Traditional religion of India, characterized by a philosophy and a way of life rather than by a dogmatic structure. It was not founded by an individual and has been developing gradually since c.3000 BC absorbing external influences. There are several schools within Hinduism, but all Hindus recognize the Vedas as sacred texts. Dharma is the eternal moral law underpinning existence. Karma is the law of cause of effect that energizes reincarnation. Liberation from the cycle of suffering and rebirth (moksha) and a return to Brahman is the chief aim in life. One of the features of Hindu society is the caste system, but modern Hindu scholars maintain that it is not part of the religion. The main Hindu gods are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (the Trimurti). Popular deities include Krishna, Ganesh, Parvati, Lakshmi, and Indra. Brahmanism, the early phase of Hinduism, culminated in the classic texts of the Mahabharata (incorporating the Bhagavad Gita) and the Ramayana (relating the adventures of Rama). Today, there are c.800 million Hindus worldwide.
Major Gods & Goddesses
Although all Hindus acknowledge the existence and importance of a number of gods and demigods, most individual worshipers are primarily devoted to a single god or goddess, of whom Shiva, Vishnu, and the Goddess are the most popular.
Shiva embodies the apparently contradictory aspects of a god of ascetics and a god of the phallus. He is the deity of renouncers, particularly of the many Shaiva sects that imitate him. Shiva is also the deity whose phallus (linga) is the central shrine of all Shaiva temples and the personal shrine of all Shaiva householders; his priapism is said to have resulted in his castration and the subsequent worship of his disembodied phallus. In addition, Shiva is said to have appeared on earth in various human, animal, and vegetable forms, establishing his many local shrines.
Vishnu is worshiped as a pervading god (supreme to his worshipers), the god from whose navel a lotus sprang, giving birth to the creator (Brahma). Vishnu created the universe by separating heaven and earth and rescued it on numerous subsequent occasions. He is also worshiped in the form of a number of "descents"—avatars or, roughly, incarnations. Several of these are animals that recur in iconography: the fish, the tortoise, and the boar. Others are the dwarf (Vamana, who became a giant in order to trick the demon Bali out of the entire universe); the man-lion (Narasimha, who disemboweled the demon Hiranyakashipu); the Buddha (who became incarnate in order to teach a false doctrine to the pious demons); Rama-with-an-Axe (Parashurama, who beheaded his unchaste mother and destroyed the entire class of Kshatriyas to avenge his father); and Kalki (the rider on the white horse, who will come to destroy the universe at the end of the age of Kali). Most popular by far are Rama (hero of the Ramayana) and Krishna (hero of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata-Purana), both of whom are said to be avatars of Vishnu, although they were originally human heroes.
Rama Getting Crowned with Sita
Along with these two great male gods, several goddesses are the object of primary devotion. They are sometimes said to be various aspects of the Goddess, Devi. In some myths Devi is the prime mover, who commands the male gods to do the work of creation and destruction. As Durga, the Unapproachable, she kills the buffalo demon Mahisha in a great battle; as Kali, the Black, she dances in a mad frenzy on the corpses of those she has slain and eaten, adorned with the still-dripping skulls and severed hands of her victims. The Goddess is also worshiped by the Shaktas, devotees of Shakti, the female power. This sect arose in the medieval period along with the Tantrists, whose esoteric ceremonies involved a black mass in which such forbidden substances as meat, fish, and wine were eaten and forbidden sexual acts were performed ritually. In many Tantric cults the Goddess is identified as Krishna's consort Radha.
More peaceful aspects of the Goddess appear as wives of the great gods: Lakshmi, the meek, docile wife of Vishnu and a fertility goddess in her own right; and Parvati, the wife of Shiva and the daughter of the mountain Himalaya. The great river goddess Ganga (the Ganges), also worshiped alone, is said to be a wife of Shiva, and a goddess of music and literature, Sarasvati, associated with the Saraswati River, is the wife of Brahma. Many of the local goddesses of India--Manasha, the goddess of snakes, in Bengal, and Minakshi in Madurai--are married to Hindu gods, while others, such as Shitala, goddess of smallpox, are worshiped alone. These unmarried goddesses are feared for their untamed powers and angry, unpredictable outbursts.
