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Religion and Philosophy in Ancient China

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In ancient China, as elsewhere, religion, scholarship and what would eventually be called philosophy were intertwined with political power. Zhou emperors told those they conquered that they, the Zhou, had ousted the ancestors of their predicessor emperors, the Shang, emperors from heaven. The Zhou claimed that heaven was now occupied by their supreme god, a god they called "The Lord on High," who, they said, had commanded the downfall of the Shang emperors. But, as an act of continuity and appeasement the Zhou admited into their pantheon of gods some of the gods of the Shang, including the gods of grain, rain and agriculture.

It was from the Zhou emperors that local lords received the right to act as a priest: to perform sacrifices, to have certain hymns sung and certain dances performed, the right to propitiate the gods of local mountains, streams and of the soil and crops.

In early Zhou civilization (after 1066 BCE), people continued their attempt to appease the gods by giving them gifts. Those who could afford it sacrificed cattle, sheep, pigs or horses. The sacrificing of humans diminished from what it had been under the Shang emperors, but Zhou emperors had their wives or friends join them in the grave.

Each year a young woman was offered as a bride to the river god. This latter sacrifice began with sorceresses choosing the most attractive woman they could find. They dressed the girl in satin, silk and jewelry and put her on a nuptial bed on a raft. They floated the raft down river. The raft sank and the girl drowned, gone as a gift to the invisible world of the river god.

The Zhou Dynasty began a new age of scholarship. They invited scholars to their courts to conduct their sacrifices and funerals and to teach their children. And among the scholars during the Zhou era was a man named Kongfuzi, believed to have lived by 551 and 479 BCE. In 1600s CE his name would be Latinized to Confucius.

By the time of Confucius (551-479), the founder of the Zhou dynasty, Houji, was described as having been born by a virgin. Confucius may not have believed this, but he is described as believing the claim of Zhou emperors that their rule was a mandate from heaven. Confucius is described as seeing events as a morality play directed from heaven, as believing that Shang emperors had lost the mandate of heaven through a decline in their virtue and especially through the wickedness of their last ruler, Zhouxin. Confucian ideology held the Zhou leaders who overthrew Zhouxin as great heroes. According to the followers of Confucius, he believed that early Zhou rule was a golden age, a time of order, reason and virtue, and that Zhou emperors lost their power by having failed to exercise virtue. The Scholar Confucius

Confucius The earliest biography on Confucius was written four hundred years after his death, and those writing about him most likely portrayed him without any details that the passing of time had made disagreeable. The earliest copy of the writings of Confucius that are available to modern scholars date back to the fourth century CE, seven centuries after Confucius lived -- during which followers might have edited his work to suit changing times and attitudes. These writings purported to have been by Confucius are called The Analects, which describe requisites for being a good person, a good ruler and a good follower.

According to legend, Confucius was born in 551 BCE, in a principality called Lu -- where Shang culture remained strong. Confucius is said to have lost his father when he was three and to have studied in his early youth. Some have claimed that he may have been the illegitimate son of a nobleman and a concubine, for, rather than work in the fields and remain illiterate as common boys did, he went to work for the local ruler, managing stables and keeping books for granaries. After marrying at nineteen, he completed studies that earned him the title of scholar. As a scholar he was a master of ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy and arithmetic and he had some familiarity with poetry and history.

Confucius lived after people around him had begun using iron tools. The use of iron had brought a higher productivity in agriculture, a greater rise in population, more urban growth, improvements in transportation and trade, coinage and new wealth. This loosened social stratification and may have led Confucius and others to see society as having become chaotic and in moral decline. Some scholars saw the world as hopelessly askew and became recluses. But, according to legend, rather than become a recluse, Confucius decided to change society through education. He is described as having opened a school for those he thought were potential leaders and as having taught any male willing to learn. Confucius is described as a teacher who conversed rather than lectured. He is described as the first among the Chinese to support himself by teaching -- by charging tuition. According to legend, Confucius also became active in politics, advocating government for the happiness of the common people rather than the pleasure of their rulers, and he advocated a reduction of taxes, the mitigation of severe punishments and the avoidance of wars.

Confucius is described by his biographers as advocating the restoration and renovation of the institutions of the first of the Zhou emperors. He is described as blaming the ills of his day on leaders neglecting old Zhou rituals or performing these rituals incorrectly. Controversy exists over whether Confucius actually revered the early rule of the Zhou emperors or merely pretended such reverence in order to make his views more palatable to contemporaries -- a subterfuge that would have contradicted sayings attributed to Confucius about honesty, sincerity and straight-forwardness.

By the time of Confucius, the founder of the Zhou dynasty, Houji, was described as having been born by a virgin. Confucius may not have believed this, but he is described as believing the claim of Zhou emperors that their rule was a mandate from heaven. Confucius is described as seeing events as a morality play directed from heaven, as believing that Shang emperors had lost the mandate of heaven through a decline in their virtue and especially through the wickedness of their last ruler, Zhouxin. To the Confucianists the Zhou leaders who overthrew Zhousin were great heroes. According to the followers of Confucius, he believed that early Zhou rule was a golden age, a time of order, reason and virtue, and that Zhou emperors lost their power by having failed to exercise virtue.

