ABSTRACT

The sweep of Chinese philosophy was enriched by the coming to China of the Buddhist tradition. This added foreign, but subtle, concepts to the insights of the major indigenous traditions, namely Confucianism and Taoism/Daoism. Though in some sense we may call Confucius’ teachings and the varied explorations of early thinkers including the Taoists philosophical (while Buddhism was always a highly philosophical religion among its elite), complications arise in our survey because Taoism became a religion, or perhaps one should say that Westerners use the name to label a religion, which took up into its fabric, among many other strands, a reverence for the teachings of Lao-Tzu (Laozi) the legendary author of the famous Tao-te Ching (Daodejing) (The Classic of Tao and its Power), so that Taoist philosophy was absorbed into a complex, ritual-rich, magical and contemplative religion. (In this chapter I give pinyin renditions of traditional Western versions of Chinese words and names.) Then the corpus of writings which Confucius (K’ung) (Kong) edited and transmitted were used as part of an imperial ideology, and a State cult of Kong projected Confucianism as part of a State religion. More than this, it has become quite common in the West to link on to this idea of Confucianism a whole mass of popular religion at village and local level. Finally, China in effect welded these different phenomena and ideas together into a functioning system incorporating the three religions, as they were called – Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. People would participate in the rites of all three for different social purposes and spiritual quests. Some modern scholars would prefer to list the religions of China not as the San chiao (Sanjiao) or Three Teachings, but as four: Confucianism, folk religion, Taoism and Buddhism – but this is

a bit artificial as it would mean slicing each at the waist, so to speak, since folk religion is entwined with the ‘great traditions’.