Is Confucianism really a religion?

Discussion in 'Eastern Religions and Philosophies' started by Silverbackman, Sep 13, 2005.

  1. Silverbackman

    Silverbackman Prince Of Truth

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    Confucianism is more of a ethical system than a religion. It has no metaphysical concepts (correct me if I'm wrong), no God, or a concept of an afterlife. It is more or less like a moral idealogy than a religion. At least Taoism at least has metaphysical concepts.

    So why is Confucianism considred a classical religion?
     
  2. jiii

    jiii ...

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    I think Confucianism, although certainly embroiled in the realm of moral or ethical biases, was a religion. In fact, Confucius mentioned the 'Tao' numerous times in his works...sometimes even more so than Chuang-Tzu and Lieh-Tzu.

    A funny way to look at it is that Confucianism was a type of over-zealous Taoism. Of course, it was exactly this over-ambitious and strangely insistive aspect of Confucianism that gained Confucius many spots in Chuang-Tzu in which he was the butt of jokes and portrayed as the melodramatic, though always noble, student-master. Even Taoism, however, oftentimes cites Confucius as relatively wise...though this could arguably be a somewhat sarcastic way of putting words into the Masters mouth.

    Nonetheless, Confucianism is a pretty distinguishable thread of Eastern Philosophy or thought, and it is quite clear that during the dynasty of 'A Hundred Schools of Thought' each Master won the unmoving spiritual devotion of his followers. I suppose that even if Confucianism doesn't look like much of a religion on paper, it was quite religious in practice during its more popular and steadfastly-studied age.
     
  3. Silverbackman

    Silverbackman Prince Of Truth

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    So basically Taoism and Confucianism are complementary to each other and more like one religion or what?

    In any case my understanding is that Confucianism is more or less an ethical philosophy, can someone tell me the metaphysical concepts in Confucianism as well as stuff geared more to religion? Otherwise you might as well say Marxism is a religion;).
     
  4. jiii

    jiii ...

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    Heh, I see what you're saying.

    Well, from my understanding, both Taoism and Confucianism share the same original shamanistic roots (the 'tao' is suspected to be a concept that derived much earlier than discernable 'Taoism'). It seems that the reason that 'Confucianism' ended up being named after Confucius, whereas Taoism was not named after an individual man, was that Kung Fu Tzu's teachings were essentially his particular ethical/moral 'take' on Taoist teachings and principles and metaphysical concepts. The two really do go hand in hand, which is likely why Confucius is mentioned so many times in Chuang-Tzu and Lieh-Tzu. Confucius didn't have a foot to stand on without the metaphysical postulations and more poetic teachings of Taoism. I suppose that if you look at Confucianism as a stand-alone doctrine, it IS more of an ethical code. After all, this is why Chuang-Tzu and Lieh-Tzu criticize him so much...because his specialty in historic accounts was found mostly in his 'sermons', which the Taoists considered to be quite one-sided, and so contrary to the 'non-grasping' attitude of their doctrine and their 'wei wu wei' in practice. The Taoists saw Confucius as a man that, perhaps out of over-zealous compassion, tried to simplify Taoism into more of a mental construction that would win popular support out of its less 'esoteric' attitudes...though, they felt that he, even if unintentionally, betrayed their religion by doing this. However, Confucius' teachings weren't a standalone doctrine really, which is why he wrote so much about the 'tao'. Confucianism in comparison to Taoism, is somewhat similar to, say, Buddhism versus Zen Buddhism. However, unlike the latter mentioned pairing, the Taoists quite often suggested that Confucius was something of a 'lost' student of Taoism. You be the judge :)
     
  5. Silverbackman

    Silverbackman Prince Of Truth

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    Well then another important question would be did either Confucias or Lao claim to have divine revelation from God, in fact did they ever even mention God? In fact did they claim to make a religion, or did people later on call the two religions?Or did they only mean to set up an ethical system on life, and as well anwer a few question unknow at the time?
     
  6. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste Silverbackman,

    thank you for the post.

    it is worth bearing in mind that during the time which Kung Fu Tze arose, this period of Chinese history is called the "Warring States Period" and, in most respects, was a breakdown of the social fabric of Chinese society.

    many of Kung Fu Tzes teachings are, therefore, geared towards the re-establishment of the social order for the peace and prosperity of beings.

    as Jiii has indicated, in many of the Taoist texts, Kung Fu Tze is portrayed as being wise, but not a Sage.

    having said that.. let me address your questions.

    no, neither tradition claims to be a revelation from any sort of divine being as we would typically understand the concept. whilst it is true enough that the Yellow Emperor is considered to be divine, the Chinese view of divinity is not what we find in the Western religous traditions.

    there is a lay manual in China called the Secret of the Golden Flower and, herein, the Three Schools are brought into harmony with each other. the three schools being Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. there are two extant translations of this book, one by a German named Wilhelm and one by Thomas Cleary. if you have the opportunity to read this text, i would highly recommend the Cleary translation.

    metta,

    ~v
     
  7. jiii

    jiii ...