Confucius is described as believing that a return to the golden age of the early Zhou emperors could be accomplished by the return of rule that was similarly ethical and wise. Apparently, Confucius believed that a king had to earn this mandate from heaven. According to his followers, Confucius saw the Lord of Heaven not as a tyrant but as the embodiment of a system of laws. He believed that kings should conduct themselves in accordance with these laws, including observing established ceremonies and offering all sacrifices in accordance with the proper rites. He believed that the king should set a moral example for commoners and that commoners should conduct themselves in accordance with the laws of heaven and remain obedient to the rule of the king. Confucius is described as believing that people should respect and obey their parents as well as the king who ruled over them. The state, he believed, was an extension of the family, a collection of families. He believed that a family should be ruled by the eldest adult male, and that families should be led by the superior family of the emperor. In this regard, Confucius was a man of his time: he placed his hope for humanity in the sincerity of the ruler rather than in checks and balances in government and the watchful eye of the public.

The right course, believed Confucius, was for a king to behave like a king and a son to behave like a son. He created what he called categories and held that a king who did not behave as a king was not a king, and a son who did not behave as a son was not a son. According to Confucius, obedience was the prime ingredient of the authentic individual. To maintain harmony, believed Confucius, people should not wander from what is authentic.

Confucius is described as believing in class distinctions -- what he called social categories. He not only supported the religious values of the elite, he supported their good manners, and he dissociated himself from the religion that had become identified with the common people: shamanism, witchcraft and sorcery. Although he favored the elevation of males according to their learning and superior moral qualities, he appears to have failed to see that equal opportunity was not possible in an autocratic society dominated by aristocrats.

When Confucius was around fifty, he served as a minister of public works and as a minister of justice, but his support for Zhou kingship could not have set well with the ruler of Lu -- who owed his power to independence from Zhou rule. And the moral posturing of Confucius might have alienated him from those around the local ruler -- advisors and servants of various sorts who often wished to entice the ruler with sensual pleasures.

Confucius was disappointed that his views were not taken seriously and put into practice. He left politics in disgust and went on a decade of dangerous travels through various states. When he was sixty-seven, he responded to an invitation from some of his disciples to return to Lu, and there he taught five more years. Then he died viewing the world as askew, his optimism from earlier years having gone unrewarded.The anti-Confucian Scholar, Mozi

After Confucius' death, his teachings were overshadowed by the scholar Mozi (Master Mo), who was born in 490 BCE -- nine years after Confucius had died. Like Confucius, he was trained in classical literature. Mozi saw the Confucianists of his time as pretentious and selfish aristocrats -- further evidence that Confucius did not support equality or democracy. He condemned Confucian preoccupation with religious ritual, and he ridiculed Confucianists for putting family and class above the welfare of common people.

Unlike Confucius and his followers, Mozi believed that all were equal before the lord of the heavens. He believed that the powers of heaven acted on the world and exercised a love for all humankind. He spoke of the value of the labor of common folks, and he advocated promoting people to positions of power solely on the strength of their abilities and virtues.

In place of Confucianism's dutiful love for the father of a family, Mozi supported a wider devotion: he urged people to follow heaven and reciprocate or duplicate heaven's love with their own love for all. He claimed that members of the aristocracy should love commoners and that commoners should love members of the aristocracy. Unlike the haughty Confucianists, who would lecture for only those who treated them with what they thought was proper respect, Mozi and his followers would lecture anyone willing to listen.

But in some ways, Mozi was also a man of his time. He supported monarchical rule -- support for democracy in his time considered criminal. He saw evil as having originated in individualism in pre-civilized society, an individualism in which everyone had his or her own standard of what was right or wrong. Drawing from this misconception of pre-civilized society, he believed that heaven had overridden individualism by creating civilization and by giving power to the most worthy of persons, the emperor -- rather than the emperor's power being derived from common people. It was an emperor's duty, claimed Mozi, to unify the standards of morality according to heaven. He believed that rulers might deviate from the wishes of heaven but that it was the duty of people to adhere to heaven's standards by exercising reason.

Disorders, Mozi believed, came from men of power understanding only trifles and not matters of great importance, most importantly heaven's universal love. Disasters such as hurricanes and torrential rains he explained as heaven's punishment for people deviating from these standards. He believed that heaven manifested its love for humankind by providing humans with their material needs.

As Mozi pondered and taught, trade and the money economy had been expanding, and Mozi wanted the blessings of material benefits extended among common people -- especially food, clothing and housing. He saw as waste those activities that did not contribute to the creation of these. He found fault with aristocrats spending enormous sums on their weddings and funerals. He condemned luxury, music, extravagant entertainment, frivolity, heavily ornamented coffins and embroidered shrouds. And in his opposition to waste, he opposed war.

Mozi lived in a time of many wars. He witnessed lords sending their armies into weaker states, devastating crops, slaughtering cattle, burning towns and temples, killing civilians and dragging people away to be made slaves. He spoke against lords who already had much but who sought what little some other lord might have. He said that killing people in great numbers should not make one a hero. He tried mediating between rulers at war with each other. It was military aggression that he opposed, and, rather than losing himself in a utopian pacifism, he created an army of well-trained, highly disciplined warriors which he offered to local rulers defending themselves against aggression.The Confucian Scholar Mencius (Mengzi)

Attempting to refute Mozi was the Confucian scholar Mengzi, who lived from 372 to 289 -- whose name would be Latinized to Mencius. Confucianists would call Mencius the Second Sage.

