic coexistence.
So, to boil it all down to one point, Taoism is all about man’s relationship with nature, while Confucianism is about man’s relationship with his fellow man. Confucianism was created in the early fourth century B. C. E. The founder of Confucianism was Kong Qiu (K’ung Ch’iu), who was born around 552 B. C. E. in the small state of Lu and died in 479 B. C. E. The Latinized name Confucius, based on the honorific title Kong Fuzi (K’ung Fu-tzu), was created by 16th-century Jesuit missionaries in China. Confucius was a teacher to sons of the nobility at a time when formal education was just beginning in China.
He traveled from region to region with a small group of disciples, and believed that his philosophy could transform individuals and society into a more harmonious unit. Confucius was not particularly famous during his lifetime, and even considered himself to be a failure. He longed to be the advisor to a powerful ruler, and he believed that such a ruler, with the right advice, could bring about an ideal world. Confucius said heaven and the afterlife were beyond human capacity to understand, and one should therefore concentrate instead on doing the right thing in this life.
The earliest records from his students indicate that he did not provide many moral precepts; rather he taught an attitude toward one’s fellow humans of respect, particularly respect for one’s parents, teachers, and elders. He also encouraged his students to learn from everyone they encountered and to honor others’ cultural norms. Later, his teachings would be translated by authoritarian political philosophers into strict guidelines, and for much of Chinese history Confucianism would be associated with an immutable hierarchy of authority and unquestioning obedience.
Confucius’s teachings were carried on and promoted by his disciple Mencius, and, later, by Hsun-Tzu, who lived from about 300 to 235 B. C. E. E. A rationalist form of Neo-Confucianism, an outgrowth of Confucianism, began to gain popularity through the teachings of Chu Hsi, who lived from 1033 to 1107 CE. A more socially oriented Neo-Confucianism became popular through the teachings of Wang Yang-Ming, who lived from 1472 to 1529 C. E. The Analects is a collection of principles enunciated by the Chinese thinker Confucius in conversations with his disciples.
Similar to Proverbs in the Old Testament, the analects depend heavily on analogy and metaphor. They stress the importance not of rules per se, but of ethics, that guide behavior. “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself. ” He also stressed the need for ritual and music. These principles set standards for individual conduct and the administration of government and community. After Confucius died in 479 B. C. E. , his followers compiled his teachings in the form of dialogues between him and his students. The resulting collection highly influenced educational, social, and cultural thought in China and elsewhere.
Running through the teachings of Confucius is this theme: A man should lead an upright life, educate himself, and contribute to the betterment of society. The superior man, he says, respects elders, cultivates the friendship of good people, presides over his subordinates with a fair and even hand, continually educates himself, overflows with love for fellow human beings, and in general sets a good example for others to follow. The Analects are terse and usually easy to understand. Many of these passages, though presented in the form of conversation, are epigrams that stand alone as wise and memorable admonitions.
The statements make frequent use of parallel structure and antithesis. Some say Confucianism is not a religion, since there are no Confucian deities and no teachings about the afterlife. Confucius himself was a staunch supporter of ritual, however, for many centuries there were state rituals associated with Confucianism. Most importantly, the Confucian tradition was instrumental in shaping Chinese social relationships and moral thought. Thus even without deities and a vision of salvation, Confucianism plays much the same role as religion does in other cultural contexts.
Confucianism is a socio-philosophical system aimed at bettering individuals and society. Its primary goals were to educate people to be self-motivated and self-controlled, and to enable people to assume their responsibilities, which would, in turn, cultivate a better self and a harmonious society. Confucius believed that lawlessness and social problems stemmed from the combination of unenlightened individuals and a social structure without norms. Confucius believed in the Great Ultimate (Tao), which manifests itself in the I, or change. Tao is the cause of I, and generates Yang (energy) and Yin (a passive form).
Together, Yin and Yang are seen as complementary symbols of the energy and tension in a system of counter forces. Tao, or the Great Ultimate, is the first-cause of the universe, a force that flows through all life, but is not a personal being. Ultimately, we are here to discover our real self, which is the nature of Tao. Humans are thought to be inherently good. Through self-discipline, a human is able to move in accordance to Tao and thus will enjoy the principle of change. In a practical sense, we are here to better ourselves and society. This is done through education and enlightenment.