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    I think an interesting note on this topic is found in Chuang Tzu. I don't recall the details of the story, but the more notable portion (I have sort of rewritten it from memory, but have tried to remain as close to the original story as I could). This doesn't really shed any light on the finer points of our talk, but I believe it is simply pertinent in a very loose way.

    =====

    A disciple of Confucius was being asked about the Tao by a layman, of sorts, and was responding with the various traits that one who has 'grasped the Tao' might exhibit. After the disciple finished answering all of the questions, he was asked," Why don't you embody these traits?" The disciple responded shortly that he did not have enough courage to do so, or something along those lines. The next question was," Well, does your master embody all of the things you have told me about the Tao?" The disciple responded," Well, not exactly. My Master (referring to Confucius) is a man that, although able to, is also able not to."

    =====

    Of course, this was a Taoist characterization of Confucius. The Taoists typically suggested, in one way or another, that "once a man has realized the Way", as they call it, "he can no longer do anything else." This might provide an idea as to how the Taoists felt about Confucius.

    I'm not really willing to interpret this any further, as it would be very easy to draw bogus conclusions...but I think it is an interesting sidenote to our talk here.
     
  8. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste jiii,


    agreed. it is rather difficult for us moderns to have a real understanding of the cultural millieu in which the traditions arose except through rather dry and academic history texts and so forth.

    perhaps it isn't all that surprising to see that the traditonal Taoist veiw would assert that Confucian praxis were good, but not quite the same. equally, one would expect to find the counter assertion from the Confucious school... and we do.

    overall, and perhaps this is simply my own method of inetegration, i think that each of the traditions has an exoteric and esoteric aspect. in the exoteric aspect, the traditions can be rather dissimilar, whereas in the esoteric aspect, the traditions can be in harmony.

    just my view, of course :)

    metta,

    ~v
     
  9. Ahanu

    Ahanu Well-Known Member

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    Some hold Confucianism is just an ethical system, but it's more than that. Look at the concept of Heaven in Confucianism. In the Analects Confucius says:

    "Heaven produced the virtue that is in me; what can Huan T’ui do to me?"

    "Alas, Heaven is destroying me! Heaven is destroying me!"​

    Heaven was a force that dictated human events in pre-Confucian times, delivering both reward and punishment. From the Analects we see Confucius held to this concept. Also, there is the idea of fate in Confucianism. "Death and life have their fate; riches and honor depend upon Heaven." So those are two metaphysical concepts in Confucianism: Heaven and fate.

    Is Confucianism a religion? That's a very controversial topic . . .
     
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  10. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    I visited the large Confucian temple in Shanghai not too long ago. It looked exactly like a Buddhist temple to me (and I have seen a lot of Buddhist temples in my time), except that the large statue on the central pedestal was not Buddha. People could burn incense there, just like at a Buddhist temple. This leads me to believe that, at least for a small number of people in China, Confucianism is a religion.
     
  11. Ahanu

    Ahanu Well-Known Member

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    I read Chinese scholars debate this topic. The Chinese government doesn't recognize Confucianism as a religion, but the government does recognize it as a philosophy. Despite this the Hong Kong Confucian Academy "promotes Confucian as the nation's major religion in order to enhance the cohesion of the Chinese nation." I wonder what the political implications are.
     
  12. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Communist China only recognizes and allows five religions, so all other religions are technically illegal in China. But the China Communist government is very pro-Confucianism, so it calls Confucianism a 'philosophy' not a 'religion'. There are also a few local animistic religions in some parts of China that are also illegal but the Communist government tolerates them.

    There has been a push recently among leaders in China to promote religion because so many young people in China today are lacking in high morals.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2016
  13. Ahanu

    Ahanu Well-Known Member

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    Are young people in the spotlight in China? No, not really. Just a certain group. You mean young rich Chinese people, right? Kid speeds around in his Ferrari with a nude woman in the back, and then wrecks it. Stuff like this gets blasted in Chinese social media 24/7. It reached such a high pitch while I was in Beijing it caught the attention of the Chinese elite. They scramble to rectify these types of situations. Confucius would probably leave the Middle Kingdom of today, just like he left the leaders in his day that weren't gentlemen and move on to look for another leader that would take his advice. Or maybe he would stay . . . because some Chinese leaders seem to want to hear him.

    But then again, this problem of Chinese people lacking morals does come up in other situations. So it's not just the rich. This reminds me of the McDonald's incident, where a customer got beat to death by a religious fanatic and nobody helped her; however, somebody filmed it (and some say he's guilty of inaction). Chinese people were furious! The whole issue of Chinese people lacking morals came up during this time too. Another similar issue is when a foreigner passed out at a subway stop in Shanghai. Everybody rushed out! Nobody helped the poor guy, but subway cameras recorded it all. When asked why they didn't help, some said they thought he had a contagious disease. But it was later discovered he really did just pass out. Again, the issue of Chinese morality recurred. People were asking again after the news was released, "Why didn't anybody help him?" And how about those beggars in Beijing . . . Oh! Don't even get me started . . .

    Many of my religious Chinese friends blame the lack of morality in Chinese culture on materialism. And, oh, the lack of religion. But materialism remains the primary suspect.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2016

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