Whereas Mozi had worn the simplest and most unpretentious clothing and otherwise appeared humble, Mencius rode around in style in a carriage. Mencius claimed that like Mozi he was for adequate living conditions, and he agreed that such conditions were needed for morality to prevail, but he attacked Mozi's belief in universal love. Mencius claimed that people must give love in varying amounts to different people. He accused Mozi of having failed to give sufficient importance to loving one's parents and of wishing to abolish fatherhood.

He argued that a good king was needed to assure that the people were properly fed and clothed, and he argued that an emperor was needed to spare people the horrors of war.

Mencius defended Confucianism against another critic, Yangzhu. He accused Yangzhu of failing to recognize the need of a king, and he said that to fail to recognize the primacy of a father and a sovereign "is to be a bird or beast."

He claimed that the substance of being human was serving one's parents and that "the basis of righteousness" was obeying one's elder brothers. In advocating heaven's harmony through the virtue of emperors and the obedience of common people, Mencius argued that people overall were essentially good but that anarchy made them evil and that people had to be encouraged to be good.

While Mencius was looking for a ruler to put his teachings into practice, local rulers faced with increased competition and warfare were not inclined to listen with much patience to his lectures about essential goodness. aoists -- China's Cynics

An alternative to both Confucius and Mozi appeared that would eventually become the second most influential school of thought among the Chinese. This was Taoism, whose founder is believed to have been Laozi. During the life of Mencius, China's literate minority was reading a book now believed to have been written by Laozi.

Laozi saw nature as paradoxical and essentially indescribable. He claimed that people should forget trying to acquire truth. Knowledge, he claimed, merely contributes to discontent and unhappiness. According to legend he declared:

Banish sageliness, discard wisdom, and the people will benefit a hundredfold.

Early Taoism rejected Confucianism's striving for virtue, belief in social reform, ritual and governmental regulation. Instead, Laozi advocated withdrawal from social strife, and he expected society to continue being driven by greed and a lust for power. His early followers scoffed at Confucianist veneration of early Zhou emperors. They saw futility in lecturing a king or prince on doing right. They saw lectures on morality as attempts to parade one's own excellence. Laozi is believed to have written that humanity should discard words such as duty, humanity, benevolence and righteousness. Only during disorders, he claimed, did people hear talk of "loyal servants." These words, he claimed, were the flip side of strife, and strife should be avoided.

The second man of Taoism has been described as Zhuangzi, a contemporary of Mencius. Zhuangzi is said to have been a minor official who dropped out to become a teacher. He advocated liberating oneself from narrow mindedness -- by accepting Taoism. In accord with Laozi's opinions, he described Confucianism's professing values as an artifice. In the place of such values he proposed that people focus their attention on and submit to nature. Nature, he claimed, is primary.

While Mencius wrote of duty and decency, the wisdom of monarchical rule and of anarchy returning people to beastliness, the Taoists insisted that all social organization was ruinous. The Taoists claimed that more laws created more robbers and thieves, that more government created more greed and ambition. They claimed that the best rulers would be those who converted to Taoism and gave up luxurious living and warfare and who just left people alone.

The Taoists saw military leaders as murderers who built their reputations on the bodies of thousands of innocent people. They claimed that a military hero was to be pitied because he was unaware of his guilt and ignorance. Like the Buddhists, early Taoists sought salvation for themselves through a pursuit of serenity. Like many others, they believed in harmony. He who does not fight, they believed, would live in peace, and he who does not strain after success will suffer no failure.

One of their paradoxical expressions claimed that he who does nothing accomplishes everything. In this, like Mozi, they believed that one should refrain from devoting oneself to the pursuit of material gains or fame, that one should live modestly, that luxury breeds envy and that envy breeds strife. And they believed that to help end strife and greed, profits should be banished.

Against Confucianist and Mozi's moralizing, the Taoists believed in acting on impulse, such as eating when one is hungry and sleeping when one is tired. This, they believed, left them in "perfect harmony" with their original nature. The realization that much that was conflict originated with impulse (as with infants fighting over toys or adults fighting over territory) eluded them.

The Taoists sought harmony between themselves and heaven by joyfully surrendering to the will of heaven. In this, they believed, they could achieve a happiness unaffected by change and death. They favored moving to a quiet, sparsely populated area where one could contemplate the beauties of nature. If evil came one's way -- as with the arrival of a murderous army -- they believed in remaining passive, and if this brought death so be it, because death was inevitable.Xunzi, Revisionist Confucian

A couple of generations after Mencius, a Confucian scholar appeared whose name was Xunzi. He lived from 315 to 236, and like Mencius, he was to be looked upon as a great contributor to Confucianism. As a Confucian he believed in education, activism, class hierarchies and accessing heaven's powers through religious rites, but he believed that earlier Confucianists had erred in believing that the order and virtues of the early Zhou dynasty could be re-established. He called on Confucianists to give up what he saw as their excessive idealization of the past.