Daoism was created in China in the Late 4th century B. C. E. Daoism was founded by Li Erh (better known as Lao Tzu), or “Old Master”, in the sixth century B. C. E. Lao Tzu was the keeper of the imperial library and the author of Tao Te Ching, or the Book of Dao and Virtue. The specific date of birth of Lao Tzu is unknown. Legends vary, but scholars’ place his birth between 600 and 300 B. C. E. Lao Tzu’s wise counsel attracted followers, but he refused to set his ideas down in writing. He believed that written words might solidify into formal dogma.
Lao Tzu wanted his philosophy to remain a natural way to live life with goodness, serenity and respect. Lao Tzu laid down no rigid code of behavior. He believed a person’s conduct should be governed by instinct and conscience. Lao Tzu believed that human life, like everything else in the universe, is constantly influenced by outside forces. He believed “simplicity” to be the key to truth and freedom. Lao Tzu encouraged his followers to observe, and seek to understand the laws of nature; to develop intuition and build up personal power; and to use that power to lead life with love, and without force.
Legend says that in the end Lao Tzu, saddened by the evil of men, set off into the desert on a water buffalo leaving civilization behind. When he arrived at the final gate at the great wall protecting the kingdom, the gatekeeper persuaded him to record the principles of his philosophy for posterity. The result was the eighty-one sayings of the “Tao Te Ching. ” The Tao Te Ching was written in China roughly 2,500 years ago at about the same time when Buddha expounded the Dharma in India and Pythagoras taught in Greece. The Tao Te Ching is probably the most influential Chinese book of all times.
Its 81 chapters have been translated into English more times than any other Chinese document, and it provides the basis for the philosophical school of Daoism, which is an important pillar of Chinese thought. In Tao Te Ching, it never specifically defines The Way. It’s a series of verses, poems, and riddles. It emphasizes control but not dominance, fluidity but not ambivalence, and mystery but not confusion. Dao is analogous to God, but Dao is not a being. Rather, Dao is the source of all and the ultimate reality, and Dao is the cause of all change in life. Dao permeates the universe and is the principle behind all that is.
Dao can only be experienced through mystical ecstasy. Daoists seek transformation of their self and body into a cosmic, Dao-focused entity. This is achieved through ritual and meditation. Daoism teaches that there is one undivided truth at the root of all things. Daoism is the organized, indigenous religion of China. From a philosophical standpoint Daoism focuses on Dao, or way, and deals with ideas about naturalness, ease, non-action etc. Physically, Daoism focuses on health through concepts like Qigong and Taiji quan, which involve deep breathing, slow, graceful motions and gentle stretching.
From a religious standpoint, Daoism is reflected in many areas, including a social and political vision, rituals, a hierarchical priesthood, talismans and exorcisms. Other Daoism practices include advanced spiritual meditation and mystic, ecstatic soul travel. The universe is hierarchically organized in such a way that its entirety is reproduced in its individual parts. Thus, man is a microcosm within the macrocosm (small universe within a larger one). Man’s parts correspond to parts of the universe and nature. All is from the Dao, and all will return to the Dao.
Daoism was created to reunite with Dao through the transformation from disharmony to harmony. Disharmony causes a destructive or waning cycle of the Five Elements (metal, wood, earth, water and fire). This cycle consists of metal destroying wood (wood is cut by a metal ax); wood dominating earth through its roots (domination through power); earth mastering water and preventing floods (anti-nature forces); water destroying fire (pollution is caused by anti-nature, and destroys the beauty of the world); fire melts metal (causing pollution).
Through personal and social transformation, humans can convert the destructive cycle of the Five Elements into a creative or constructive cycle of the Five Elements. Metal in the earth nourishes underground water (purification); water is the source of life for vegetation, including wood (nourishment); wood is the fuel for fire, which causes ashes, which then form earth (natural recycling). The formation of metal in earth completes the cycle. Daoism has a very recognizable symbol. It is the Yin-Yang, a circle divided in two equal parts of dark/black (Yin) and light/white (Yang).
Within the dark, there is a circle of light, and within the light, there is a circle of dark. The two parts are equal because they signify the balance in the world caused by the Yin and Yang forces in all things. Each has a circle of the other to symbolize that each contains elements of the other, and that each cannot exist without the other. Sometimes, the Yin-Yang symbol will be surrounded with trigrams, or sets of three lines with breaks in various positions. Each trigram stands for a certain principle in Daoism.