(RELIGION and PHILOSOPHY in ANCIENT CHINA – continued)
Both Buddhists and Taoists were denying value in the world of appearances, and both were appealing to the interest in the mystical among the Chinese. Both advocated personal salvation and protection from powerful gods. But conflicts existed between Buddhism and Taoism. The Taoists were devoted to nature while Buddhists believed in withdrawal from nature. Despite their belief in serene unconcern, Taoists felt challenged by Buddhism, and they scurried for more doctrine to compliment what had become their religion.
Despite the conflicts, diffusions took place between Buddhism and Taoism. While Buddhism was offering nirvana or eternal happiness in a western paradise, Taoism began promising the achievement of immortality through magic potions. Some Taoists created Buddhist-like monasteries, and some adopted Buddhism's burning of incense. Buddhism and Taoism acquired common communal festivals. Local Taoist saints blended with Buddhist saints.
Books by Taoists revealed a Buddhist influence, such as dialogues between a teacher and his disciples, not known in China before Buddhism's arrival.Taoists saw Buddhism as an inferior version of their philosophy, while others believed the rumor that Buddhism had been created by Taoism's founder, Laozi. This story held that after disappearing on a long journey into India, Laozi had taught Taoism to the Buddha – a story disliked by Taoists who objected to Buddhism and feared that Buddhism might obscure Taoism's identity.Adding to the diffusions in ideas was the attraction of some Confucianists for Taoist spirituality.
Some Confucianists adopted the Taoist belief in permanence behind the visible world of change (believed also by Plato). Some Confucianists adopted the view that the world of change was sustained by one impersonal, unlimited and undiversified force. They saw Confucius as having recognized this permanence but as having kept silent about it because he had held to the Taoist belief that such mysteries could not be expressed in words.
Taoism mixed with Buddhism and Confucianism in what was called Dark Learning (Xuan Xie). Dark Learning involved the "pure conversation," which were philosophical discussions and speculations that had become a pastime for gentlemen in southern China. Rather than revelation through argumentation, the goal of these conversations was the maintenance of Taoism's serenity, with pleasant voices and poetic flashes of insight.
Taoists continued to believe that various gods dwelled here and there – on mountains and in rivers – and they still believed that these gods had to be appeased with a proper sacrifice. Taoist priests held that they alone knew the appropriate rituals. But Taoism still had no fixed, elaborate theology as did Christianity.
There was talk among the Taoists of the world having been created by an interaction of two opposites, Yin and Yang, and talk that through observation of Yin and Yang they could foretell the future. Taoism still favored being natural, in other words behaving on impulse, the Taoists seeing impulse as the expression of one's true feelings. Taoism still advocated honesty and being true to oneself as cardinal principles. It still held that everything would be done when nothing was done. Taoists still sought a blissful detachment and peace and quiet, which they believed would be achieved when everyone gave up worldly endeavors and trying to control others. The Taoists focused on being healed spiritually and physically.
Taoism paralleled Epicureanism in its belief in pleasure and the avoidance of pain. They saw life as short, "like the morning dew," soon to disappear and to be enjoyed before it evaporated.By now, Taoists spoke of Laozi as never having died, of his having disappeared into the mountainous west. And like Christianity, Taoism offered personal immortality, personal comfort, and a refuge from fear of death. Taoist priests performed services that gave assurances to their followers that one who had died had acquired a place in the heavenly kingdom of spiritual bliss.
In 444, Taoists in the north inspired a movement against Buddhism on the grounds that Buddhism was an alien creed. In 445, in putting down a rebellion at Chang'an, ruling forces found a cache of arms at a Buddhist monastery. The ruler, Daiwu issued an edict against the Buddhists. All Buddhists monks were to be put to death and all Buddhist images and books destroyed – described in an ancient book, The Image of Buddha. Instead, a few monks were forced to return to family life, and some monasteries were attacked and destroyed. Then, in the early 450s, Daiwu again gave favor to Buddhism, followed by his assassination in 452.
Copyright © 2009-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.