Xunzi revised the Confucian view of human psychology. He argued against the view of Mencius that all men were born with a nature that was essentially good. He put himself more in accord with what would be the view of modern psychology: that goodness was a product of socialization -- what Xunzi called learning. Xunzi believed that one should ask not whether humanity was basically good but what was the source of people doing evil. Befitting his Confucianism, and contrary to Taoism, he concluded that evil was the work of impulse, that impulses had to be controlled and that this was accomplished by reason. Correct behavior, he believed, came from the teachings of the sages and could therefore be learned by striving. Believing in reason over impulse, Xunzi attacked those religious practices that he thought were unreasonable, including fortune telling. He also opposed the Taoist claim that people should submit to nature, arguing that the destiny of humankind was decided to a degree at least by humans themselves. He saw recourse to the ills of his time not in the skepticism and withdrawal of the Taoists but in leaders of society understanding and discriminating between wise and foolish policies. This ability to discriminate, he believed, was what distinguished humanity from beasts.The Legalists

Among those who believed in an activism shunned by the Taoists were scholars who would be called Legalists. These scholars saw themselves as realists. They saw Confucian worship of the past as a waste of time and Mencius' theory about the goodness of humanity as misguided. The Legalists saw goodness as people cooperating with authority. They believed that to keep people from deviating from this cooperation, authority had to threaten punishment. Society, they believed, had to be organized by the state. They accepted as a fact of life that power was in the hands of autocratic monarchs, and they approved of this authoritarianism. They saw power in the hands of a single rational ruler and his ministers as better than exercising power that was a product of compromise.

Seeing rivalries between various states as a fact of life, the Legalists believed in strengthening the state. They believed a society benefited from military strength, and some among them advocated expansion as a means of strengthening their state. To strengthen the state they also believed in being frugal, and some among them believed in a devotion to agriculture and restrictions on commerce. And, seeing Confucian teachings and other rival theories as unessential and divisive, they favored restricting these.

During the time of wars between the petty states, there was a pursuit of knowledge that rivaled Taoism's belief in withdrawal, impulse and banishment of sageliness. And, unrelated to what Confucianists were advocating, there were developments in mathematics, physics, technology and the economy. Someone discovered the relationship between radius and circumference. Someone else re-invented what a Greek named Pythagoras had discovered about the sides of a right-angled triangle, and someone invented quadratic equations and formulas for measuring prisms, cones, and cylinders. Astronomy was being studied in the belief that the heavens affected human affairs, and, pursuing this, someone discovered how to calculate the distance between the sun and the earth. Using the principles of hydraulic engineering, intricate irrigation works and numerous dams and dikes were constructed that were to function into modern times. New canals and roads were built. Crop production had increased. And with this came the usual increase in populations and growth in the size of towns.

But science in the North China Plain remained a matter of private learning and not widely, or publicly, taught. Many, including the Confucianists, still believed that it was the gods that made things work. And technological progress remained hampered by secrecy. New techniques most often remained a trade secret among a family's males, kept from the women so it would not spread to another family through marriage. Yin and Yang, the I-Ching, School of the Five Elements

Philosophically, China's first emperor Shihuangdi (Qin Shi Huang) was a follower of the School of the Five Elements. Here was an attempt to analyze substance -- which Greek philosophers had been wrestling with.

The elements of the School of Five Elements were earth, wood, metal, fire and water. Like the Greeks, the Chinese school mixed spirit into their analysis. It was not a dualism with spirit separate from matter. It was not materialistic. And it was purely imagined -- not tied together with scientific discipline. That would come many centuries later.

The five elements were viewed as phases and involved interactions and relationships. It was believed that the old royal Zhou dynasty had been ruled by the power of fire, represented by the color red. The new Qin dynasty of Shihuangdi was seen as ruled by the next element on the list, which is water, represented by the color black. Thus black became the color for garments, flags and pennants. Yin, Yang, and the I-Ching

The chaos that accompanied the decline of the first (Western) Han dynasty stimulated intellectual vitality. Confucianists tried to counter rival schools of thought by forming a more comprehensive view of humanity and the universe. Dong Zhongshu brought a variety of ideas into Confucian philosophy, including the concept of Yin and Yang -- an idea that had arisen to explain all change, physical and social.

It was an attempt to explain interconnectivity and interdependency in the natural world. Yin and Yang were viewed as two basic opposing forces -- complementary opposites within a greater whole. Everything was imagined to have both Yin and Yang aspects, which constantly interact.

Yin was female: the moon, cold, water, earth, nourishment, sustenance, recessives, autumn, winter, et cetera. Yang was male: the sun, fire, heat, heaven, creation, dominance, spring and summer. It was believed that if Yin reached an extreme it was transformed into Yang, and if Yang reached an extreme it was transformed into Yin -- a view of the world that would not be found useful by scientists centuries later.

Confucianists and others who believed in Yin and Yang continued to describe both heaven and earth as flat and the sun as revolving around the earth. The Confucianists believed the world consisted of five basic elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. They further tried to make the universe comprehensible by adopting ideas from the Book of Changes, or I-Ching, which saw the universe affected by the arrangement of numbers, seeing numbers not as mere human inventions for measurement but as having power themselves. They believed that by studying combinations from eight trigrams and sixty-four hexagrams one could uncover any possible activity in nature.

To round out their view of the universe, Confucianists adopted an explanation of the origins of the universe. They believed that in the beginning all was vague and amorphous, that this was followed by emptiness, and that emptiness had produced the universe. They believed that what was clear and light in weight had drifted upward to become heaven, and that what had been turbid and heavy had solidified and become earth. The combined essences of heaven and earth, they believed, became Yin and Yang and a great oneness.

