East Asian religions


East Asian religions

In the study of comparative religion, the East Asian religions (also known as Far Eastern religions, Chinese religions, or Taoic religions) form a subset of the Eastern religions. This group includes Caodaism, Chen Tao, Chondogyo, Confucianism, Jeungism, Shinto, Taoism, Yinguando and elements of Mahayana Buddhism.

These traditions or religious philosophies focus on the East Asian concept of Tao ("The Way"; pinyin "dào", Korean "do", Japanese "tō" or "dō", Vietnamese "đạo").

The place of East Asian religions among major religious groups is comparable to the Abrahamic religions and Indian religions. [Sharot, Stephen. "A Comparative Sociology of World Religions: virtuosos, priests, and popular religion". Pp 71-72, 75-76. New York: NYU Press, 2001. ISBN 0814798055.] East Asian faiths claim at least 500 million members worldwide. [ [http://adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html Religious population statistics] . Source: adherents.com. These statistics are limited and do not reflect the full population of adherents due to complexities in definition and polling.]

Early Chinese philosophies defined Tao and advocated cultivating De in that Tao. [Maspero, Henri. Translated by Frank A. Kierman, Jr. "Taoism and Chinese Religion". pg 32. University of Massachusetts, 1981.] Some ancient schools have merged into traditions with different names or are no longer active, such as Mohism (and many others of the Hundred Schools of Thought), while some such as Taoism persist to the modern day. East Asian religion is usually polytheistic or nontheistic, but henotheistic, monotheistic, pantheistic, panentheistic and agnostic varieties exist, inside and outside of Asia. East Asian religions have many Western adherents, though their interpretations may differ significantly from traditional East Asian thought and culture.

Terminology

Despite a wide variety of terms, the traditions described as "Far Eastern religions", "East Asian religions" or "Chinese religions" are recognized by scholars as a distinct religious family. [de Groot, J. J. M. "Religion in China: Universism a Key to the Study of Taoism and Confucianism". Pp 45-46. Kessinger Publishing. 2004. ISBN 141794658X.] [James, Edwin Olver. "The Comparative Study of Religions of the East (excluding Christianity and Judaism)." Pg 5. University of Michigan Press. 1959.]

Syncretism is a common feature of East Asian religions, often making it difficult to recognize individual faiths. [Ito, Satoshi. Translated by Breen, John & Teeuwen, Mark. "Shinto - A Short History". Pg 9. Routledge. 2003. ISBN 0415311799] [Fisher, Mary Pat. Living Religions: An Encyclopaedia of the World's Faiths. Pg 164. I.B. Tauris. 1997. ISBN 1860641482.] Further complications arise from the inconsistent use of many terms. "Tao religion" is often used for Taoism itself, especially Tao chiao, [Vrijhof, Pieter Hendrik & Waardenburg, Jean Jacques. "Official and Popular Religion: Analysis of a Theme for Religious Studies". Pg 419. Walter de Gruyter. 1979. ISBN 9027979987.] as well as being used as an identifying term for Tao-based new religious movements. [Beversluis, Joel Diederik. "Sourcebook of the World's Religions: An Interfaith Guide to Religion and Spirituality". Pg 41. New World Library. 2000. ISBN 1577311213.] The term "Far Eastern religion" can be used to refer only to faiths incorporating "Tao", may include Ch'an and Japanese Buddhism, and can even inclusively refer to all Asian religions. [Fisher, Mary Pat. Living Religions: An Encyclopaedia of the World's Faiths. Pp 164-165, 174-175. I.B. Tauris. 1997. ISBN 1860641482.] [Northrop, Filmer Stuart Cuckow. "The Meeting of East and West: An Inquiry Concerning World Understanding". Pg 412. The Macmillan company. 1946.] [Yamamoto, J. Isamu."Buddhism: Buddhism, Taoism and Other Far Eastern Religions". Zondervan. 1998. ISBN 0310489121.] These problems in distinguishing religious practices and with inconsistency in terminology can make discussion of East Asian religions difficult.

