pdf taoism vs confucianism
Vinegar Tasters is a common subject in traditional Chinese religious painting. It shows the Buddha, Confucius and Lao-Tse (aka Laozi, the author of Tao Te Ching) around a vat of vinegar. All three men have tasted the vinegar but react differently to it. Confucius finds it sour, Buddha finds it bitter and Lao-tse finds it sweet.
To K’ung Fu-tse (kung FOOdsuh) [Confucius], life seemed rather sour. He believed that the present was out of step with the past, and that the government of man on earth was out of harmony with the Way of Heaven, the government of the universe. Therefore, he emphasized reverence for the Ancestors, as well as for the ancient rituals and ceremonies in which the emperor, as the Son of Heaven, acted as intermediary between limitless heaven and limited earth. Under Confucianism, the use of precisely measured court music, prescribed steps, actions, and phrases all added up to an extremely complex system of rituals, each used for a particular purpose at a particular time. A saying was recorded about K’ung Fu-tse: “If the mat was not straight, the Master would not sit.” This ought to give an indication of the extent to which things were carried out under Confucianism.
The philosophy grew from an observance of the natural world, and the religion developed out of a belief in cosmic balance maintained and regulated by the Tao. The original belief may or may not have included practices such as ancestor and spirit worship but both of these principles are observed by many Taoists today and have been for centuries.
This philosophy corresponds closely with the Logos of the Roman stoics like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. They claimed the Logos was a force of reason and that nothing which happened according to the Logos could be bad; only people’s interpretations of what happened made those circumstances seem bad. Taoism claims the same thing: nothing is bad in itself, only our self-interest makes us think that some events in life are bad and others good. Actually, all things happen in accordance with the flow of the Tao and, since the Tao is natural, all things are natural.
Generally speaking, whereas Daoism embraces nature and what is natural and spontaneous in human experience, even to the point of dismissing much of China’s advanced culture, learning, and morality, Confucianism regards human social institutions—including the family, the school, the community, and the state—as essential to human flourishing and moral excellence, because they are the only realm in which those achievements, as Confucius conceived them, are possible.
A lover of antiquity, Confucius broadly attempted to revive the learning, cultural values, and ritual practices of the early Zhou kingdom (beginning in the 11th century BCE) as a means of morally renewing the violent and chaotic society of his day (that of the Spring and Autumn Period) and of promoting individual self-cultivation—the task of acquiring virtue (ren, or “humaneness”) and of becoming a moral exemplar (junzi, or “gentleman”). According to Confucius, all people, no matter their station, are capable of possessing ren, which is manifested when one’s social interactions demonstrate humaneness and benevolence toward others. Self-cultivated junzi possess ethical maturity and self-knowledge, attained through years of study, reflection, and practice; they are thus contrasted with petty people (xiaoren; literally “small person”), who are morally like children.
It is not necessary, however, to give up language or to stop following doctrines. Humans naturally advocate and follow doctrines just as fledgling birds naturally tweet and twitter. Zhuangzi advocated openness to all perspectives, suggesting myriad ways to evaluate one’s way through life. Flute playing, butchering, and the analysis of names are among the traditional examples given for training responses. Daoist mastery can be achieved through any skill and can be characterized by the mystical sense of having transcended deliberate skill through guidance of the dao. Undiscovered ways may teach techniques of unimaginable power. Although Zhuangzi argued against the preference for life over death, Daoist religion came to strive for a way, among the infinite number of undiscovered ways, that led to long life.
Kohn, Livia, Laughing at the Tao: Debates Among Buddhists and Taoists in Medieval China (1994).
Not long after Lao Tzu began teaching Taoist ideas, another philosopher named Confucius came along to disagree with him. Confucius lived about 550 BC, also under the Eastern Zhou dynasty. He taught that people should recognize their responsibilities to the larger society, and work to uphold the laws and customs of their society. If everyone was a good citizen, the whole community would benefit and everyone would be happier.
You can see that these two ideas conflict with each other. Yet both Taoism and Confucianism were popular all over China for the next two thousand years, and they are still both popular today.