The Most Popular Religions in East Asia


Confucianism was developed by Kong Qui, a Chinese philosopher teacher and political figure, in 551-479 BC who was eventually given the name ‘Confucius’ by Jesuit missionaries who were visiting China. He believed in benevolence, loyalty, and virtue so he wanted to steer away from ruling authorities and instead focus on human interactions in everyone’s daily lives. However, the fundamental principles of respect and the well-being of others began before his time during the Zhou Dynasty.

Social rituals were introduced to keep certain relationships between people healthy.

According to him, we all have a designated role that needs to be kept in order. They identified five main relationships in life are ruler and subject, husband and wife, father and son, elder brother and younger brother, and friend and friend. As you can see, the family is what seems to be viewed as the core of society and the roles in each relationship must be consistent. For example, the husband should treat the wife with respect and listen to her and in return, the wife should obey her husband because that’s her assigned role.

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The role of inner cultivation in Confucianism is seeking inner perfection which starts with always being aware of our own weaknesses and be motivated to overcome them. He explains that as we go through life, we can constantly learn and develop in various virtues if we are open to it. He describes his own life journey saying “At 15, I set my heart on learning. At 30, I was firmly established.

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At 40, I had no more doubts. At 50, I knew the will of heaven. At 60, I was ready to listen to it. At 70, I could follow my heart's desire without transgressing what was right.” (Confucius)

During his time, Confucius wrote the Five Classics. The Book of Documents is a compilation of 58 chapters detailing the events of ancient China and these narratives are influential in the development of the understanding of a sage. The Book of Odes is comprised of 305 poems dealing with a range of issues, including love and marriage, agricultural concerns, daily lives, and war. The Book of Odes contains different categories of poems, including folk songs and hymns used in sacrifice. The Book of Rites described the social norms, governmental organization, and ritual conduct during the Zhou dynasty. Believed to have been compiled by Kongzi, it is the foundation of many ritual principles that arise in later imperial China. The Book of Changes contains a system of divination, which is centered largely around the principles of yin and yang. As the longest of the Five Classics, the Spring and Autumn Annals is a historical chronicle of the State of Lu. Unlike the Book of Documents, the Spring and Autumn Annals appear to have been created specifically for annalistic purposes. The Spring and Autumn Annals was traditionally understood as being written by Confucius, but modern scholars believe the text was actually written by various chroniclers from the State of Lu.


Buddhism was developed by Siddhartha Gautama, a philosopher, and spiritual leader as well as a wealthy prince in present-day Nepal who later became known as “The Buddha” all during the fifth century. However while Siddhartha’s father tried to protect his son from the suffering and miseries of the world by raising him in a luxurious palace, he eventually gave up his lavish lifestyle to endure poverty. When this didn’t fulfill him, he promoted the idea of the “Middle Way,” which is living between two extremes, and from that, he went to go search for a life without social indulgences but also without deprivation.

The Buddha’s first sermon after his enlightenment centered on what is called The Four Noble Truths which is a contingency plan for dealing with the suffering that humanity faces whether its physical or mental. They are formally written as the truth of suffering (dukkha), the truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya), the truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha), and the truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga). The word ‘Dukkha’ from The First Noble Truth has caused confusion due to the translation being known as “suffering” but according to Ajahn Sumedho, a Theravadin monk and scholar, the word actually means "incapable of satisfying" or "not able to bear or withstand anything." So in other words, it’s not talking about life being relentlessly terrible but recognizing that everything in our lives, including the good and the happy times, is being touched by it. The Second Noble Truth teaches that the cause of suffering is greed or desire, meaning, we’re constantly searching for something outside ourselves to make us happy but no matter what we remain unsatisfied. The Third Noble Truth is about not clinging on or being attached to the desire that’s being craved for which cannot be accomplished by an act of will because the conditions that give rise to the craving wills till be present. The Fourth Noble Truth leads to the ending of suffering and right into The Eightfold Path. These principles explain why humans suffer and how to overcome them.