Tao

Tao can be roughly stated to be the "flow" of the universe, or the force behind the natural order. [Cane, Eulalio Paul. "Harmony: Radical Taoism Gently Applied". Pg 13. Trafford Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1412247780.] Believed to be the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered, Tao is associated with nature, due to a belief that nature demonstrates the Tao. [Martinson, Paul Varo "A theology of world religions: Interpreting God, self, and world in Semitic, Indian, and Chinese thought". Pp 168-169. Augsburg Publishing House. 1987. ISBN 0806622539.] The flow of qi, as the essential energy of action and existence, is compared to the universal order of Tao. Similar to the negative theology of Western scholars, Tao is compared to what it is not. [This concept of being unable to accurately describe Tao is common among East Asian religions and Taoist writings. For example, "The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao; The name that can be named is not the eternal name." "Tao Te Ching", First Chapter] It is often considered to be the source of both existence and non-existence. [See Wu Chi and Tai Chi for more information about "non-existence" and "existence" in East Asian religious thought.]

De

Tao is often associated with "proper" attitude, morality and lifestyle. In practice, the exact meaning of "proper" varies among the East Asian faiths and their branches. This is intimately tied to the complex concept of "De" (literally, "virtue"). De is the active expression of Tao. [Sharot, Stephen. "A Comparative Sociology of World Religions: virtuosos, priests, and popular religion". Pp 77-78, 88. New York: NYU Press, 2001. ISBN 0814798055.] Generally, those religions closer to Taoism express this as "integrity" or "wholeness", while those faiths closer to Confucianism express this concept as "morality" or "sound character". [Yao, Xinzhong. "An Introduction to Confucianism". Pp 155-156. Cambridge UniversityPress. 2000. ISBN 0521644305.]

Traditions

The three major East Asian traditions are Taoism, Confucianism and Shinto. [James, Edwin Olver. "The Comparative Study of Religions of the East (excluding Christianity and Judaism)". Pg 5. University of Michigan Press. 1959.] Buddhism, though it may be classified as a Dharmic tradition, has significant "Taoic" features in East Asia. Mahayana Buddhism is often considered as having joint heritage in Dharma and Tao traditions. The tentative larger classification of Eastern religions avoids this overlap and cross-pollination of "Indian" and "Far Eastern" religious thought, but loses the importance of the distinct unifying doctrines of Tao and Dharma.

Taoism

Taoism consists of a variety of related religious and philosophical traditions; categorization of Taoist schools and movements can be very controversial. In general, Taoist propriety and ethics place an emphasis on the unity of the universe, the unity of the material world and the spiritual world, the unity of the past, present and future; Three Jewels of the Tao; love, moderation, humility. [Leaman, Oliver. "Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy ". Pg 111. Routledge, 1999. ISBN 0415173620.] Taoist theology focuses on doctrines of wu wei ("non-action"), spontaneity, relativism and emptiness. [Slingerland, Edward Gilman. "Effortless Action: Wu-Wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China". Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0195138996.] [Sharot, Stephen. "A Comparative Sociology of World Religions: virtuosos, priests, and popular religion". Pg 78. New York: NYU Press, 2001. ISBN 0814798055.]