Many minor gods are assimilated into the central pantheon by being identified with the great gods or with their children and friends. Hanuman, the monkey god, appears in the Ramayana as the cunning assistant of Rama in the siege of Lanka. Skanda, the general of the army of the gods, is the son of Shiva and Parvati, as is Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of scribes and merchants, the remover of obstacles, and the object of worship at the beginning of any important enterprise.
Principle Texts & Stories
The ultimate canonical authority for all Hindus is the Vedas. The oldest of the four Vedas is the Rig-Veda, which was composed in an ancient form of the Sanskrit language in northwest India. This text, probably composed between 1300 and 1000 BC and consisting of 1028 hymns to a pantheon of gods, has been memorized syllable by syllable and preserved orally to the present day. The Rig-Veda was supplemented by two other Vedas, the Yajur-Veda (the textbook for sacrifice) and the Sama-Veda (the hymnal). A fourth book, the Atharva-Veda (a collection of magic spells), was probably added about 900 BC. At this time, too, the Brahmanas, lengthy Sanskrit texts expounding the priests' ritual and the myths behind it, were composed. Beginning about 600 BC, the Upanishads were composed; these are mystical-philosophical meditations on the meaning of existence and the nature of the universe.
The Vedas (including the Brahmanas and the Upanishads) are regarded as revealed canon (shruti, "what has been heard [from the gods]"), and no syllable can be changed. The actual content of this canon, however, is unknown to most Hindus. The practical compendium of Hinduism is contained in the Smriti, or "what is remembered," which is also orally preserved. No prohibition is made, however, against improvising variations on, rewording, or challenging the Smriti. The Smriti includes the two great Sanskrit epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana; the many Sanskrit Puranas, including 18 great Puranas and several dozen more subordinate Puranas; and the many Dharmashastras and Dharmasutras (textbooks on sacred law), of which the one attributed to the sage Manu is the most frequently cited.
Krishna and Rhana
The two epics are built on central stories. The Mahabharata tells of the war between the Pandava brothers, led by their cousin Krishna, and their cousins the Kauravas. The Ramayana tells of the journey of Rama to recapture his wife Sita after she is stolen by the demon Ravana. But these stories are embedded in a rich corpus of other tales and discourses on philosophy, law, geography, political science, and astronomy, so that the Mahabharata (about 200,000 lines long) is a kind of encyclopedia or even a literature, and the Ramayana (over 50,000 lines long) is hardly less. Although it is therefore impossible to fix their dates, the main bodies of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were probably composed between 300 BC and AD 300. Both, however, continued to grow even after they were translated into the vernacular languages of India (such as Tamil and Hindi) in the medieval period.
The Puranas were composed after the epics, and several of them expand on themes found in the epics (for instance, the Bhagavata-Purana describes the childhood of Krishna, a topic not elaborated in the Mahabharata). The Puranas also include subsidiary myths, hymns of praise, philosophies, iconography, and rituals. Most of the Puranas are predominantly sectarian in nature; the great Puranas (and some subordinate Puranas) are dedicated to the worship of Shiva or Vishnu or the Goddess, and several subordinate Puranas are devoted to Ganesha or Skanda or the sun. In addition, they all contain much nonsectarian material, probably of earlier origin, such as the "five marks," or topics (panchalakshana), of the Puranas: the creation of the universe, the destruction and re-creation of the universe, the dynasties of the solar and lunar gods, the genealogy of the gods and holy sages, and the ages of the founding fathers of humankind (the Manus).
Worship & Ritual
The great and lesser Hindu gods are worshiped in a number of concentric circles of public and private devotion. Because of the social basis of Hinduism, the most fundamental ceremonies for every Hindu are those that involve the rites of passage (samskaras). These begin with birth and the first time the child eats solid food (rice). Later rites include the first haircutting (for a young boy) and the purification after the first menstruation (for a girl); marriage; and the blessings upon a pregnancy, to produce a male child and to ensure a successful delivery and the child's survival of the first six dangerous days after birth (the concern of Shashti, goddess of Six). Last are the funeral ceremonies (cremation and, if possible, the sprinkling of ashes in a holy river such as the Ganges) and the yearly offerings to dead ancestors. The most notable of the latter is the pinda, a ball of rice and sesame seeds given by the eldest male child so that the ghost of his father may pass from limbo into rebirth.
