The two most influential spiritual leaders in ancient China were Confucius and Lao-tzu. They practiced Taoism and Confucianism. The fascination of both the Eastern and Western worlds with these two legendary figures and the philosophies that they created remains strong.
The Old Master
Lao-tzu, which means "Old Master," is thought to be the author of Taoism, but maybe there was no such person. According to myth, Lao-tzu came from the womb as an old man full of wisdom. Saddened by society's lack of goodness, Lao-tzu decided to leave his home in Luoyang to live out the rest of his life somewhere beyond the Great Wall of China. He wrote down his parting thoughts in a small book and then disappeared. His writings are called the Tao Te Ching, and they are the most important text of Taoism.
According to Taoism, the entire universe and everything in it flows with a mysterious, unknowable force called the Tao or "The Way." The Tao explains the powers that drive the universe and the wonder of human nature. Good and evil only happen when people forget that they are all one in the Tao. Therefore, Taoists try to remember the oneness.
Over time a Taoist religion evolved. It calls for worship of many gods and ancestors. Other religious practices include the cultivation of bodily energy called "chi," the creation of a system of morals, and use of alchemy to attain immortality. The folk religion of Taoism became popular after its adoption by China as the state religion in 440 CE.
Confucius and the Analects
The other major philosophy of dynastic China was created by a philosopher named Confucius. After his death, the ethics and moral teachings of Confucius were written down by his students in a book called the Analects. Many of his adages are still followed today.
The goal of Confucianism was to learn to be human. Each person should act with virtue in all social matters to ensure order and unity. Man's virtue in all its forms is called "jen," a concept that is all encompassing, similar to the Tao. Confucian ceremonies contained rituals based in the Five Classics. Life-cycle rites were very specific.
Confucianism deals with social matters, while Taoism concerns itself with the search for meaning. They share common beliefs about man, society, and the universe. Both began as philosophies and became religions.
Source: Taoism and Confucianism—Ancient Philosophies
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