Modern scientists would find Yin and Yang and the I-Ching as not useful in their attempt at a disciplined analysis of matter. Many Gods and New Paradises

Like others, China's first emperor, Shihuangdi (259-10 BCE), saw the world as filled with gods. It was said that when a strong wind impeded his crossing a river, he sent 3,000 prisoners to deforest a nearby mountain that was believed to be the home of a goddess who had created the wind.

Among common people, new religious ideas developed as a result of China's military expansions in the 100s BCE. Having become more aware of the world beyond China, the Chinese heard more rumors about wonderful places. Taoists -- who still rejected Chinese civilization as corrupt and who idealized nature and wilderness -- helped spread descriptions of far-away places. The stories appeared at the emperor's court, brought by those who came to demonstrate their magic and to entertain, and the court sometimes responded by sponsoring expeditions to find the wonderful places.

One such story described a paradise along the coast in China's extreme northeast. There the climate was milder than it was inland, and it was said that in this paradise were no diseases, that people never became sick and that people governed themselves. It was said that in this paradise the young and old had equal rights, that people were gentle and had no quarrels, that there was no conflict between humanity and nature, that people received what food they needed from a beneficent river, that drinking the water from this river restored one's body to the tautness and smoothness of youth, and that people lived a hundred years.

Another paradise was rumored to be in the distant mountains of Tibet. There, it was said, a Queen mother ruled who had many servants. In this paradise, cool breezes were said to blow -- as opposed to the humidity and heat of the summers in China's inland plains and valleys. It was said that in this paradise were hanging gardens, with ponds and a beautiful lake, that waters there gave one immortality, that one could climb a mountain peak and become a spirit with the power to control the wind and rain, and that one could climb another nearby peak and ascend to heaven.Taoism, Religiosity and Politics

The Taoists maintained their belief in harmony and solace in nature. They also believed in a destiny beyond the disturbing flux of material life, and they maintained their belief in emotional austerity. A devout Taoist, for example, could still explain his not weeping for his wife who had just died by saying that if he wept for her he would be demonstrating his lack of understanding of destiny.

Taoism was open to a variety of new ideas, including the search for longevity or eternal life by adopting proper attitude and physical techniques. Some Taoists tried to extend the search for salvation in nature by focusing on the bliss of sexual intercourse, and some Taoist holy men searched for everlasting life though ritual exercises or dietary regimes -- an experiment of sorts that failed each time that one of them died. But, rather than accept that everlasting life could not be achieved by a special program, their followers explained the failures as the result of circumstances other than human mortality.

Taoism absorbed practices of magic that had existed in some of China's rural communities. Some Taoists adopted gods that were ridiculed by the gentry and the Confucianists.

Contrary to Taoism's original belief in inaction, some Taoists actively sought converts, and some Taoists became activists for social change and initiated political programs. Taoism had held no clearly defined orthodoxy or tightly knit organization of priests, but here and there organizations led by priests were developing. Taoist priests gathered around them followers who believed they had joined an exclusive group that was concerned with their well-being. This annoyed China's authorities -- Confucianists and gentry-bureaucrats -- who feared that unapproved religious cults might develop into a focal point of opposition to their authority.

Among the Taoist cults was one led by Zhang Daoling, in the province of Sichuan. Zhang Daoling wandered through the countryside promising those who would publicly confess their sins that he would deliver them from illness and misfortune. He claimed that illness was the product of sinful thoughts. Using charms and spells, he acquired a reputation as a healer, and the public confessions that he offered gave peasants the feeling that they were cleansing themselves of sin and joining a community.

In the year 142, Zhang Daoling founded a Taoist church, called "The Way of the Great Masters," moving his Taoism from a prescribed way of life to an organized religion. His church also became known as "The Way of the Five Pecks of Rice," five pecks of rice being the annual dues that church members had to pay. Zhang Daoling promised his followers a long life and immortality, and he earned the gratitude of local common folk by getting done what the emperor's authorities had failed to do: repair roads and bridges, store grain and distribute bread to the starving. Zhang Daoling had created a local government that rivaled the authority of the emperor. Without acknowledging it, Taoists were rejoining the world of power politics.

A Taoist named Zhang Jue, who called himself "The Good Doctor of Great Wisdom," had been moving about in the countryside as had Zhang Daoling. He offered magical healing, treated all ailments with water and words and called his method of healing the "Way of the Highest Peace." Zhang Jue also spoke of the Han rulers as having lost the Mandate of Heaven, and he proclaimed their imminent fall. Within ten years, his movement grew to hundreds of thousands. His movement was divided into districts, with each district led by a "deputy doctor."

Zhang Jue's movement brought religion to the uprising of 184 CE -- the Yellow Turban rebellion. Militarily the Yellow Turbans were disorganized, and they had been led to believe that their gods had elected them as a force for good, that they were invulnerable and that they did not even need weapons -- a view not conducive to an efficient military operation. The mysticism that had been a part of the movement's creation had become a part of its destruction. In the first year of the rebellion, Zhang Jue died, and within a year the rebellion was defeated. The sporadic fighting continued for another decade, while peasant supporters of the Yellow Turbans returned to the business of surviving through work and to hope of a coming paradise in the world beyond.

Meanwhile, along the Yangzi River near Sichuan, a surviving Taoist cult with its own army had established a theocratic state. The cult's founder, Zhang Lu, traced his teachings back a couple of generations to his grandfather, Zhang Daoling. Like Zhang Daoling, he performed what were described as miracle healings, and he preached Zhang Daoling's message of physical and moral well-being, claiming that diseases were punishments for evil deeds and that diseases could be cured by remorse and ceremonial confessions. Zhang Lu's community had communal "friendship" meals, and like Zhang Daoling he had a welfare system for his community and storage for grain and meat. He encouraged equality. His community offered the traveling homeless a place to stay and a meal. And it offered leniency to criminals.

