Buddhism And Confucianism

Throughout history, great civilizations and people have risen and fallen, and
during their fleeting existence, religious activities have assumed important
functions in those societies. Confucianism, Buddhism, and Islam, are three
legacies left by great men, which still have a profound affect on society. Like
with all human inventions, though, these three philosophies are all relative to
each other : They are comparable in their simplicity of beliefs, the emphasis
they placed on the role of women within their society, and the transformation
into different sects in later years; but differ from each other in their
emphasis in each field respectively. The basic doctrines of these three
philosophies can be readily compared with each other. They each carry their
tenets in a basic, simple format which is easy to understand and follow. Their
beliefs also provide an ethical code encompassed within their beliefs, and each
has an objective to attain through simple means. In Buddhism, the fundamental
beliefs are to recognize life as cycle of birth and rebirth, and to overcome
this cycle to attain Nirvana. The fundamental beliefs of Buddhism are contained
in The Four Noble Truths, which are : 1. Life is suffering, 2. Suffering is
caused by desire, 3. The way to end suffering is to end desire, 4. The way to
end desire is to avoid the extremes of a life vulgar materialism and of
self-torture, and to follow the Middle Path(Eightfold Path).1 Following the
Middle Path, to Buddha is the way to overcome the painful cycle of life, and are
relatively simple practices. They are thus: 1.Right understanding, or views:
recognizing that material security does not bring peace of mind and that rituals
do not erase the effects of pass acts; 2.Right motives: the quality of the drive
behind the thinking and being free from carnal thirst, malevolence, cruelty,
etc…; 3.Right speech: not indulging in cruel and harsh talk, thereby being
able to establish a link between ‘right motives’ and ‘right action’; 4.Right
action: any actions that proceed from an unobstructed mind. This also includes
abstaining from unwholesome actions and performing those which are beneficial;
5.Right means of livelihood: the idea of not harming living things through any
means, and to abstain from indulging in anything which would cloud the mind;
6.Right effort: efforts taken to encourage the development of of the other paths
and to discourage any hindrances; 7.Right mindfulness: to prevent the excessive
development of of one path at the expense of another; 8.Right meditation: to
quiet the mind and present true pictures to the mind of any hindrances to the
Middle Path.2 The Middle Path, as seen above, is an ethical code for a
relatively simple life of performing good deeds, not harming yourself and
others, and maintaining ethical thoughts and frame of mind. By following the
Middle Path, a person would eventually reach enlightenment and be able to
achieve Nirvana. To the Buddha, Nirvana is the extinction of self hood and a
final reunion with the Great World Soul3. Similar to Buddhism, Islam is also a
simple faith with simple teachings, with an easily obtainable objective. Islam’s
beliefs though are held in a monotheistic framework ,and in what is known as the
“Five Pillars of Islam.” The supreme deity of Islam is Allah and
obeying the will of Allah is done by following the “Five Pillars of
Islam.” They are thus: 1.Every Muslim must utter “There is no God but
Allah and Mohammed is his prophet”; 2.Every Muslim must pray five times a
day and publicly on Friday at noon; 3.Every Muslim must give alms(charity) to
the poor and unfortunate; 4.During the holy month of the Ramadan, every Muslim
must fast from dawn to sunset; and 5.Every Muslim must make a pilgrimage to
Mecca at least once in their lifetime.4 Along with the “Five Pillars”,
Muslims(followers of the Islam faith) must also abstain from eating pork,
gambling, drinking alcoholic beverages, and engaging in dishonest behavior.

These “rules” are the basic laws a Muslim must obey, and they do not
require too much effort from the individual or put a strain on the individual.

