home | 1000 BCE to 500 CE



Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian Interactions

Both Buddhists and Taoists were denying that the world of appearances contained anything of value. They were more like Plato than the Marxists of the 1800s, who believed in evaluating the material world in order to end suffering and injustice. Both the Buddhists and Taoists were appealing to the interest in the mystical among the Chinese.

There were diffusions between Taoism and Buddhism. 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.

Rumor appeared among Taoists 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.

The diffusions affected Confucianism. Some Confucianists adopted the Taoist belief in permanence behind the visible world of change. 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 "pure conversation," philosophical discussions and speculations that had become a pastime for idle gentlemen. The goal of these conversations was the maintenance of serenity, 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. There was much in Taoism to choose from. Taoism still advocated honesty and being true to oneself as cardinal principles. There was still the idea that everything would be done when nothing was done, and the Taoists were still focusing on being healed spiritually and physically. Like Christianity, Taoism was offering personal immortality, personal comfort, and assurances that when one died he acquired a place in the heavenly kingdom of spiritual bliss.

And Taoists saw themselves as different from Buddhists, as did Confucianists. Buddhists had monasteries that had become economically powerful landowning enterprises with hereditary serfs. Taoists accused Buddhism of being an alien creed, and Confucianists found fault with Buddhists for leaving their families for the monastery and for a lack of sense of duty to society.

Entering the sixth century, China was like the rest of the world: its civilization divided between its rulers, its landed lords, its common people and in how people saw the world.

Copyright © 2009-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.