From The Fourth Noble Truth, the Eightfold Path teaches the ideas for ethical conduct, mental disciple, and achieving wisdom and for them to be integrated into everyday life. Therefore creating the environment and atmosphere to be able to move closer to the Buddhist path. The Eightfold Path is the right understanding, right intent, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Right understanding is seeing the world and everything in it as it really is, not as we believe it to be or want it to be. Right intent is becoming committed to the path with persistence and passion for the journey, deciding what our hearts want. Right speech is being aware of the impact of the words people say because they can harsh and hurtful so kind words are greatly encouraged, involving the recognition of the truth. The right action is recognizing the need to take an ethical approach to reconsider others in the world that we live with. It also encompasses these five precepts that were given by Buddha which are not to kill, steal, life, to avoid sexual misconduct, and not to take drugs or other intoxicants.

Right livelihood is having respect for life through the work you do or it will become a barrier to progress on the spiritual path because the principle is promoting equality of all living beings and animals. For example, dealing with drugs, weapons, being harmful towards animals, owning a liquor store, any of these will interfere with becoming a Buddhist. Right Effort is having a positive mindset and attitude in a balanced way, clear and honest thoughts should be welcomed while feelings of jealousy and anger should be left behind. The right effort equals optimistic thinking which will eventually be followed by focused action and determination. Right mindfulness is being aware of the journey at that moment and being focused on it, we want that kind of awareness in ourselves in our everyday lives. Right concentration is when the mind is finally uncluttered. It is turning the mind to focus on an object, such as a flower, or a lit candle, or a concept. By being in the moment and being able to concentrate effectively, a sense of joy at the moment is felt, releasing the past pains and future mind games, eventually taking us closer to freedom from suffering.


Taoism, also known as Daoism, was introduced around the 4th or 3rd century BCE but there is no real founder in particular. Sources say that Taoism was formed into a religious system within China but the man who strode with the religion was named Laozi. However, not many agree on when he lived, with some even asserting he's not and never was an actual historical person especially because Lao-tzu means ‘old master’ so that led to some ideas that the guy was more of an ideal than an actual person. Since western terminology doesn’t have an exact translation for the concept of the Tao, the best translation that matches up with the meaning is ‘The Way’, which is a returning to one's original state before things like experience and life got in the way. Picturing that nature was once a blank slate and we should try our best to return to this state of unrestricted and free existence. It is also the second most important stream of Chinese thought after Confucianism. Though unlike Confucianism, which is a practical philosophy with religious overtones, Taoism is more spiritual, rooted in magic and shamanism and concerned with things like self-awareness, transcendentalism, and immortality.

One of the main tenants of Taoism is the concept of pu which translates to ‘the uncarved block’. The concept forms the basis for the belief which is that all of nature was at its most powerful when it was in its original and natural form. Things were better before they were carved and shaped into something new and different before prejudice came into the picture. It's not the typical western idea of prejudice with racial superiority or class struggle but more about the concept of existence before the development of things. Between right and wrong, good and bad, it’s a state of avoiding any judgments or concerns.


  1. “Basics of Buddhism.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service. Accessed March 17, 2020.
  2. “Buddha.” A&E Networks Television, September 9, 2019.
  3. Hanh, Thich Nhat. “The Fourth Noble Truth.” Tricycle, 1997.
  4. Hays, Jeffrey. “TAOISM.” Facts and Details. Accessed March 17, 2020. Editors. “Buddhism.” A&E Television Networks, October 12, 2017.
  5. Mazarin, Jade. “Confucianism: Definition, Beliefs & History.” Accessed March 17, 2020.
  6. O'Brien, Barbara. “What Are the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism?” Learn Religions. Learn Religions, April 23, 2019.
  7. Rattini, Kristin Baird. “Who Was Confucius?” Confucius-facts and information, May 20, 2019.
  8. “The History, Philosophy and Practice of Buddhism.” Buddhism - The Eightfold Path. Accessed March 17, 2020.
  9. Whittemore, Jessica. “The Origins of Taoism: History, the Uncarved Block & Tao-Te Ching.” Accessed March 17, 2020.
  10. Wilson, Thomas A. “Four Books.” Cult of Confucius. Accessed March 17, 2020.
Updated: May 19, 2021
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The Most Popular Religions in East Asia. (2020, Oct 30). Retrieved from

The Most Popular Religions in East Asia essay
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