Another Taoist, Zhang Xiu set up an independent state nearby. Despite their mutual devotion to Taoism, the communities of Zhang Lu and Zhang Xiu warred against each other -- much as would Christians. And Zhang Lu, it is said, killed Zhang Xiu. Soon thereafter, Zhang Lu had a more formidable opponent, Cao Cao. With his army, Cao Cao overran Zhang Lu's territory. Zhang Lu surrendered to Cao Cao and was rewarded with a fiefdom. It is said that Zhang Lu died shortly thereafter -- in 217. And it came to be legend that twenty-six years after his death he was seen by many witnesses ascending to heaven. The legend held that when his grave was opened, in the year 259, his body was found wholly intact, meaning that he had died only in the sense that he had detached from his corpse and had entered paradise.Buddhism Changes China and Responds to China

Just as Rome's official pagan religion declined during hard times, so too did Confucianism with the chaos during Han rule. Confucianism had been the ideology of China's gentry and aristocracy and had dominated education and the administration of the empire, but, with virtue scarce among men of power, many of China's elite came to view Confucianism's advocacy of loyalty to rulers of virtue as irrelevant, and many saw Confucianism as having failed to meet the world's challenges.

Those giving up on Confucianism searched for an alternative ideology, and one alternative was Taoism. Another was Buddhism, which according to legend had arrived in China in the year 65 in a dream by the Han emperor Mingdi. A rival theory holds that Buddhism had joined Hinduism in spreading eastward with trade from India, Buddhism arriving in China from across the inland trade route through central Asia during the first century. The royal Han court, it is said, welcomed Buddhism to China. But Buddhism had remained isolated during the remainder of Han rule, adhered to only by Indian merchants -- men who gave money and land for Buddhist temples and who used Buddhist monasteries as banks and warehouses.

The first Chinese to convert to Buddhism were those who had become tenants on Buddhist temple lands. Buddhist teachings were translated into Chinese. Then, with the breakdown of the Han dynasty, conversions to Buddhism spread among China's masses. The converts had little understanding of the details of Buddhist doctrine, but they found consolation in what Buddhism offered. Buddhism's temples and elaborate rituals were impressive, and Buddhism was a warmer message than Confucianism: a message of salvation through moderation or abstinence and a message of pity for all creatures. Both the Hinayana and the Mahayana schools arrived in China, but it was the Mahayana branch of Buddhism with its salvation and helpful gods that would dominate..

Buddhism spread though all classes of Chinese, influencing art, thought and daily customs. Tea, which had been used mostly by Buddhists, became China's national drink, and Buddhists introduced the Chinese to the wearing of cotton. Buddhism's great temples influenced Chinese architecture -- a counter to Confucianism's condemnation of complex buildings as an extravagance. In the place of the contempt for which Confucianists had held the writing of stories and novels, Buddhism gave this kind of writing a new prestige.

Across the Silk Road, the Buddhists of northern China remained connected to [[Wikipedia:Central Asia|Central Asia]] and India, and Buddhism was a conduit for Hellenistic culture from [[Wikipedia:Central Asia|Central Asia]]. From Buddhism, many Chinese gathered that China was not the only civilized country in the world. They learned respect for India and felt compelled to re-examine the theory that the Chinese emperor was the Son of Heaven and enthroned at the center of the world.

The Chinese interpreted Buddhist doctrine in terms familiar to them. In translating Buddhism into Chinese, Taoist words were used. And through mistranslation, Chinese Buddhism acquired a belief that was foreign to Buddhism elsewhere: belief in a soul that was as an imperishable part of one's humanity. And Buddhist art in China depicted the life of the Buddha in a Chinese context, just as Italian painters were to paint Christian saints in the dress of renaissance Italy.

Buddhism in China emphasized charity and good works, including working for one's own salvation by helping others -- which contrasted with Taoism's egocentricity. And Buddhism was unique in China in linking the ethics in this world with the bliss of the next world. Buddhism offered the Chinese more than did the ancestor worship of the aristocracy -- which failed those who were going to die without a son to look after their spirit. For those Chinese lacking a family, Buddhism provided a substitute family. It offered community and egalitarianism. Some Chinese were attracted by the doctrine that those who exploited or treated people unjustly would in their next reincarnation be born into poor circumstances or into an inferior rank and suffer punishment for their misdeeds. And some Chinese found comfort in the doctrine that in their next life they might be born into a higher rank and a happier life.

Buddhism's moral teachings attracted some from the upper classes who had been Confucian -- some of whom found a different meaning in Buddhism's reincarnation than did the poor: they believed that those who suffered a low station in life did so because of misdeeds in their former life.

Buddhism's monasteries were in conflict with Confucian ideals of the family, but the monasteries fit with the old Chinese ideal of the retired scholar, and the monasteries attracted gentry who had been unable to acquire government positions. Buddhist monasteries offered Chinese writers a refuge. And monasteries grew as centers of learning and culture.

