Confucianism vs Daoism

6 June 2016

China is a country that has been shaped overtime by many diverse and wide-ranging principles. Religion has served as one of the most powerful examples of these principles, specifically the three teachings, Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Daoism and Confucianism, which were both founded in China hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ, appear to approach the fundamentals of religion in the same fashion. Since Confucius and Laozi don’t directly address the question of God or an afterlife and both were concerned more with the present life, one would think their philosophical teachings would almost mirror each other. In the case of Confucianism versus Daoism, it appears that their methods and goals differ in most aspects, especially those surrounding the origins of their religions and the rituals they adhere to in order to achieve their goals.

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Confucius was born in an era of war and disparity. As a well-educated philosophical man, he realized the problem was chaos and unrest. He believed that order needed to be restored in humanity. In time he created a hierarchical social order that emphasized the importance of relationships: Ruler/Subject, Father/son, husband/wife, elder brother/younger brother, friend/friend. Unlike most social orders in societies though, these five primary relationships were a 2-way functioning system, each of which working for the other. For example, one relationship he listed being the ruler and the subject, in which the subject respects and works for the ruler and in turn the ruler must provide safety and well being to his subjects.

Laozi, had a much different beginning to his story, in which he was a hard working man of the government with all the things he could need to flourish in his society. One day, he realized that civilization was in a “free-fall.” He left, but before he could leave, a boarder guard asked him to write something down. Later, these writings would be known as the Daodejing. Laozi, or Lord Lao as he was later immortalized as, believed the problem with society was the structure of society itself. Laozi took issue with the obligations, expectations, and responsibilities that were present in society as a whole. He instead placed a higher emphasis on man’s relationship with nature. The two religions appear, on the surface at least, to follow some of the same beliefs. They both attempt to create order out of the chaos that was their society.

However, the paths taken to achieve said order, is where they begin to differ. Confucianism strives to achieve order from within the system. By highlighting the value of personal relationships, Confucius relied on the societal systems already in place to further his teachings. Laozi on the other hand, believed that the same systems were in fact the problem. He instead advocated a withdrawal from society as a whole and instead called for an introspective look of one’s self. Confucianism and Daoism are known as very philosophical teachings, both of which focus on living in this world. Neither Confucius nor Laozi claimed to be divine figures, nor did they appeal to the supernatural worlds that most western religions seem to come from.

At the beginning of the existence of these two religions, people generally rejected the teachings that these two founders brought to China. Like Jesus, Confucius didn’t build a large following until after his death. Laozi had vanished into nature before ever even seeing the full potential that his ideals in the Daodejing had brought to the people of that time. These beginnings would aid in the molding and divergence of the rituals associated with both religions. Prior to the rise of the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE), Confucianism did not contain any established rituals. During his life and the early beginnings of his teachings, Confucius was not concerned with creating a ritualized set of edicts for people to follow. He instead allowed society to shape his teachings instead of his teaching s shaping society.

The Zhou Dynasty however, would change this ideal when it formally declared Confucianism as an official state sponsored religion. This formal declaration would bring along with it an official set of ritualized acts. Ancestor worship would become one such ritualized act. Ancestor worship would come to include not only commemoration and sacrifice, but also communication with one’s ancestors. This worship helped to serve the deep belief Confucius had in interpersonal relationships. Paying homage to one’s ancestors was a way to insure filial piety and also served as a way to strengthen and maintain the different relationships within society. The observation of Li would also become a major tenet for Confucianism”. “Li” is “doing the proper thing, in the proper way, under any given set of circumstances. To act, in short, in keeping with the way of Heaven.” (Prothero 116) Li would serve as a guidebook for living. It “defined manners, etiquette, and body language. “ (Prothero 117) Daoism was, conversely, very anti-ritual at its inception.

One of the major tenants of Daoism in fact, is the concept of “wu wei” which means “the best action is no action at all.” The closest Daoism gets to ritual is the adherence to the seven principles of the Daodejing. The seven principles are: live a more natural life in accordance with nature, yield and allow things to just be, connect and align yourself with the Dao, wu wei, embrace the life of the recluse, embrace simplicity and tranquility, and recognize and celebrate change. While not inherently ritualistic, these tenets create a common set of beliefs and ideals for followers of the Dao. Confucian beliefs rely heavily on ritual in order to maintain order and highlight the importance of personal relationships. Because the basis of Confucianism is relationships, ritual is a required component. Daoism, on the other hand, is by its very definition incapable of true ritual. Its formation was brought about by the chaos of structured society.

As such, any true ritual would be against the very ideals that Daoism upholds. Thus, while Confucians feel that ritual brings them together and strengthens their belief system, Daoists would argue that ritual instead tears down their belief structure. Daoism and Confucianism both arose during similar time periods in China. They provide an interesting example of differing view points faced with similar situations. Confucius saw the turmoil of the era and decided that the solution called for deeper, more personal connections with those around him. Laozi on the other hand, decided that a separation from personal interaction was the most beneficial path towards the betterment of man. These two men would create two of the most enduring religious models. They provide a very good example of similar paths, that diverge greatly from a common starting point, yet still achieve the same goal.

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