The Common Grounds: Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Shintoism

Categories: BuddhismReligion

The fundamental values and theories of Confucianism are akin to that of Taoism in as far as both beliefs desire harmony and proper conduct.  Conversely, the Buddhists on their part firmly have the objective to achieve the perfect state of nirvana and pursue the four noble truths (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

            All of these three has left an important mark in all of Chinese history.  For many years, the foundation of society, the framework of the family and the government are largely influenced by the Confucian thoughts.

  The art that is literature has been tapped by the concepts of Taoism.  Their remarkable influence is forever imprinted in the literary works in the likes of Tu-Fu and Li – Po.  Arts, this time in the form of landscape painting has Buddhists traces in them.  The Buddhists caused an enhancement on this respective field of the Chinese life.

Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism all have their own outlook on the fundamental ideas, general objectives, individual aims, perspective about life in general, codes of conduct, perception of the society where they belong and certainly their influence on the Chinese culture and tradition.

  They have left indelible marks to the Chinese civilization in a way that may be identified as uniquely their own. On the other hand, the religious tradition of Japan, particularly Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintoism have significantly impacted the country’s current success in the economical aspect (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

He who is known by different names

            For the monotheistic religions of the West, God is perceived to be the all powerful, everlasting and supreme creator.

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  At the same time, he is someone who fosters a bond with humans commanding justice and accordance to his plan and compassionate love for one another.  The Christians believe that the Jewish Christ made God, his father known to humanity (Shulman, 2008).

            There is a differing focus as far as the religion of the east is concerned.  Perceiving the supreme reality to be either lone or many, absolute gods or an abstract force perpetrating, maintaining and modifying the universe in a continuous, ceaseless and constant process.  Usually, these beliefs will be found juxtaposing one tradition varying amid common and philosophical perceptions of the same.  For the Hindus, the Brahman is the abstract and absolute supreme reality.  The Atman as is reveals itself in a person or in the latter’s soul is also that reality.  In Hinduism, it is a practice to revere just one among several gods.

  The Vedanta as one of the various forms of Hinduism, the Brahman of the Atman abstract supreme reality serves to be the focus of reverence among the worshipers.  In effect, they are considered rather philosophical instead of being devotional.  Nirvana is more of a supreme state of being in which a person’s identity is completely merged in harmony with the rest, as the Buddhist would have it.  Nirvana is a state of innermost happiness, of no inclination and therefore of no anguish attained through several years of meditation instead of adoration or custom.  While the Buddhist does not believe in a God, in the Western implication of the word, devotional manifestations of the religion have emerged under the prevalence of the civilizations it has absorbed.  In popular lay practice, most Buddhists will customarily revere its founder or other bodhisattva (Shulman, 2008).

            There is a primeval Chinese belief in conflicting but complementary forces that are constantly unrest, in turn, affects nature as a whole, including the lives of man.  Responding to and being one with the forces is the basic focus of this devoutness.  The Chi, which is identified as the life force is usually implying that it is an ultimate energy in itself.  The forces are abstract rather than intimate gods (Shulman, 2008).

            In addition, the Chinese culture and its influences across the Far East deem that a person’s life continues after death.  They believe that their deceased forefathers still play a significant role in the lives of the mortals.  In relation to this, there is a common belief in the supernatural beings of all kinds regardless of them being good or bad.  The focus of the native religion is to calm such spirits.  It is usually associated with theoretical systems of thought in the likes of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism (Shulman, 2008).

            In Taoism, the Tao is not the absolute god but he is still regarded as the origin of all that is nevertheless.  It is there where the mystery of the unity of all things in the world lies.  To pursue the tao is to comprehend the deepest harmony which allows the taoist to live a life of contentment, moving with the natural course of nature and the ways of life all in perfect synchrony (Shulman, 2008).

            More than a lifestyle, Confucianism is a code of moral and social conduct rather than a religion to glorify a supreme being, believers of Confucianism also observe other religious faiths like Taoism or Buddhism for them to be able to attain some sort of balance in the lives they lead with faith to a supreme vision which exists apart from the the world they came to know.  The believers of Confucianism may also revere its founder, Confucius.  They also believe in the idea of heaven or as it is known in this religion as tien.  The Emperor draws a connection between heaven and earth.  The tien is embodied him who therefore leads with the command of the former (Shulman, 2008).