In metaphysics, Buddhist ideas intermingled with old Chinese ideas. From Buddhist thinkers in China, ideas went westward to India. And from India to China went a new school of thought, the Three Treatise school of Buddhism, introduced by a half-Indian missionary monk named Kumarajiva, who worked and taught in Chang'an in 401-02. Some who adhered to this new school of thought formed what was called the Emptiness sect, believing that ultimately people should interpret the world as basically empty, that the world of sight and sound changes but that the world of emptiness never does. Like the scholastic theologians in the West during the early Middle Ages, the Emptiness sect tried to reason in absolutes and to split metaphysical hairs. And they split into more sects, which became known as the "Six Schools and Seven Sects," each with a different interpretation of emptiness.

Buddhism's splitting into sects was facilitated by the absence of a religious council or papacy. Each Buddhist master could interpret writings as he wished. And, during the 300s, from within China's Mahayana Buddhism came what was called the Pure Land movement. Its leader was a Buddhist scholar named Hui-yuan, who meditated on Amitabha (the Buddha of Infinite Light). Pure Land Buddhism described life as torment, and it claimed that to escape this torment one did not need bookish learning or the grasp of obtuse doctrine or knowledge: one only had to avoid bad deeds and prove one's devotion by chanting Amitabha's name sincerely -- the more often the better the chance of achieving nirvana. It claimed that at death one would be reborn into paradise. The "Pure Land," it held, was where Amitabha dwelled and where immortals lived in an atmosphere of eternal bliss, and there rivers were pure and scented -- in contrast to the putrid smells of daily life.

Another branch of Buddhism developed in China called Chuan -- to be called Zen in Japan. Like the devotional movements in India and Pure Land Buddhism, Chuan Buddhism offered people an attachment to divinity without years of arduous intellectual exercise: it offered sudden enlightenment. Chuan Buddhism saw reality as nothing more than the immediate present. How things had become what they were was unreal and of no consequence. Chuan monks sought salvation through mystical inspirations rather than reading and meditation. And Chuan monks believed in supporting themselves by humble, menial work.Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian Interactions

Both Buddhists and Taoists were denying value in the world of appearances, and both were appealing to the interest in the mystical among the Chinese. Both advocated personal salvation and protection from powerful gods. But conflicts existed between Buddhism and Taoism. The Taoists were devoted to nature while Buddhists believed in withdrawal from nature. Despite their belief in serene unconcern, Taoists felt challenged by Buddhism, and they scurried for more doctrine to compliment what had become their religion.

Despite the conflicts, diffusions took place between Buddhism and Taoism. While Buddhism was offering nirvana or eternal happiness in a western paradise, Taoism began promising the achievement of immortality through magic potions. Some Taoists created Buddhist-like monasteries, and some adopted Buddhism's burning of incense. Buddhism and Taoism acquired common communal festivals. Local Taoist saints blended with Buddhist saints.

Books by Taoists revealed a Buddhist influence, such as dialogues between a teacher and his disciples, not known in China before Buddhism's arrival.Taoists saw Buddhism as an inferior version of their philosophy, while others believed the rumor that Buddhism had been created by Taoism's founder, Laozi. This story held that after disappearing on a long journey into India, Laozi had taught Taoism to the Buddha -- a story disliked by Taoists who objected to Buddhism and feared that Buddhism might obscure Taoism's identity.Adding to the diffusions in ideas was the attraction of some Confucianists for Taoist spirituality.

Some Confucianists adopted the Taoist belief in permanence behind the visible world of change (believed also by Plato). Some Confucianists adopted the view that the world of change was sustained by one impersonal, unlimited and undiversified force. They saw Confucius as having recognized this permanence but as having kept silent about it because he had held to the Taoist belief that such mysteries could not be expressed in words.

Taoism mixed with Buddhism and Confucianism in what was called Dark Learning (Xuan Xie). Dark Learning involved the "pure conversation," which were philosophical discussions and speculations that had become a pastime for gentlemen in southern China. Rather than revelation through argumentation, the goal of these conversations was the maintenance of Taoism's serenity, with pleasant voices and poetic flashes of insight.

Taoists continued to believe that various gods dwelled here and there -- on mountains and in rivers -- and they still believed that these gods had to be appeased with a proper sacrifice. Taoist priests held that they alone knew the appropriate rituals. But Taoism still had no fixed, elaborate theology as did [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]].

There was talk among the Taoists of the world having been created by an interaction of two opposites, Yin and Yang, and talk that through observation of Yin and Yang they could foretell the future. Taoism still favored being natural, in other words behaving on impulse, the Taoists seeing impulse as the expression of one's true feelings. Taoism still advocated honesty and being true to oneself as cardinal principles. It still held that everything would be done when nothing was done. Taoists still sought a blissful detachment and peace and quiet, which they believed would be achieved when everyone gave up worldly endeavors and trying to control others. The Taoists focused on being healed spiritually and physically.

Taoism paralleled Epicureanism in its belief in pleasure and the avoidance of pain. They saw life as short, "like the morning dew," soon to disappear and to be enjoyed before it evaporated.By now, Taoists spoke of Laozi as never having died, of his having disappeared into the mountainous west. And like [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]], Taoism offered personal immortality, personal comfort, and a refuge from fear of death. Taoist priests performed services that gave assurances to their followers that one who had died had acquired a place in the heavenly kingdom of spiritual bliss.