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By following them and by obeying the will of Allah, a Muslim is guaranteed a
place in an eternal paradise filled with sensual delights. This eternal paradise
is the objective of those who are faithful to Allah and Islam. Confucianism is
also similar to the others, in its simplicity in teachings and adherence. First
Confucianism deals with the rational cosmic order and the organization of
worldly affairs. Confucian belief is that all humans were endowed with their own
Dao(Way), which was dependent on their role in life, and it was the individuals
duty to live accordingly to their Dao, and not to ignore it. And by following
their Dao accordingly, then their own affairs and those of the community would
prosper. From this philosophy comes the concept of duty and humanity. In the
concept of duty, the individual sacrifices his personal interests and desires
for the “good” of the family, community, and state. With the concept
of humanity, this consists of compassion and empathy for others.5 These are the
central concepts of Confucianism, where the objective of its followers is for
the affairs of the state, community, and individual to be prosperous and
harmonious. Though Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism share the common ground of
simplicity in teachings and adherence, they differ from each other sharply.

First is the emphasis of each philosophy. Buddhism is sometimes called a
reinterpretation of Hinduism, but is not a religion. Buddhism does not emphasize
a god, nor the need to worship a god, but the adherence to an ethical lifestyle.

On the otherhand, Islam is a religion(called a “Religion of The Book”)
and emphasizes a supreme deity, Allah, and the need to obey his will. Whereas
Confucianism as a philosophy, does not emphasize a higher metaphysical
order(other than the Dao), nor does it emphasize the necessity to worship a
deity. Confucianism is also not a reinterpretation of the some other religion or
philosophy, either. Confucianism can be seen as a political philosophy, because
Confucius’ philosophy took shape during China’s “Spring and Autumn
Period”- a period of quarrelling and fighting among regional political
leaders.6 Confucius looked to the Golden Age of Zhou, in lamentation and
inspiration of his philosophy. He is quoted to have said: The practice of the
Great Way, the illustrious men of the Three Dynasties – these I shall never know
in person. And yet they inspire my ambition……7 Thus each philosophy’s
emphasis is the difference, in the similarities of each one. With Buddhism, its
emphasis is on a mere ethical lifestyle. With Islam, it is obedience to and
adhering to the will of a deity, Allah. And finally with Confucianism,
emphasizing the “greater good” of the state and community. Another
difference between Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism, is the ultimate
objective(or “salvation” as some may have it) of each philosophy. In
Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to defeat the painful cycle of life and attain
enlightenment(Bodhi). On attaining bodhi, the individual can reach the final
reunion with the Great World Soul(Nirvana). This is not like a heavenly
salvation, nor an eternal paradise. Nirvana is “likened to a dreamless
sleep or to a ‘blowing out'(as of a candle).”8 Islam, on the otherhand,
does not emphasize a heavenly salvation, nor an eternal sleep nor a Great World
Soul. Islam does, however, offer the hope of attaining a place in an eternal
paradise of sensual delights, through devotion and worship of Allah. The sensual
delights probably consisted of pleasures not found in the geograhical region of
the Arabian desert. Thus, Confucianism is totally different from both Buddhism
and Islam. Confucianism does not offer a reunion with the Great World Soul, nor
does it offer an eternal paradise of sensual delights: It does offer to the
individual, if one lives according to his Dao, the hope to have the affairs of
society(state, community, and individual) to be in order and prosperous. In all,
each philosophy does emphasize an objective ,or form of “salvation”,
though each one differs dramatically : Buddhism, with its abstract Nirvana;
Islam, with an eternal paradise; and Confucianism, with the secular prosperity
of the state, community, and individual. Another similar aspect which Buddhism,
Islam, and Confucianism share is the vulgarization ,or sectionalism, each
experienced later in the centuries. Each underwent a transformation, years after
the founding individual had died. For Buddhism, it was the division into the two
sects, Mahayana and Theravada(Hinayana). Later the Mahayana sect became further
transformed into four other sects. Like Buddhism, Islam also underwent a
transformation into two factions, the Shi’ites and the Sunnites. Confucianism,
like Buddhism and Islam, underwent a form of modification into Neo-Confucianism.