Most traditional Chinese Taoists are polytheistic, but there are disagreements regarding the proper composition of their pantheon. [Segal, Robert Alan. "The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion". Pg 50. Blackwell Publishing. 2006. ISBN 0631232168.] Popular Taoism typically presents the Jade Emperor as the head deity. Intellectual (or "elite") Taoism usually presents Laozi and the Three Pure Ones at the top of the pantheon. [Maspero, Henri. Translated by Frank A. Kierman, Jr. "Taoism and Chinese Religion". pg 41. University of Massachusetts, 1981.] Nature and ancestor spirits are common in popular Taoism, but this sort of shamanism is eschewed for an emphasis on internal alchemy among the "elite" Taoists. Tao itself is rarely an object of worship, being treated more like the Central Asian concept of atman. [LaFargue, Michael. "Tao and Method: A Reasoned Approach to the Tao Te Ching". Pg 283. SUNY Press. 1994. ISBN 0791416011]

Confucianism

Confucianism is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious thought, influential in the history of East Asia. It is commonly associated with legalism, but actually rejects legalism for ritualism. [Yao, Xinzhong. "An Introduction to Confucianism". pp 191-192. Cambridge UniversityPress. 2000. ISBN 0521644305] It also endorses meritocracy as the ideal of nobility. [Smart, Ninian. "World Philosophies". Pp 66. Routledge (UK). 2000. ISBN 0415228522.] Confucianism includes a complicated system governing duties and etiquette in relationships. Confucian ethics focus on familial duty, loyalty and humaneness. [De Bary,William Theodore & Tu, Weiming. "Confucianism and Human Rights". Pg 149. Columbia University Press. 1998. ISBN 0231109369.] Confucianism recognizes the existence of animistic spirits, ghosts and deities. It advocates paying them proper respect, but paradoxically also encourages avoiding them. [Sharot, Stephen. "A Comparative Sociology of World Religions: virtuosos, priests, and popular religion". Pp 46, 85. New York: NYU Press, 2001. ISBN 0814798055.] Confucian thought is notable as the framework upon which the syncretic Neo-Confucianism was built. [Huang, Siu-chi. "Essentials of Neo-Confucianism: Eight Major Philosophers of the Song and Ming Periods". Pg 5. Greenwood Press, 1999. ISBN 031326449X.]

Neo-Confucianism

Neo-Confucianism was deliberately created as a syncretism of Taoism, Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism. It is recognized as being formulated and established during the Song dynasty, but its roots can be traced to scholars of the Tang dynasty. It combined Buddhist religious concepts with Taoist yin yang theory and the I Ching, and placed them within the framework of classic Confucianism. [Huang, Siu-chi. "Essentials of Neo-Confucianism: Eight Major Philosophers of the Song and Ming Periods". Pp 11-12, 63-64, 106. Greenwood Press, 1999. ISBN 031326449X.]

Despite Neo-Confucianism's incorporation of the "best" elements of Buddhism and Taoism, its apologists still decried both faiths. [Maspero, Henri. Translated by Frank A. Kierman, Jr. "Taoism and Chinese Religion". pg 52-53. University of Massachusetts, 1981.] However, its influence on Chinese society has blurred the distinction between all three faiths, even into modern times. Neo-Confucianism was an officially endorsed faith for over five centuries, deeply influencing all of East Asia. [Flew, Antony G. "A Dictionary of Philosophy". Pg 62. St. Martin's Griffin. 1984. ISBN 0312209231.]

New Confucianism

New Confucianism is a modernist Confucianism, which accommodates modern science and democratic ideals, while remaining conservative in preserving traditional Neo-Confucianist positions.