In daily ritual, a Hindu (generally the wife, who is thought to have more power to intercede with the gods) makes offerings (puja) of fruit or flowers before a small shrine in the house. She also makes offerings to local snakes or trees or obscure spirits (benevolent and malevolent) dwelling in her own garden or at crossroads or other magical places in the village. Many villages, and all sizable towns, have temples, where priests perform ceremonies throughout the day: sunrise prayers and noises to awaken the god within the holy of holies (the garbagriha, or "womb-house"); bathing, clothing, and fanning the god; feeding the god and distributing the remains of the food (prasada) to worshipers. The temple is also a cultural center where songs are sung, holy texts read aloud (in Sanskrit and vernaculars), and sunset rituals performed; devout laity may be present at most of these ceremonies. In many temples, particularly those sacred to goddesses (such as the Kalighat temple to Kali, in Calcutta), goats are sacrificed on special occasions. The sacrifice is often carried out by a special low-caste priest outside the bounds of the temple itself. Thousands of simple local temples exist; each may be nothing more than a small stone box enclosing a formless effigy swathed in cloth, or a slightly more imposing edifice with a small tank in which to bathe. In addition, India has many temples of great size as well as complex temple cities, some hewn out of caves (such as Elephanta and Ellora), some formed of great monolithic slabs (such as those at Mahabalipuram), some built of imported and elaborately carved stone slabs (such as the temples at Khajuraho, Bhubaneswar, Madurai, and Kanjeevaram). On special days, usually once a year, the image of the god is taken from its central shrine and paraded around the temple complex on a magnificently carved wooden chariot (ratha).
Many holy places or shrines (tirthas, literally "fords"), such as Rishikesh in the Himalaya or Benares on the Ganges, are the objects of pilgrimages from all over India; others are essentially local shrines. Certain shrines are most frequently visited at special yearly festivals. For example, Prayaga, where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers join at Allahabad, is always sacred, but it is crowded with pilgrims during the Kumbha Mela festival each January and overwhelmed by the millions who come to the special ceremony held every 12 years. In Bengal, the goddess Durga's visit to her family and return to her husband Shiva are celebrated every year at Durgapuja, when images of the goddess are created out of papier-mâché, worshiped for ten days, and then cast into the Ganges in a dramatic midnight ceremony ringing with drums and glowing with candles. Some festivals are celebrated throughout India: Dewali, the festival of lights in early winter; and Holi, the spring carnival, when members of all castes mingle and let down their hair, sprinkling one another with cascades of red powder and liquid, symbolic of the blood that was probably used in past centuries.
Buddhism (India & China)
Religion and philosophy founded (c.528 BC) in India by Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha. Buddhism is based on Four Noble Truths: existence is suffering; the cause of suffering is desire; the end of suffering comes with the achievement of Nirvana, and Nirvana is attained through the Eightfold Path: right views, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. There are no gods in Buddhism. Karma, one of Buddhism's most important concepts, says good actions are rewarded and evil ones are punished, either in this life or throughout a long series of lives resulting from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth by reincarnation. The achievement of nirvana breaks the cycle. Buddhism is a worldwide religion. Its main divisions are Theravada, or Hinayana, in SE Asia; Mahayana in N Asia; Lamaism or Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet; and Zen in Japan. Today, there are c.300 million Buddhists worldwide.
Buddhism today is divided into two major branches known to their respective followers as Theravada, the Way of the Elders, and Mahayana, the Great Vehicle.
No complete biography of the Buddha was compiled until centuries after his death; only fragmentary accounts of his life are found in the earliest sources. Western scholars, however, generally agree on 563 BC as the year of his birth.
Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was born in Kapilavastu near the present Indian-Nepal border, the son of the ruler of a petty kingdom. According to legend, at his birth sages recognized in him the marks of a great man with the potential to become either a sage or the ruler of an empire. The young prince was raised in sheltered luxury, until at the age of 29 he realized how empty his life to this point had been. Renouncing earthly attachments, he embarked on a quest for peace and enlightenment, seeking release from the cycle of rebirths. For the next few years he practiced Yoga and adopted a life of radical asceticism.
Eventually he gave up this approach as fruitless and instead adopted a middle path between the life of indulgence and that of self-denial. Sitting under a bo tree, he meditated, rising through a series of higher states of consciousness until he attained the enlightenment for which he had been searching. Once having known this ultimate religious truth, the Buddha underwent a period of intense inner struggle. He began to preach, wandering from place to place, gathering a body of disciples, and organizing them into a monastic community known as the sangha. In this way he spent the rest of his life.