With Neo-Confucianism, two new schools appeared. The School of Reason and School
of Mind. Their transformation, though, affected each one differently. For
Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism, their shared aspect of modification is also
the differences between them, as to how it affected each one individually. For
Buddhism, the modification of the belief became a complete vulgarization of
Buddha’s original belief. Buddhism went from an ethical philosophy to a
Salvationist religion. Buddhism split into two sects Mahayana and
Therevada(Hinayana), with Therevada maintaing the traditional beliefs and
Mahayana becoming the Salvationist religion of Buddhism. It emphasized the
worship and devotion to Buddha as a God, Nirvana as a heavenly salvation, and
the worship of bodhisattvas(those who achieved bodhi) as saints. Mahayana was
furthered divided into four sects which further degenerated Buddha’s original
message: Chan-emphasized meditation could bring enlightenment instantly;
Pureland-emphasized Nirvana as a form of heavenly salvation; Tantrism-emphasized
the use of special gestures and symbols to call upon mystical powers; and White
Lotus-emphasized the second coming of the Buddha and and to rebel against
existing regimes.9 These beliefs along with the Mahayana completely altered
Buddha’s original message. For Islam, it did not undergo such a dramatic change
as Buddhism. For Islam, the religion divide into two sects: The Sunnites and the
Shi’ites. The two factions retained the original teachings of Mohammed, but
struggled over who should lead the Islamic nation, after the death of Mohammed.

Like Buddhism and Islam, Confucianism also underwent a change and appeared as
Neo-Confucianism. With Neo-Confucianism, the nature of thinking and learning
changed. The School of Reason and the School of Mind were the two current sects
of “New” Confucian thinking. The School of Mind emphasized
instrospection and self-learning ,while the School of reason emphasized
education for all and investigation into all matters, but both were abstract and
enjoyed a fleeting popularity. Thus the changes to Buddhism, Islam, and
Confucianism were very different in the effects each had on the ideology.

Another shared principle between Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism, is the
endorsement of the inequality of the sexes. Specifically, the low social status
that the women procured in each society. In Buddhism, though women could join
the monasteries, there was a secondary(if not menial) status of women. As Buddha
had written to one of his followers, Ananda: Women are soon angered, Ananda;
women are full of passion, Ananda; women are envious, Ananda; women are stupid,
Ananda. That is the reason, Ananda, that the cause, why women have no place in
public assemblies, do not carry on a business, and do not earn their living by
any profession.10 In Islamic society, women were no better off than their
earlier Buddhist counterparts. Islamic culture encouraged the cloistering of
women at home and prohibiting the social contacts with males outside the family.

Also, the women were often required to dress in a custom, which would cover
their entire body. This is probably due more to custom than religion, because in
the Koran men were admonished to treat women with respect and women were allowed
to own property. They were, however, better off than their Buddhist and
Confucian counterparts. Confucianism also did little to encourage the equality
of men and women. Confucius did not belittle or denigrate the importance of the
woman’s role as a mother and a homemaker, but it is evident that in his
hierarchal Five Relationships, that he acknowledged that women took a secondary
status in society. His Five Relationships are: 1.Emperor to subjects 2.Father to
son 3.Husband to wife 4.Elder Brother to younger brother 5.Elder Friend to
younger friend.11 From Confucius’ Five Relationships, it is obvious that women
had a role of little importance in the daily rituals of society. For Buddhism,
Islam, and Confucianism, the shared ideology of the lowly stature of women is
common to all three, though custom more than religious ideology affected the
status of women in society. Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism are legacies left
by three very great and very different individuals. Each philosophy, though
different, shared certain aspects between each other: Simplicity in beliefs and
adherence as an ethical philosophy, the emphasis of the low status of women in
each society, and the fact that each became modified ,or vulgarized, to suit the
needs of its followers. But their shared aspects are also what contrasts each of
them, in that each emphasized the different needs of man and his society.


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