            Literally, Shintoism means the way of the gods.  It is an ancient Japanese belief that is considered to be a nature religion for it acknowledges the sacredness of all the facets of nature.   By its nature, Shintoism revere thousands of nature gods identified as the kami.  The highest of the kami is Amaterasu, regarded to be the goddess of the sun.  As respects to Confucianism, most of the followers of Shintoism are Buddhists, not forming a friction against one another but striking the perfect balance between them while performing that purpose that is uniquely their own (Shulman, 2008).

The yield at the end of the road

In contrast to Confucianism, which specially regulated the conduct of the leader and subject, Taoism contests the best structure of government the one that commands the least.  For that reason, the impeccable leader is wise and is one with the Tao and rules competently that his subjects are unconsciously being led (The Cleveland Museum of Art).

            The dogmas of Shintoism are ingrained in the Japanese tradition.  The foundation of this religion is not attributed to anyone.  There exists no sacred text for Shintosim, unlike the Bible, for the Catholics, the sutras for the Buddhists and the Daodejing for the Taoists.  As far as the religion of Shintoism is concerned, there are no concepts of perfection and absolutism (The Cleveland Museum of Art).

            The temples of Shintoism are places of adoration and are usually believed to be the abode of exceptional people who evolved into kami after their deaths.  The faithful go on a pilgrimage to these places to pay homage or invoke for great fortunes.  These places are commonly accessed using the wooden torii, which is the gate or one of among a several others that serves as the entry to the place of worship.  The torii is usually painted in hues of black and orange.  They are believed to mark the margins amidst the physical and the spiritual realms.  A fountain or in some cases a well is often found near the passage way.  It is where the faithful may be able to cleanse their hands, face and mouth for purposes of sanctification before entering the place of worship (The Cleveland Museum of Art).

            Not until the dawn of the 6th century, at a time when Buddhism began are there any image or statue of the kami ever existed.  The concept of making use of a fabricated object to express the distinction and power of a supreme being was not characteristic of Shintoism.  Statues made of wood and bronze, idols of Buddha and his assemblage started to surface when Buddhism emerged (The Cleveland Museum of Art).

            The objective of a believer is akin in Confucianism and Buddhism since both pursue a certain conduct and aspire to be one with nature.  Followers of Taoism believe that they must pursue the kind of life dictated by the Tao.  Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism all have differing perspectives on the concept of life.  Nevertheless, a unifying connection for the believers of Confucianism and Taoism lies in the kind of rules and conduct.  Both deem in pursuing a particular code of conduct (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

Beginning at about 200 until 600 A.D., interest in Confucianism declined in China.  Many Chinese turned in its place to Buddhism and Taoism.  These religions dealt with concerns that the teachings of Confucianism chiefly ignored, such as the essence of suffering and death (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

Its Own Distinction

            One of the major religions in the world today is Buddhism.  A teacher who came to be known as Buddha found this religion in India at around 500 B.C.  At several times, Buddhism has been a prevailing religious, cultural and social compelling power in most of Asia, particularly in India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Tibet.  In each of these countries, Buddhism has united with essentials of other religions such has Hinduism and Shintoism.  Most Buddhists today live in Sri Lanka, the mainland nations of Southeast Asia and Japan (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

            Even while for most people, Confucianism is regarded to be one of the many religions of the world, it must be noted though that it has no clergy and it does not teach the worship of a God or gods nor does it preach about the existence of life after death.  More accurately, Confucianism is rather a guide to morality and good government (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).


            Buddha’s teaching about the human existence says that it is but a cycle of death and reincarnation.  The original behavior of a person in his past life was the determinant factor of his current position and well – being (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

            The teachings of Buddhism also reveal that as long as a person remains within the cycle of death and reincarnation, he can never veer away from pain and suffering.  The only way for him to break away from the cycle is to completely turn his back away from the worldly things around him.  This is the only way he may be able to achieve nirvana.  It is a perfect state of peace and happiness, as Buddha preaches (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

            Confucius believed his society could be saved if it emphasized sincerity in personal and public conduct.  The key to orderly social life was the gentleman.  His definition of a gentleman is not a person of noble birth rather he is one, according to Confucius, of good moral character.  A gentleman was truly reverent in worship and sincerely respected his father and his ruler.  He was expected to think of himself, guided by definite rules of conduct.  Confucius included many of these rules in saying, one of which is the golden rule.  Furthermore, a gentleman is one who continuously learns and practices self – assessment.  A gentleman according to Confucius takes more trouble in his attempt to discover righteousness as compared to what it takes lesser man to realize what will pay (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