Principle Texts & Stories
The Buddha was an oral teacher; he left no written body of thought. His beliefs were codified by later followers.
The Buddhist canon is known as the Tripitaka, or Three Baskets, because it consists of three collections of writings: the Sutra Pitaka, a collection of discourses; the Vinaya Pitaka, the code of monastic discipline; and the Abhidharma Pitaka, which contains philosophical, psychological, and doctrinal discussions and classifications.
The Sutra Pitaka is primarily composed of dialogues between the Buddha and other people. It consists of five groups of texts: Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses), Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Medium-Length Discourses), Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Grouped Discourses), Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of Discourses on Numbered Topics), and Khuddaka Nikaya (Collection of Miscellaneous Texts). In the fifth group, the Jatakas, comprising stories of former lives of the Buddha, and the Dhammapada (Religious Sentences), a summary of the Buddha's teachings on mental discipline and morality, are especially popular.
The Vinaya Pitaka consists of more than 225 rules governing the conduct of Buddhist monks and nuns. Each is accompanied by a story explaining the original reason for the rule. The rules are arranged according to the seriousness of the offense resulting from their violation.
The Abhidharma Pitaka consists of seven separate works. They include detailed classifications of psychological phenomena, metaphysical analysis, and a thesaurus of technical vocabulary. Although technically authoritative, the texts in this collection have little influence on the lay Buddhist. The complete canon, much expanded, also exists in Tibetan and Chinese versions.
The Four Noble Truths
At the core of the Buddha's enlightenment was the realization of the Four Noble Truths: (1) Life is suffering. This is more than a mere recognition of the presence of suffering in existence. It is a statement that, in its very nature, human existence is essentially painful from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Even death brings no relief, for the Buddha accepted the Hindu idea of life as cyclical, with death leading to further rebirth. (2) All suffering is caused by ignorance of the nature of reality and the craving, attachment, and grasping that result from such ignorance. (3) Suffering can be ended by overcoming ignorance and attachment. (4) The path to the suppression of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right-mindedness, and right contemplation. These eight are usually divided into three categories that form the cornerstone of Buddhist faith: morality, wisdom, and samadhi, or concentration.
Closely related to this belief is the doctrine of karma. Karma consists of a person's acts and their ethical consequences. Human actions lead to rebirth, wherein good deeds are inevitably rewarded and evil deeds punished. Thus, neither undeserved pleasure nor unwarranted suffering exists in the world, but rather a universal justice. The karmic process operates through a kind of natural moral law rather than through a system of divine judgment. One's karma determines such matters as one's species, beauty, intelligence, longevity, wealth, and social status. According to the Buddha, karma of varying types can lead to rebirth as a human, an animal, a hungry ghost, a denizen of hell, or even one of the Hindu gods.
Although never actually denying the existence of the gods, Buddhism denies them any special role. Their lives in heaven are long and pleasurable, but they are in the same predicament as other creatures, being subject eventually to death and further rebirth in lower states of existence. They are not creators of the universe or in control of human destiny, and Buddhism denies the value of prayer and sacrifice to them. Of the possible modes of rebirth, human existence is preferable, because the deities are so engrossed in their own pleasures that they lose sight of the need for salvation. Enlightenment is possible only for humans.
The ultimate goal of the Buddhist path is release from the round of phenomenal existence with its inherent suffering. To achieve this goal is to attain nirvana, an enlightened state in which the fires of greed, hatred, and ignorance have been quenched. Not to be confused with total annihilation, nirvana is a state of consciousness beyond definition. After attaining nirvana, the enlightened individual may continue to live, burning off any remaining karma until a state of final nirvana (parinirvana) is attained at the moment of death.
In theory, the goal of nirvana is attainable by anyone, although it is a realistic goal only for members of the monastic community. In Theravada Buddhism an individual who has achieved enlightenment by following the Eightfold Path is known as an arhat, or worthy one, a type of solitary saint.
For those unable to pursue the ultimate goal, the proximate goal of better rebirth through improved karma is an option. This lesser goal is generally pursued by lay Buddhists in the hope that it will eventually lead to a life in which they are capable of pursuing final enlightenment as members of the sangha.
