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RLG100Y1 Lecture Notes - Analects, Mahayana, Golden Rule

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Andre Maintenay

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Chinese Religions
Chinese history- linked to series of dynasties
Earliest archaeological evidence from Shang dynasty (c. 17th-11th c. BCE)
Belief in Supreme Being (Shangdi)
The dominant religions were often determined by the family in rule or dynasty, because of this dominant religion vary in
Chinese history (varying between Confucianism and Daoism for example)
A lack of distinction between divinity and higher power such as that in royalty is seen throughout their history, the belief
in whether god is transcendent or not
Zhou Dynasty (c. 1100-256 BCE) concept of Tian (general translated “Heaven”
Can also be in reference to a force rather than a thing or a place, a force in the universe
Can also be a moral principle, roughly similar to what the Greeks called the “Good”, a moral principle that everyone tries
to strive towards
A common issue brought up is where to draw the line between philosophy and religion?
Characteristics of ancient Chinese belief:
Many spirits/deities
Tyler (anthropologist) argues that many religions can trace their roots back to ancient animism
Veneration of ancestors are integrated in Confucianism and Daoism, more than just remembering your ancestors, it is
believing that they are powerful forces deserving of veneration
Discerning patterns in the natural world including divination
The idea that nature can be read like a book and if read correctly can guide one in their life, trying to come up with
answers to questions about life and such
Oracles used bones to answer question (similar to using tea leaves)
Manual of divination Yijing (I Ching)
Designed around 64 sets of hexagrams
Each has a principle associated with it (earth, mountain, water, wind, thunder, fire, lake, heaven, etc.)
- Used by oracles using sticks that were strewn on the floor and used to answer questions based on their
resemblance to trigrams.
Complementary forces of the universe yang and yin
- Light/dark, hot/cold, male/female, etc. (complementary pairs)
- Daoism and Confucianism are described as yin and yang in that they are different but complement each other.
- Is associated with Daoism but is actually much older
- They are not opposites, not in conflict with one another, they are necessarily in combination
Emphasis on balance and harmony
- One can argue that the purpose of many Chinese religions is to achieve balance and harmony (unlike that of Hinduism
which is to achieve a higher reality)
Emphasis on figure of the wise sage
- Similar to gurus, prophets, yogis. However, sages are not people who will become ascetics or to foretell of what
consequences are to come. Sages are very wise figures
Emphasis on syncretism
- Positively combining/blending of different religions
- Prevalent everywhere, there isn’t a religion that has all their concepts and beliefs unique to themselves
- Is especially true in the Chinese and Japanese religions. Within China, there is syncretism between Confucianism, Daoism,
and Buddhism
Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism the ‘three philosophies’ (or doctrines) were all roughly contemporary to what is called the
Axial age.
Confucius Latinised form of Kongfuzi (“Master Kong”)
- Actual name Kong Qiu (6th c. BCE)
- Worked in civil service, teacher/lecturer. He himself did not actually write anything down, instead his followers wrote
down his sayings and there is much debate as to how much later these sayings were recorded
- Included saying on how to be good civil servants, however, the one thing he did not write about is religion which adds to
the idea that Confucianism is not what we would consider a conventional religion
- Ideal of scholar-sage-gentleman for him, being well-educated, being wise with the universe and philosophy, and being
integrated in society (such as how to behave, responsibilities, one’s niche in society)
- Lived in tumultuous period emphasis on social order
- Most of what we know of him comes from stories/legends, common to religious founders but is not of great importance
- Emperor Chin (Terracotta Army) had Confucianist texts burned, followed a system on legal order ruling with an “iron fist”
- By the Han dynasty, Confucianism became the dominant religion once again (Confucianist texts were required readings
for one who wanted to become a civil servant)
Confucius reference to Tian and following ‘Heaven’s will’
- But no systematic theology or cosmology
- Heaven’s will is more of a moral principle of the ‘Good’
Key concepts:
Shu (“reciprocity”) – “Silver Rule”, do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you
Five Relationships ruler/minister and subject; father and son; husband and wife; elder and younger brother, friend and
friend (or elder and junior) are representative of every relationship, in each case, there is responsibilities on both sides,
however there isn’t a hierarchal system with these relationships
Xiao (“filial piety”) the notion that children have a responsibility to maintain a veneration and respect for their parents
- a part of the Cult of Ancestors/ancestor veneration concept, with this is also the concept of reciprocity
Ren (“goodness” or “humaneness”) empathy, the highest moral virtue, respect and reciprocity flow from it, it is where
all moral principles are rooted
Li (“ritual propriety”) there is great importance on how one conducts themselves, etiquette and manners
Emphasis on virtuous character ideal of junzi (“superior person”)
- Requires proper training
- Inherently a social idea
- You cannot cultivate perfection or excellence in isolation (as opposed to Daoism which states the opposite)
Primary texts the Five Classics
- Book of Changes (Yijing)
- Book of history (accounts of past royalty) discussions of court life, history of royal court and government
- Book of Poetry/Odes music and poetry very much an ideal in Confucianism
- Classic of Rites (ritual, etiquette, ceremonies)
- Spring-Autumn Annals (historical chronicle of state of Lu
In Chinese religion, the older the better, meaning that the farther back one can trace a certain text, the better
Also important Analects (sayings of Confucius) and Book of Mencius (collection of teachings of Mencius)
- Mencius the most influential follower of Confucius; important developer of Confucian thought
Also Xunzi (c. 3rd c. BCE)
Differed on human nature (fundamentally good vs. fundamentally bad)
Mencius believed that humans are fundamentally good, and Xunzi believed that humans are
fundamentally bad
Believing that humans are fundamentally good, means that Confucianism is a means to bring that
goodness out and to avoid vices
Han Dynasty (206 BCE 22 CE) Confucianism adopted as state policy/religion
Also, Buddhism introduced to China forced existing systems to develop religious dimensions/characteristics in response
The time period when Buddhism finds its way into China, and is clearly a religion with a cosmology, ideas of the universe,
levels of heaven and hell, etc.
In that sense, Buddhism came in and had more to sell in answer about the universe and many other aspects
In response, religions of China, Confucianism and Daoism, had to come up with more to “sell” in order to contend with
the arrival of Buddhism
Major difference Buddhist de-emphasis on worldly concern (e.g. monastic tradition)
Mahayana rich cosmology, spiritual world