            The early believers of Confucianism concerned themselves for the most part with the needs of the society where they belong.  Nonetheless, ideas from Taoism and other philosophies assisted a shift on the emphasis to other areas of human experience.  For instance, a person’s ability to live in harmony with nature was of minor concern to Confucius.  Nevertheless it became a significant theme in Confucian thought by the year 200’s and 100’s B.C (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).


            The followers of Buddha at the time of his death gathered together the traditions that had evolved around the teachings of Buddha.  The oldest collection of his teachings may be found in the Tripitika or Three Baskets.  It has three parts namely the Basket of Discipline, the Basket of Discourses and the Basket of Higher Dharma (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

            Not later than about 200 B.C., the first large, unified Chinese empire had begun.  The rulers approved of Confucianism’s emphasis on public service and respect for authority.  By the year 124 B.C., the government established the Imperial University to educate future government officials in Confucian ideas.  The university based its teachings on five books of Confucian thought called the Five Classics.  Its mastery served as the measure of moral fitness and the most important trademark of a true gentleman (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

            Chinese government made the teachings of Confucius as the official state philosophy.  Millions of people in China as well as in nearby countries such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam honored Confucius in much the same way as other peoples honor founders of religions (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

Influencing one and the other

            From the year 500’s A.D., the Chinese philosophies of Buddhism and Confucianism influenced Shintoism.  Shintoists identified Buddhists gods as kami and shrines adopted Buddhists images to represent the kami.  Buddhist rituals were used to for funerals and memorial services.  Under the influence of Confucianism, Shintoism developed such moral standards as honesty, kindness and respect for the elders and higher authorities (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

            However, come the mid 1800’s, many Shintoists started to reject the Buddhist influence. By the mid – 1800’s a movement called the State Shinto emphasized patriotism and divine origins of the Japanese emperor.  After Japan’s defeat in the Second World War in the year 1945, the emperor denied that he was divine, and the government abolished the State Shinto (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).


            The beliefs of Taoism as a philosophy appears in two books namely, the Lao – tzu which was later renamed as the Tao Te Ching, The Classics of the Way and the Virtue and the other book is called the Chuang – tzu.  The Lao – tzu is a collection from various sources and its authors and editors are anonymous.  The ideas were partly a reaction against Confucianism (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

            According to Confucianism, people can live a good life only in a well – disciplined society that stresses attention to ceremony, duty and public service.  The Taoist ideal, on the other hand, is a person who avoids traditional social responsibilities and leads a simple, spontaneous and meditative life close to nature (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

            Shintoism stresses rituals and moral standards.  It does not have an elaborate philosophy, and, unlike many religions, it does not emphasize reincarnation (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).

Gaining A Following

            Shintoism stresses the present moment.  It creates an emphasis on the instantaneous happiness unlike other major religions, specifically Buddhism and Christianity, which downplays worldly happiness and rest their focus on happiness in the next life instead.  Similar to Shintoism, Taosim also does not understate the significance of purity and refinement, but nevertheless, gives particular highlight on the Tao.  The moral values of Taoists are rather akin to that of the Confucians.

Both points out that harmony and tranquility on earth are object of their teachings and rules of moral conduct.  For many years, the schools of thought of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism have been impacting one and the other, citing for example, Buddhism and Taoism lends it beliefs to Confucianism.  There has been a kind of pluralism in China such no singular religion is pursued instead diverse aspects and customs of different religions are partaken.  The religions’ interoperability is owed to a certain extent on human conduct and their profound stress on certain deities, gods and goddesses (Huston, 1991; Smart, 2000).


Huston, S. (1991). The World Religions. New York: Harper Collins.

Shulman, L.E. (2008). A comparative look at the world’s religions. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from

Smart, N. (2000). Worldviews: Cross cultural Explorations of Human Beliefs. New Jersey:

Prentice Hall.

The Cleveland Museum of Art. (2005). Asian Odyssey. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from   

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The Common Grounds: Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Shintoism. (2017, May 07). Retrieved from

The Common Grounds:  Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Shintoism
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