The ethic that leads to nirvana is detached and inner-oriented. It involves cultivating four virtuous attitudes, known as the Palaces of Brahma: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The ethic that leads to better rebirth, however, is centered on fulfilling one's duties to society. It involves acts of charity, especially support of the sangha, as well as observance of the five precepts that constitute the basic moral code of Buddhism. The precepts prohibit killing, stealing, harmful language, sexual misbehavior, and the use of intoxicants. By observing these precepts, the three roots of evil--lust, hatred, and delusion--may be overcome.
Chinese philosophy and religion considered as being next to Confucianism in importance. Whereas Confucianism sought the full development of human beings through moral education and the establishment of an orderly graded society, Taoism sought to preserve human life by following the Way of Nature (Tao) and by reverting to primitive agrarian communities and a government of extreme laissez-faire. Taoism attempted to bring the individual into perfect harmony with nature through a mystical union with the Tao.
Taoist philosophy is traced to a 6th-century BC classic of Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching. The recurrent theme of this work is the Tao (way or path). To follow the Tao is to follow the path leading to self-realization. Te (virtue) and ch'i (energy) represent the goal of effortless action. Taoist ethics emphasize patience, simplicity, and the harmony of nature, achieved through the proper balance of yin and yang (male and female principles). As a religion, Taoism dates from the time of Chang Tao-ling, who organized a group of followers in AD 142.
Major Gods & Goddesses
Religious Taoism is generally considered to be polytheistic. Its many deities, although unified by the idea and practice of Tao, are oftentimes pictured as part of a heavenly hierarchy that mirrors the bureaucracy of Imperial China. According to the beliefs of Religious Taoism, Chinese deities may be promoted or demoted for their actions. Some deities are also simply exalted humans, such as Guan Yu, the god of honor and piety. The particular deities worshipped vary according to geographical regions and historical periods in China, though the general pattern of worship is more constant.
There are disagreements regarding the proper composition of this pantheon. Popular Taoism typically presents the Jade Emperor as the official head deity. Intellectual ("elite") Taoists, such as the Celestial Masters sect, usually present Laozi (Laojun, "Lord Lao") and the Three Pure Ones at the top of the pantheon of deities.
While a number of immortals or other mysterious figures appear in the Zhuangzi, and to a lesser extent in the Tao Te Ching, these have generally not become the objects of worship. Traditional conceptions of Tao are not to be confused with the Western concepts of theism and monotheism. Being one with the Tao does not indicate a union with an eternal spirit in the Hindu sense, but rather living in accordance with nature.
Principle Texts & Stories
The Tao Te Ching, or Daodejing, is widely considered to be the most influential Taoist text. It is a foundational scripture of central importance in Taoism. It has been used as a ritual text throughout the history of religious Taoism. However, the precise date that it was written is the subject of debate: there are those who put it anywhere from the 6th century BC to the 3rd century BC.
Taoist commentators have deeply considered the opening lines of the Tao Te Ching. They are widely discussed in both academic and mainstream literature. A common interpretation is similar to Korzybski's observation that "the map is not the territory". The opening lines are:
"The Way that can be described is not the true Way.
The Name that can be named is not the constant Name."
Tao literally means "path" or "way" and can figuratively mean "essential nature", "destiny", "principle", or "true path". The philosophical and religious "Tao" is infinite, without limitation. One view states that the paradoxical opening is intended to prepare the reader for teachings about the unteachable Tao. Tao is believed to be transcendent, indistinct and without form. Hence, it cannot be named or categorized. Even the word "Tao" can be considered a dangerous temptation to make Tao a limiting "name".
The Tao Te Ching is not thematically ordered. However, the main themes of the text are repeatedly expressed using variant formulations, often with only a slight difference. The leading themes revolve around the nature of Tao and how to attain it. Tao is said to be unnameable and accomplishing great things through small means. There is significant debate regarding which English translation of the Tao Te Ching is preferred, and which particular translation methodology is best. Discussions and disputes about various translations of the Tao Te Ching can become acrimonious, involving deeply entrenched views.
Ancient commentaries on the Tao Te Ching are important texts in their own right. The Heshang Gong commentary was most likely written in the second century AD, and as perhaps the oldest commentary, contains the edition of the Tao Te Ching that was transmitted to the present day. Other important commentaries include the Xiang'er, one of the most important texts from the Way of the Celestial Masters, and Wang Bi's commentary.
