RLG100Y1 Lecture Notes - Zhou Dynasty, Axial Age, Human Beings In Buddhism
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East Asian Worldview (China, Korea, Japan)
All these countries have a shared history, cultural interactions. The central unifying feature
in both ancient and modern times – is the Chinese graphic writing system. In ancient times
there was a long development in China. Chinese writing system is unique, a sign represents
an idea rather than a sound, different from most world languages. China was an evolved
country, already early on in history, core system of philosophy that extends back a long way.
East Asian worldview is different from South Asian / Indic
Approach of assessment of the world: The world is understood being a good place, there is
an optimistic appraisal of our experience in the world (vs. the Indic worldview that has
much darker perspective on the world). The body is good and valuable (vs. the Indic
worldview where the body need to be mastered, since it is a source of distraction), reverence
of the body. Reverence for lineage, for parents, for ancestry, for lineage to which one has
emerged in the world – FILIAL [ , ] PIETY. You approach your parents
in the spirit of reverence, respect, care, devotion.
East Asian worldview is less exclusive in its sense of identity and much more syncretistic –
absorbing ideas from elsewhere and evolving identity that is comfortable with receiving
knowledge from elsewhere.
Religion and culture and their work are inseparable. The task of religion is to raise, produce
a cultivated individual in every sense, a true religious person is also cultivated in the arts,
with an educated and refined mind. No distinction between the work of culture and the
work of religion. Religion and culture support each other.
Harmony – major ethic of East Asian worldview! Harmony in the natural and cosmic aspect,
There is interest in continuity of all sorts. Continuity from one generation to another,
continuity in ideas from a teacher to a disciple and succeeding further. Less concerned
about claiming the originality of idea, rather to align oneself with existing ideas, forwarding
insights that have been present for much longer. You are not inventing an idea, rather
passing along received teaching.
The East Asian societies have a common Confucian character, shared legacy with a
distinctly moral focus and a social ethic that particularly focuses on relationships, social
relationships, familial relationships.
Ideas prevailing in ancient Chinese societies:
Extensive archeological remains from Chinese preliterate yielding us record about a
civilization ~ 5000 years old with well preserved artifacts. From these sites we learn about
ancient Chinese religious practices: reverence for nature, for nature deities – the Earth, the
Sun, the Moon, the Sky. Ancient
Chinese culture was also SHAMANIC in nature. Importance to a character of a SHAMAN –
a person who has a special ability to communicate with spirit world, to receive visions, to
communicate the desires of the spirit world/the world of deceased humans, controls natural
forces. Shamans are central figures in many cultures. Shaman communicates with the
supernatural and also functions as a healer.
Ancient Chinese also practiced divination, fortune telling, reading of oracles.
Shaman’s specialization was a cultivation of a trance state and spirit possession.
Great reverence and worship of ancestors’ spirit. Ancestors are seen as semi-divine figures.
Reverence for mother goddesses and female divinities
Some belief in a supreme deity was understood in different ways in different periods of
history. Sometimes understood as a supernatural being/heaven, other times as a personal
Against this backdrop of practice and a culture that had traditions of arts, dance, music,
poetry, we start to see the emergence of Confucianism, associated with the figure of Kung
Fu Tzu/ Confucius.