hinto

Shinto is an animistic folk religion from Japan. Shinto literally means "the way of the gods". Shinto and Asian Buddhism are inextricably linked in Japan. [Pilgrim, Richard B. "Buddhism and the Arts of Japan". Pg 1. Columbia University Press. 1999. ISBN 0231113471] Many Japanese Shintoists also identify themselves as Buddhists. Japanese Pure Land Buddhism is deeply tied with the Shinto faith. [Sharot, Stephen. "A Comparative Sociology of World Religions: virtuosos, priests, and popular religion". Pp. 161-162. New York: NYU Press, 2001. ISBN 0814798055.] Shinto practitioners commonly affirm tradition, family, nature, cleanliness and ritual observation as core values. [Ono, Sakyo. "Shinto: The Kami Way". Pp 97-99, 103-104. Tuttle Publishing. 2004. ISBN 0804835578] Taoist influence is significant in their beliefs about nature and self-mastery. Ritual cleanliness is a central part of Shinto life. [Ono, Sakyo. "Shinto: The Kami Way". Pp 51-52, 108. Tuttle Publishing. 2004. ISBN 0804835578] Shrines have a significant place in Shinto, reflecting the animistic veneration of the kami. [Markham, Ian S. & Ruparell, Tinu . "Encountering Religion: an introduction to the religions of the world". pp 304-306 Blackwell Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0631206744.] "Folk", or "popular", Shinto features an emphasis on shamanism, particularly divination, spirit possession and faith healing. "Sect" Shinto is a diverse group including mountain-worshippers and Confucian Shintoists. [Ono, Sakyo. "Shinto: The Kami Way". Pg 12. Tuttle Publishing. 2004. ISBN 0804835578]

Chan Buddhism

Chan Buddhism (more commonly known in the West as Zen Buddhism) is a form of Mahayana Buddhism deeply influenced by Taoism [Maspero, Henri. Translated by Frank A. Kierman, Jr. "Taoism and Chinese Religion". pg 48. University of Massachusetts, 1981.] which emphasizes awareness, meditation and direct experience. Chan Buddhism takes a critical view of textual hermeneutics, the limitations of language and dogmatic assertions. [Markham, Ian S. & Ruparell, Tinu . "Encountering Religion: an introduction to the religions of the world". pp 199-200, 202. Blackwell Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0631206744.] Zazen, sitting meditation, is a central practice. Eschewing scriptural study for direct communication, Chan places a high regard for the teacher-disciple relationship. [Sharot, Stephen. "A Comparative Sociology of World Religions: virtuosos, priests, and popular religion". Pp 72, 77. New York: NYU Press, 2001. ISBN 0814798055.] Ideal instructors are lionized in Chan stories. The lineage of a teaching is considered more important than its comparison with a test of orthodoxy. [Whiting, J.R.S. "Religions for Today". Pp 46-47. Nelson Thornes. 1991. ISBN 0748705864] Dialogues and stories called koans are a distinctive feature of Chan Buddhism. Koans often appear paradoxical or meaningless, but they are deployed as vehicles for the transformation of the perspective or consciousness of a disciple. [Markham, Ian S. & Ruparell, Tinu . "Encountering Religion: an introduction to the religions of the world". pp 202-203 Blackwell Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0631206744.]

Chinese Folk Religion

Chinese folk religion is a syncretic faith, originating in ancient tribal shamanism, that incorporates elements of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, ancestor veneration and nature worship. It is historically the main source of Chinese mythology and has co-existed, both alongside and as part of, Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Taoism and Confucianism

The terms Tao and De are religious and philosophical terms shared between Taoism and Confucianism. [Markham, Ian S. & Ruparell, Tinu. "Encountering Religion: an introduction to the religions of the world". Pg 254. Blackwell Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0631206744.] The authorship of the Tao Te Ching is assigned to Laozi, who is traditionally held to have been a teacher of Confucius. [Hansen, Chad D. "A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought: A Philosophical Interpretation". Pp 202, 210. Oxford University Press. 2000. ISBN 0195134192.] However, some scholars believe the Tao Te Ching arose as a reaction to Confucianism. [Fisher, Mary Pat. "Living Religions: An Encyclopaedia of the World's Faiths". Pg 167. I.B. Tauris. 1997. ISBN 1860641482.] Zhuangzi, reacting to the Confucian-Mohist ethical disputes in his "history of thought", casts Laozi as a prior step to the Mohists by name and the Confucians by implication. However, secular scholars usually consider Laozi and Zhuangzi to have been essentially mythological figures. [Boltz, William G. "Lao tzu Tao te ching." "Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide", edited by Michael Loewe. pg 270. Berkeley: University of California, Institute of East Asian Studies. 1993. (Laozi)] [Birrell, Anne. "Chinese Myths". Pp 16-17. University of Texas Press. 2000. ISBN 0292708793. (Zhuangzi)]