Taoism has never been a unified religion, but has rather consisted of numerous teachings based on various revelations. Therefore, different branches of Taoism often have very distinct beliefs. Nevertheless, there are certain core beliefs that nearly all the schools share.
Taoist theology emphasizes various themes found in the Daodejing and Zhuangzi, such as naturalness, vitality, peace, "non-action" (wu wei), emptiness (refinement), detachment, flexibility, receptiveness, spontaneity, the relativism of human ways of life, ways of speaking and guiding behavior.
The ethical ideal of the Tao Te Ching is to recompense injury with kindness and achieve a quiet, restful, humble simplicity in living. The teachings of early Taoism center around the following themes:
The basic unity behind the universe is a mysterious and undefinable force called the Tao. Tao produces all things and all things go back to their common origin and blend into one. Absolute truth and absolute good are unknowable.
Life is the greatest of all possessions. The chief aim of human existence is to attain fullness of life by attunement with the Tao. When man seeks his own plan rather than the eternal plan of the great Tao, he precipates ills, suffering, and evil.
Live in primitive simplicity. Leave all things take their natural course. Education, wealth, power, and family ties are worthless impediments to living. The sage can know the whole world without going out of his door. The further one travels, the less one knows. The Tao is characterized by its quietude of power, its production without possession, action without self-assertion, development without domination. "Aim at extreme disinterestedness and maintain the utmost possible calm ... There is no guilt greater than to sanction ambition ... Only quiet non-striving is successful." Kindness, sincerity, and humility should be cultivated.
Pomp and glory are to be despised. The tree which stands higher than its neighbors is the first to be felled by the woodsman. The weak and humble overcome the strong and proud. The highest goodness is like water, it seeks the lower levels; therefore it is near to Tao. The least government is the best government. Weapons are instruments of ill omen; he who has Tao will have nothing to do with them.
Wu wei is a central concept in Taoism. The literal meaning of wu wei is "without action". It is often expressed by the paradox wei wu wei, meaning "action through inaction". The practice and efficacy of wu wei are fundamental in Taoist thought, most prominently emphasized in Taoism. The goal of wu wei is alignment with Tao, revealing the soft and invisible power within all things. It is believed by Taoists that masters of wu wei can observe and follow this invisible potential, the innate in-action of the Way.
In ancient Taoist texts, wu wei is associated with water through its yielding nature. Water is soft and weak, but it can move earth and carve stone. Taoist philosophy proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone exerts his will against the world, he disrupts that harmony. Taoism does not identify man's will as the root problem. Rather, it asserts that man must place his will in harmony with the natural universe.
Pu is translated "uncarved block," "unhewn log," or "simplicity." It is a metaphor for the state of wu wei and the principle of jian. It represents a passive state of receptiveness. Pu is a symbol for a state of pure potential and perception without prejudice. In this state, Taoists believe everything is seen as it is, without preconceptions or illusion.
Pu is usually seen as keeping oneself in the primordial state of tao. It is believed to be the true nature of the mind, unburdened by knowledge or experiences. In the state of pu, there is no right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. There is only pure experience, or awareness, free from learned labels and definitions. It is this state of being that is the goal of following wu wei.
Taoists believe that man is a microcosm for the universe. The body ties directly into the Chinese five elements. The five organs correlate with the five elements, the five directions and the seasons. Akin to the Hermetic maxim of "as above, so below", Taoism posits that man may gain knowledge of the universe by understanding himself.
In Taoism, even beyond Chinese folk religion, various rituals, exercises, and substances are said to positively affect one's physical and mental health. They are also intended to align oneself spiritually with cosmic forces, or enable ecstatic spiritual journeys. These concepts seem basic to Taoism in its elite forms. Internal alchemy and various spiritual practices are used by some Taoists to improve health and extend life, theoretically even to the point of physical immortality.
Philosophy that dominated China until the early 20th century and still has many followers, mainly in Asia. It is based on the Analects, sayings attributed to Confucius (551–479 BC). Strictly an ethical system to ensure a smooth-running society, it gradually acquired quasi-religious characteristics. Confucianism views man as potentially the most perfect form of li, the ultimate embodiment of good. It stresses the responsibility of sovereign to subject, of family members to one other, and of friend to friend.
