In response to the political turmoil associated with the Period of the Warring States in China (403-221 B.C.E.), differing schools of thought emerged. Among these were Confucianism, Taoism, and with the advent of the Silk Road, Buddhism. It is possible to comprehend and contrast the two indigenous philosophies, and recognize the reasons why Confucianism was eventually sanctioned by the government, rather than Taoism, even though both can be practiced non-exclusively. Understanding this, one can understand why Mahayana Buddhism in the form of Chan began to rival Confucianism around the 6th century C.E.
Confucianism was developed and named after Kong Fuzi (551-479 B.C.E.), known as The Philosopher Kong to his disciples and Confucius to Westerners. Much like his contemporary, the Buddha Siddartha Guatama, he did not address metaphysical questions. His reasoning was that conjecture on these issues held no relevance in the ethical, moral, or political arena, and were therefore useless. He believed the proper balance of these three important topics would arise without effort through the betterment of individual human relationships, and so he even rejected matters of the state as symptoms of this basic illness: improper human relations. Educating people and transforming them into junzi, or superior individuals, would be conducive to progress in the advancement of human relationships. These individuals would be officers in the ideal government. As the people of China accepted Kong Fuzi's philosophy as a replacement for Legalism, the government even supported his education system in an effort to produce junzi.
Taoism places emphasis on the alignment of our human awareness with the nature of all things, or the Tao. Taoism has been attributed to a man known as Lao-Tzu, although the text he supposedly wrote, Tao Te Ching (The Classic of the Way and the Virtue) was also known as Lao-Tzu, so it is impossible at this time to determine whether Lao-Tzu existed. It was most likely compiled by different hands in the 4th century B.C.E., although Lao-Tzu, a contemporary of Kong Fuzi, was said to have lived in the 6th century B.C.E. Lao-Tzu, whose named can be translated as "the Old Master", was thought to be an archive-keeper in one of the lesser kingdoms of the time. The practice of Taoism can be realized through the idea of wei wu-wei, or action non-action which can be understood as doing without grasping. When this is performed, one is in accordance with the Tao. This idea is very similar to Kong Fuzi's idea of a junzi automatically correcting his or her human relationships, and coming into alignment with wren, mankind's fundamental virtue. When asked to explain this idea, Kong Fuzi refused, because much like the Tao, the wren that can be described is not the real wren. It is beyond conception. The emphasis of Taoism is of a more mystic nature, while Confucianism focuses upon the ethical and political applications. Neither excludes the other, and both were known to be practiced by government officials in the evening after performing their duties at work.
Both of these philosophies served to align individuals and society in certain ways. Taoism is truly an individual experience, and by definition cannot be shared with another. If all individuals were to realize the Tao, then people would be self-governing and the issues of the day would fall away as absurdities. This utopian idea is theoretically beautiful, but not practical, and this is why Confucianism was once adopted by the Chinese government, as it dealt with the more mundane issues of ethics and politics, but with the same underlying ideas labeled differently. It appeared more relevant to the common man and his problems. Eventually, it found a rival in Buddhism.
Buddhism has an idea similar to that of a junzi, called a Buddha or Bodhisattva. The equivalent of the Confucian wren would be cultivated through the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path. This path leads one to wisdom and compassion, which are synonymous with virtue. This aspect of Buddhism is very similar to Confucianism, and the prospect of the cessation of suffering in the Four Noble Truths would be very attractive to practitioners of a similar philosophy that did not give attention to such ideas. Because of its lack of emphasis on political matters and later entry into China, Buddhism was never sanctioned by the government in the same manner that Confucianism was.
These three forms of thought were either born of or accepted because of the political chaos of the Period of the Warring States in the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C.E. in China. While being very similar, each philosophy has its particular differences that lent itself to differing applications within the society. Each survive to this day.
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