In 444, Taoists in the north inspired a movement against Buddhism on the grounds that Buddhism was an alien creed. In 445, in putting down a rebellion at Chang'an, ruling forces found a cache of arms at a Buddhist monastery. The ruler, Daiwu issued an edict against the Buddhists. All Buddhists monks were to be put to death and all Buddhist images and books destroyed -- described in an ancient book, The Image of Buddha. Instead, a few monks were forced to return to family life, and some monasteries were attacked and destroyed. Then, in the early 450s, Daiwu again gave favor to Buddhism, followed by his assassination in 452.Confucianism and Buddhism to Korea

Various kingdoms in Korea had warred with each other and had consolidated through conquest to three: Koguryo, in the northern half of Korea, extending north of the Yalu River; Paekche in the southwestern quarter of the Korean peninsula; and Silla in the southeastern quarter. These three remained aristocratic states. Writing had developed in Korea that used Chinese characters for Korean words. Each of the three kingdoms had a Chinese bureaucratic system of government, and with China's bureaucratic system had come Confucianism. Rule in the three kingdoms adopted Confucian values, and the Kingdom of Goguryeo (Koguryo) had a National Confucian Academy that made reading and speaking Chinese and citing the Confucian classics a part of an upper class education.

Alongside the new Confucianism, many in Korea maintained their old faith. Like others, the Koreans had been animists. They had seen the physical world as functioning by the magic of a variety of spirits, one for each aspect of nature, and they had seen all things as animate. They too believed in asking the gods for protection for their family or community. The Koreans saw the sun as the most awesome and powerful of spirits. They believed too in a mountain spirit. And they had shamans.

In 372, a monk brought Mahayana Buddhism to Koguryo, and the king of Goguryeo welcomed Buddhism and patronized it. In 384, another Buddhist monk arrived in Paekche, and Buddhism was welcomed by Paekche's royal family. Buddhism spread to Silla, and Korea's kings adopted Buddhism as a state religion, as a vehicle for praying for the well-being of their kingdom. Buddhists in Korea prayed for their own well-being, including or asking for recovery from illness and asking for the conception of children. Aristocrats left the shamans to those they considered unsophisticated. And wars between the Korean states would now be fought not only for their kings but also for the Way of the Buddha, with monks and other soldiers, under the banner of Buddhism, exhorted to fight bravely for their kingdom.Myths among the Ancient Japanese

Like others, the Japanese had legends about their ancestral rulers. They believed their earliest ruler was Jimmu, who was supposed to have reigned from 660 to 582 BCE and was believed to be descendant of the sun goddess. Japanese legend describes a ruling regent in the third century as Queen Jingo, and it describes Queen Jingo as a direct descendant of Jimmu and the Sun Goddess. It describes Queen Jingo and her son, Ojin, sending a military expedition to Korea. Gentle winds and god-like fish are said to have helped their armada cross the sea to Korea, so that no oars had to be used. Then, according to legend, a vast tidal wave carried the fleet inland, into the kingdom of Silla. The surprised and terrified Koreans are said to have surrendered at once and to have promised to pay homage and tribute to Queen Jingo until the sun rose in the west, rivers flowed backwards and stones turned into stars. Legend of Creation

The islands of Japan are farther from the continent of Asia than England is from the continent of Europe, which gave people on the islands of Japan a little more protection from invasion than the Britons had around the time of the disintegration of the Roman Empire. And not having been oppressed by invaders, the religion of the Japanese had no martyrs. Nor did it have proselytizing teachers or reason for proselytizing teachers. The Japanese were animists, seeing the same magic and variety of spirits in nature as other peoples. They too believed that their supplications to the gods provided and protected them as a community.

The Japanese looked to guidance in fortune telling techniques that had been used by the Chinese, such as following the cracks in heated bones. Their rituals became known as Shinto, meaning Way of Life, or Way of the Gods. Like the gods of others, these gods were forces of nature: gods of mountain and valley, field and stream, fire and water, wind and rain, floods and earthquakes -- all that was beautiful and terrible in nature. And that which seemed to contain a superior godly power, the Japanese called kami.

The Japanese perceived as gods those who had died after having made an exceptional contribution to society. Everyone believed his family had an ancestor who had become a god. Everyone saw himself or herself as descendant of gods. It was believed that every Japanese was descended from the Sun Goddess, the common people more distantly than ruling families and aristocrats.

Like others, before the Japanese had writing they had professional reciters, and the reciters had passed stories from generation to generation. Among these stories was the Japanese version of the Creation. According to this version, matter and spirit were not in the beginning separate and distinct. In the beginning heaven and earth were joined in a chaotic mass. The purest and clear elements of the mass rose and became the sky and heaven, and the more gross and heavy elements of the mass sank and became earth. In heaven, of course, were the gods, and from the gross and heavy elements of earth came humanity. One of the gods was banished to earth and became a god of the ocean, and here began humanity's ancestral tie with the gods. The god of the ocean married a farmer's daughter. The son from this union, Ninigi, with a retinue of attendant gods, appeared on Mount Takachiho in southern Kyushu. Ninigi built a palace at the foot of the mountain, and then he married a younger daughter of the local ruler. The eldest daughter of the local ruler was outraged at being bypassed in favor of her younger sister, and she cursed humankind. Here was the Japanese version of the fall of humanity: the outraged daughter announced that if she had been chosen instead of her sister, children fathered by Ninigi would have lived forever, but now she was putting a curse on his offspring, and humans forever after would grow and die like the flowers.

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