Major Gods & Goddesses
Chinese scholars honored Confucius as a great teacher and sage but did not worship him as a personal god. Nor did Confucius himself ever claim divinity. Unlike Christian churches, the temples built to Confucius were not places in which organized community groups gathered to worship, but public edifices designed for annual ceremonies, especially on the philosopher's birthday. Several attempts to deify Confucius and to proselyte Confucianism failed because of the essentially secular nature of the philosophy.
Principle Texts & Stories
The principles of Confucianism are contained in the nine ancient Chinese works handed down by Confucius and his followers, who lived in an age of great philosophic activity. These writings can be divided into two groups: the Five Classics and the Four Books.
The Wu Ching (Five Classics), which originated before the time of Confucius, consist of the I Ching (Book of Changes), Shu Ching (Book of History), Shih Ching (Book of Poetry), Li Chi (Book of Rites), and Ch'un Ch'iu (Spring and Autumn Annals). The I Ching is a manual of divination probably compiled before the 11th century BC; its supplementary philosophical portion, contained in a series of appendixes, may have been written later by Confucius and his disciples. The Shu Ching is a collection of ancient historical documents, and the Shih Ching, an anthology of ancient poems. The Li Chi deals with the principles of conduct, including those for public and private ceremonies; it was destroyed in the 3d century BC, but presumably much of its material was preserved in a later compilation, the Record of Rites. The Ch'un Ch'iu, the only work reputedly compiled by Confucius himself, is a chronicle of major historical events in feudal China from the 8th century BC to Confucius's death early in the 5th century BC.
The Shih Shu (Four Books), compilations of the sayings of Confucius and Mencius and of commentaries by followers on their teachings, are the Lun Yü (Analects), a collection of maxims by Confucius that form the basis of his moral and political philosophy; Ta Hsüeh (The Great Learning) and Chung Yung (The Doctrine of the Mean), containing some of Confucius's philosophical utterances arranged systematically with comments and expositions by his disciples; and the Mencius (Book of Mencius), containing the teachings of one of Confucius's great followers.
Although Confucianism became the official ideology of the Chinese state, it has never existed as an established religion with a church and priesthood.
Li (social propriety) is the greatest principle of living. When society lives by li it moves smoothly. Confucius saw the embodiment of this society in the idealized form of feudalistic government, illustrated by the Five Relationships: kindness in the father, filial piety in the son; gentility in the eldest brother, humility and respect in the younger; righteousness behavior in the husband, obedience in the wife; humane consideration in elders, deference in juniors; benevolence in rulers, loyalty in ministers and subjects. Li may also refer to the "middle way" in all things.
Just as li is the outward expression of the superior man, jen (goodness, humaneness, love) is the inner ideal. Confucius taught that men should love one another and practice respect and courtesy. If li and jen were operative in a person, the end product would be the Confucian goal: the superior man. Confucius believed in the natural goodness or at least the natural perfectibility of man. He stressed government by virtue (Te) and the arts of peace (Wen). Since filial piety is the root of all virtue this concern for parental respect is seen in the veneration of age and ancestor worship. Confucius was a pragmatic man who thought one should respect the spirits but keep them at a distance.
Note: All of the above text was copied from the following sources.
“An Introduction to Confucianism.” Web. 24 Jun 2009. .
“An Introduction to Taoism.” Web. 24 Jun 2009. .
"Buddhism." Encyclopedia. Reproduced in World News Digest. Facts On File News Services. Web. 23 June 2009.
"Buddhism" World Encyclopedia. Philip's, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Saint Mary's College of California. Web. 24 June 2009.
"Confucianism." Encyclopedia. Reproduced in World News Digest. Facts On File News Services. Web. 23 June 2009.
"Confucianism" World Encyclopedia. Philip's, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Saint Mary's College of California. Web. 24 June 2009.
"Hinduism." Encyclopedia. Reproduced in World News Digest. Facts On File News Services. Web. 24 June 2009.
"Hinduism" World Encyclopedia. Philip's, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Saint Mary's College of California. Web. 24 June 2009.
"Taoism." Encyclopedia. Reproduced in World News Digest. Facts On File News Services. Web. 23 June 2009.
"Taoism." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 24 Jun 2009.
"Taoism" World Encyclopedia. Philip's, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Saint Mary's College of California. Web. 24 June 2009.