Early Taoist texts reject the basic assumptions of Confucianism which relied on rituals and order, in favour of the examples of "wild" nature and individualism. Historical Taoists challenged conventional morality, while Confucians considered society debased and in need of strong ethical guidance. [Maspero, Henri. Translated by Frank A. Kierman, Jr. "Taoism and Chinese Religion". pg 39. University of Massachusetts, 1981.]

Interaction with Dharmic traditions

The entry of Buddhism into China was marked by interaction and syncretism with Taoism in particular. [Maspero, Henri. Translated by Frank A. Kierman, Jr. "Taoism and Chinese Religion". pg 46. University of Massachusetts, 1981.] Originally seen as a kind of "foreign Taoism", Buddhism's scriptures were translated into Chinese using the Taoist vocabulary. [Prebish, Charles. "Buddhism: A Modern Perspective." Pg 192. Penn State Press, 1975. ISBN 0271011955.] Chan Buddhism was particularly modified by Taoism, integrating distrust of scripture, text and even language, as well as the Taoist views of embracing "this life", dedicated practice and the "every-moment". [Dumoulin, Heinrich, Heisig, James W. & Knitter, Paul. "Zen Buddhism: A History (India and China)". Pp 68, 70-73, 167-168. World Wisdom, Inc, 2005. ISBN 0941532895.] In the Tang period Taoism incorporated such Buddhist elements as monasteries, vegetarianism, prohibition of alcohol, the doctrine of emptiness, and collecting scripture into tripartite organisation. During the same time, Chan Buddhism grew to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism. [Dumoulin, Heinrich, Heisig, James W. & Knitter, Paul. "Zen Buddhism: A History (India and China)". Pp 166-167, 169-172. World Wisdom, Inc, 2005. ISBN 0941532895.]

Buddhism was not universally welcomed, particularly among the gentry. The Buddha's "Dharma" seemed alien and amoral to conservative and Confucian sensibilities. [Dumoulin, Heinrich, Heisig, James W. & Knitter, Paul. "Zen Buddhism: A History (India and China)". Pp 189-190, 268-269. World Wisdom, Inc, 2005. ISBN 0941532895.] Confucianism promoted social stability, order, strong families, and practical living, and Chinese officials questioned how a monk's monasticism and personal attainment of nirvana benefited the empire. [Prebish, Charles. "Buddhism: A Modern Perspective." Pg 192. Penn State Press, 1975. ISBN 0271011955.] However, Buddhism and Confucianism eventually reconciled after centuries of conflict and assimilation. [Moore, Charles Alexander. "The Chinese Mind: Essentials of Chinese Philosophy and Culture". Pp 133, 147. University of HawaiiPress. 1967. ISBN 0824800753.]

Ideological and political rivals for centuries, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism deeply influenced one another. [Markham, Ian S. & Ruparell, Tinu . "Encountering Religion: an introduction to the religions of the world". pp 248-249. Blackwell Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0631206744.] They did share some similar values. All three embraced a humanist philosophy emphasizing moral behavior and human perfection. In time, most Chinese people identified to some extent with all three traditions simultaneously. [http://www.asia.msu.edu/eastasia/China/religion.html Windows on Asia] Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University.] This became institutionalised when aspects of the three schools were synthesised in the Neo-Confucian school. [Moore, Charles Alexander. "The Chinese Mind: Essentials of Chinese Philosophy and Culture". Pp 133, 147. University of HawaiiPress. 1967. ISBN 0824800753.]

ee also

* Eastern religions
* Dharmic traditions
* Animism
* Shamanism
* Shinto
* Zen Buddhism: "Main lists: List of basic religious topics and List of religious topics"

Footnotes and references


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