Survey of World Religions - Exam 3

Terms in this set (94)

A characteristic of the Chinese people throughout history has been their respect for and even veneration of aged members of the family, known as ancestor veneration.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Chinese life for modern Western students to understand is this veneration of old age. The legendary founder of Taoism was Li-pohyang, but his disciples called him Lao-tzu, which means "Old Master" or "Old Boy." The Chinese who forget their ancestors are disgraced and will one day become
homeless ghosts. It is also commonly believed that those lacking filial piety will be afflicted by dangerous spirits.

Western students of Chinese life have often referred to this attitude as "ancestor worship." Indeed, there is a religious aspect to these practices: Individuals revere their
parents while they are alive and after they are dead. While they are alive, the aged represent the wisdom of the family; after their deaths, they may be in a position to help
the family further because of their contact with the spirit world. Therefore, support of the dead ancestors with remembrance and sacrifices is essential. The Chinese who forget their ancestors are disgraced and will one day become homeless ghosts. It is also commonly believed that those lacking filial piety will be afflicted by dangerous spirits. Historically, the Chinese home has tended to have a small shrine or altar at which the names and deeds of many previous generations of the family are remembered
and where small sacrifices of rice and wine may be offered. Imitation paper money, often inscribed as being issued by the "Bank of Hell," is another common offering.
Ancestral tablets are also often placed in Chinese temples and lineage meeting centers.
3. Life is to be lived simply.
Believing that all life originated from the Tao, which would ultimately destroy people's achievements, the early Taoists turned their backs on civilization with all of its ills and benefits and sought to live life as simply as possible. The Taoist philosophers may have carried this dream to its greatest extreme. They considered education, wealth, power, and family ties worthless, in fact, impediments to living. Ideally, individuals should turn their backs on the advancements of civilization and live as simply and as quietly as possible. The word innocence characterizes
the ideal state. Like the plants and creatures of the Earth, innocent human beings are content with what the Tao has ordained for them. According to early Taoist philosophers, there should be little government in the ideal state. In fact, it was an axiom of Taoists that the least government is the best government. Lao-tzu is remembered for saying, "Govern a great nation as you would cook a small
fish"—do not overdo it. The small village is the ideal unit of society. The bestruler is the one who rules least and is virtually anonymous. If all this were realized, all striving, quarrels, and wars would cease. Taoism is pacific, not out of any moral commitment to pacifism but because warring is useless and wasteful. If a larger, stronger state wished the territory of the quiet Taoist village, the village should simply submit to the larger state. In the long run, there would be no grief due to this decision and the village ultimately would conquer the large state with its humility.
The early Taoists looked upon the innocence of the child as an ideal toward which all human beings should strive. The infant knows no craft and has no ambitions but to live; yet the child is cared for, fed, and clothed. The weakness
and softness of the infant are the ideals of Taoism.
4. Pomp and glory are to be despised.
Because the Taoists were concerned with living according to the path of nature (i.e., as simply as possible), they despised the fame, pomp, and glory that most people seek. They saw such things as the cause of strife and discord in society. If each person were only content to live as the Tao
intended, without seeking to rise above other people, then life would be as it was intended. This attitude also contained a condemnation of pride. It was a Chinese
belief, perhaps older than Taoism, that pride invited destruction, that the tree that stood taller than its neighbors would be the first felled by the woodsman. Therefore, better to be humble, small, or imperfect than to stand out from all the rest. Perhaps the best example of the Taoists' contempt for pomp, glory, rank, and wealth is the story of Chuang-tzu, in the fourth-century b.c.e. Taoist philosopher. Chuang-tzu was widely regarded for his wisdom and was offered the position of prime minister by Prince Wei of Ch'u. When the messengers of the prince brought this offer, Chuang is said to have replied in the following manner: You offer me great wealth and a proud position indeed; but have you never seen the
sacrificial ox? When after being fattened up for several years, it is decked with embroidered trappings and led to the altar, would it not willingly then change places with
some uncaring pigling? . . . Begone! defile me not! I would rather disport myself to my own enjoyment in the mire than be a slave to a mire of a state. I will never take office.
Thus I shall remain free to follow my own inclinations.
Confucians and Taoists-
Whereas the Taoists believed that the least government was the best government, the disciples of Confucius believed that an idealized feudal system was the best form of government. Whereas the Taoists had little use for formal religion, the Confucians at least believed that the rites and rituals of religion served the function of uniting the people. Whereas the Taoists believed that the best society was one with little structure, the Confucians taught that society needed an elaborate structure, reinforced by etiquette, to be effective.

Legalists and Taoists-
A second group that vied for the attention of the rulers of China during this period was a large one that followed no specific teacher; its members were known as Legalists or Realists. They believed that human nature and the condition of China at the time demanded strong leadership. To them, human nature tended to be wicked and lazy. People followed the path of least resistance. Left to their own devices, people made decisions that were bad for society as a whole. Therefore, government should be run under what Westerners might call Machiavellian principles. Government should not be affected by morality or pity. People did not need love or pity, they needed food and houses. Thus, leaders of government should determine
what would be best for the majority of society and take the difficult steps necessary to achieve these ends. Any resulting hardship for the minority should not affect decisions. Legalists had no room for religion. Money and time spent on sacrifices to the gods were better spent on good government. Naturally, these teachers had little in
common with the passive Taoist sages.

