Religions of East Asia; Including Native Religions, Daoism, Confucianism, And Shinto
Several religions still practiced by people today emerged from Ancient China. Ancient Chinese Native Religions formed a base for later Dao and Shinto philosophies. Although some characteristics of each religion vary due to its ancient verbal origins, they have survived through the centuries. Native Chinese Religions along with Shinto from Japan, which evolved from these earlier religions, place much emphasis on ancestral worship and keeping familial ties alive. Early Chinese religions also share a strong belief with Daoism, and are centered around philosophies glorifying the cosmos and its power over humans’ fates; while Confucius placed an unusual emphasis on the individual human in the formation of destiny.
There are variations in early Chinese religious tales. Along with other verbal accounts like the Westerner Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey and later Shinto tales from Japan, ancient Chinese dogma changed and evolved each time it was retold.
These early religions also believed in the yin and the yang; different spirits living harmoniously together. Like Shinto, these religions also believed that their ancestors survived through each family’s ancestral worship. The more attention paid to one’s dead ancestors, the stronger those ancestors become through the memory of the living (Noss 264). The main creation myth of these collected tales concerns a square earth supported by the curved heavens. The devious god Gong, also known as Kung, knocked over one of the four pillars which held the earth level, (Noss 258). Nu Gua, a goddess, repaired the broken column, and therefore saved the earth. She is later said to have created man out of mud. Nu Gua spent much time meticulously creating some of her mud creations; others she formed carelessly. Pan Gu was also an important figure; according to myths he grew over ten feet daily. Early mythic figures of ancient Chinese legends were half-man, half-beasts, (Noss 264). These early sovereigns ruled over their kingdoms for thousands of years.
Daoism later evolved out the cosmic myths of these early Native Chinese Religions. Daoism focuses religious attention to the heavens, “The Dao is wrapped in cosmic mystery, and reaching for it is groping through mystery into deeper mystery,” (Noss 269). The philosophy of Daoism, also known as the Dao De Jing (Noss 269), places emphasis on accepting ones fate. If one follows the path of destiny laid for each individual, one will then live harmoniously with the heavens and the earth, “The pure potentiality of the manifest Dao enables spontaneous coming into being much as a floating leaf effortlessly moves with the current of a river,” (Noss 272).. The Dao is the source of all power which embodies all beings and encompasses both the yin and the yang. Remarkable quiet and serene, the Dao is rarely detected by humans, but provides invulnerability to those who posses it. Dao philosophy calls for its followers to refrain from certain foods and sexual activity, and also separates the role of the state from the lives of its citizens.
The great philosopher Confucius, also known as Kong Fu-Xi, evolved his teachings out of Dao philosophies. Confucius, like Western philosopher Socrates, is known to modern man through the others attempting to preserve his teachings. He took Dao teachings and evolved them into an entirely different sect. Unlike Daoism and later the Shinto religion, he believed that men were the source of the secret life, rather than the cosmos. The Analects of Confucius are dialogues between his followers and he which best embodies his moral and philosophical teachings. He believed that its was our duty to secure the good of all the world, for we were all tied together, “Confucius’ primary purpose was to persuade all people to cooperate in securing the general good,” (Noss 299).
Shinto is Japans native religion. However, it is derived from the Chinese Shendao, which translates into “the way of the higher spirits or gods,” (Noss 333). Shinto is more related to worship of the cosmos and heavenly bodies, unlike Confucius’s teachings which place man in the seat of power in the Universe. Its oral traditional roots also make it more fractured and variant than Confucianism. Like the earlier Chinese native religions, Shinto places emphasis of ancestral worship and keeping the ancient family alive through the memory of those still breathing. Early creation myths involve a heavenly male and female who are later corrupted through death. After the death of the female, the male attempts to restore her, only to find her body badly decomposed and therefore polluted. Developing Shinto philosophy is obsessed with the cycle of becoming polluted and then ridding yourself of that pollution.
The various religions of ancient East Asia share many elements, such as the importance of virtue, honor, and family. However, some of these religions like Daoism and Shinto place more importance on the heavens in relation to the formation of man’s destiny. Confucius, on the other hand, believed that man himself was in the driver seat, and had the ultimate power of his fate and the path of one’s destiny.
Confucius. The Analects. Penguin Classics. New York. 1998.
Noss, David S. History of the World’s Religions. Prentice Hall. 12th ed. 2008.
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