Mohists and Taoists-
The third group that sought to influence government during the fourth and third centuries b.c.e. was the Mohists. These teachers were disciples of
Mo-tzu, who lived in the fifth century b.c.e. (ca. 468-390 b.c.e. ). Mo-tzu began his career as a Confucian but later broke away to form his own distinctive philosophy.
He and his disciples believed that the best government operated under the direction of the traditional Chinese religions. Under these religions, people were taught to
love one another; thus, the government would operate from a position of love. The Mohists were pacifists, yet they recognized the necessity of self-defense and allowed
the building of fortifications.
Confucius was born in 551 b.c.e. in the state of Lu (now in modern Shantung). He was the child of an aristocratic family that had lost its wealth and position in the decline of the feudal states of China during that chaotic period. His father was said to have been a famous warrior of gigantic size and strength who was seventy years old when Confucius was conceived. The father died shortly before the birth of the child, and Confucius was reared in poverty by his widowed mother. Although his mother had to struggle for survival, she was determined to provide her son with an education. Therefore, Confucius was allowed to study with the village tutor. The biographies say he studied subjects that were the traditional fare of Chinese students of his time: poetry, Chinese history, music, hunting, fishing, and archery. Even as a youth, he seems to have been extremely interested in the interworkings of society, particularly in what constituted good government. This was to be his main theme for the rest of his life.

In his late teens, he accepted a minor position in government, where he closely observed the ruling process. He married and fathered one son, but the marriage
ended in divorce. We know little about the wife or family of Confucius beyond thesescanty facts. However, there are still Chinese today who claim to be the physical
descendants of Confucius. While Confucius was in his mid-twenties, his mother died; being a devoted son, Confucius mourned her for three years.

During his twenties, Confucius began his true career, that of teacher. His reputation as a man of learning allowed him to establish himself as a teacher of young people. In the following years, his reputation spread widely, and he attracted many
students. They lived in his home and followed him on his journeys. He taught them history, the principles of good government, and divination. Legend has it that at the age of fifty, Confucius was finally able to put into practice some of his principles of good government when he was asked to join the government of the Duke of Lu as its prime minister. According to these Confucian legends, Confucius's government was ideal. During his leadership, the state was so well governed that the crime rate dropped to almost nothing. People stopped locking their doors, and a wallet that was dropped on the street was left untouched for days. However, the enemies of Confucius became jealous of his success and conspired against him. Consequently, he was forced to retire from government at the age of fifty-five.

During the next twelve years of his life, Confucius held no position. He wandered from place to place with a few of his faithful disciples. Sometimes he was accepted by the populace and treated hospitably. At other times he and his friends were jeered and even jailed. Finally, when he was sixty-seven years of age, a position was found for him as an adviser to the Duke of Ai. Although this was not as important as the position he had formerly held, it at least gave Confucius a home for himself and his disciples. During the next years, he taught and compiled some of the classical Chinese texts. The master died in the year 479 b.c.e. and was widely mourned by his disciples. According
to one tradition, his most faithful disciple built a hut
beside the grave and stayed to mourn Confucius for
three years.
The Chinese sage second only to Confucius. Mencius was born approximately 100 years after the death of Confucius and lived from 372 to 289 b.c.e. We are not certain about
a great many details in his life; but as is true of many of the ancients, there is an abundance of legend about him. Much of this legendary material apparently is intended to draw parallels between him and Confucius. We are told that, like
Confucius, Mencius was the only child of a poor widow who struggled to support her son and provide him with an education. As did Confucius, Mencius became a teacher and sought a position as a political adviser. Also as was true for his master, his advice was not wanted; he too wandered about teaching his disciples. More substantial tradition says that Mencius studied under the disciples
of Tzu-ssu, the grandson of Confucius, and was in fact an ineffective adviser to some of the Chinese rulers of his day. Like Confucius, Mencius was not terribly interested in religion. Little is said about the gods in his writings, and no attempt is made to influence people to return to the
worship of the traditional Chinese gods. Mencius's major ethical position was a reinforcement of Confucius's teaching of the natural goodness of human beings.
Whereas this teaching had not been terribly clear in the writings of Confucius, it became crystal clear in those of Mencius. The latter strongly asserted that human
nature was basically good. He observed that not all people act virtuously, but that this is because of their environment. Given the proper environment, he taught,
it is possible for all people to be virtuous. Naturally, the best environment for a Confucian scholar features a government based on paternalistic feudalism operated for the benefit of the people. Thus, Mencius distinguished between the feudal tyrant and the sage-king.
In 1949, China underwent a revolution and became the People's Republic of China, under the direction of a Marxist government. The official attitude of this government toward religion was that it was a vestige of the feudal past and would gradually fade away from a modern society. Theoretically, at least, the government allowed freedom of religious belief. However, Taoism and Confucianism were regarded with great suspicion because Confucianism seemed so clearly tied to the feudalism of the past and Taoism was seen as superstition. Buddhism was viewed as an imported religion and was therefore suspect. Large numbers of Buddhist monks fled the country, contributing to the development of more sophisticated communities in Taiwan, Hong Kong,
Singapore, and the West. Christianity was associated with the imperialistic Western nations. Therefore, Christian missionaries were expelled from China by 1952. Islam
was a more delicate matter for the new government. Most Muslims in China live in the western part of the nation and are members of various minority ethnic groups related to the Turkic peoples of central and western Asia. Even though Islam had been brought in from outside China, the government of the People's Republic did not suppress it; however, Islamic education was severely restricted. Despite the official government position, many temples, mosques, and churches closed or were converted to other uses in the years following 1949. Christians were required to join together in the so-called Three-Self Movement
to protect themselves against foreign intervention or control. Those who refused and formed independent Christian communities (often called "house churches" in English) suffered persecution. The Chinese government refused to recognize the authority of the Pope to appoint bishops. Generally, post-1949 China was not a healthy place for organized religions, although some adherents of all five faiths maintained their practices..
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