Buddhism and Confucianism Are Religions Without a God
The most common understanding of the word Religion is: “the service and worship of God or the supernatural, commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance, a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices, a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith. ” (Merriam Webster’s Dictionary) According to this source, “many people turn to religion for comfort in a time of crisis. ” Many have argued that a tradition is a religion only if it worships a god. But we also hear expressions like: “Hockey is a religion in Canada. Then what is religion? Are Christianity and Islam religions because worshiping God is at their core, and other traditions are not because they don’t focus on worshiping a divinity?
This essay will try to argue that: despite the absence of god or gods, as well as a lack of concern for the afterworld, Therevada Buddhism and Confucianism can be considered religious traditions. First what does the term Religion? Clifford Geertz argues that: Religion is a cultural system that creates powerful and long-lasting meaning, by establishing symbols that relate humanity to beliefs and values. Geertz 63) Religions have symbols, traditions, writings and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe and the afterlife. They tend to emphasize morality, ethics, laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the universe and human nature. Paul Tillich defines religion as:”the state of being grasped by ultimate concern. “( Tillich 4) Jon Bowker says that religion is a way of breaking “through limitations”, or is an expression of “route-finding activities” (Bowker viii).
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Frederick Stregn defines religion as “a mean towards ultimate transformations. ” (Streng, 1985: 1-8) According to professor Ninian Smart, a set of teachings can be considered a religion if it has the following seven dimensions: practical and ritual, experiential and emotional, narrative and mythic, doctrinal and philosophical, ethical and legal, social and institutional and material. (Smart 10) It looks like the ideas of God and the afterlife are absent for Smart’s criteria as well. To understand how Chinese see religion by analyzing the word itself: “zong jiao” meaning “source” and “teaching”. Woo 5) In arguing the idea that Buddhism and Confucianism are not only philosophies, it is important to bring up the difference between philosophy and religion: religion is concerned with the source of life and the consequences of our actions in the afterlife while philosophy is not. According to this definition, then both Budhism and Confucianism are Religions. The word “Religio” means to relate or connect to naturally occurring events with higher meaning. People write poetry, music, dance to project the deeper meaning and find an explanation of why the natural things do occur.
They want to interpret things in a metaphysical way. Religion is acting out the understanding of these connections, a guiding principle and a subsequent willingness to take action to recognize the connections. Even an atheist is as religious as a believer because he devotes himself to the denial of God. There are several criteria and elements that we can use to test whether a tradition qualifies as a Religion. Religion also has a functional aspect- what it does. It allows us to cope with life’s challenges. Humans are set back by a lot of temptations and tribulations.
Religion helps us hope for better results or accept setbacks. It helps us explain defeat, and offers renewed hope for continuous effort. It offers a safe haven to return to and provides comfort. As Carl Marx calls it: “the opiate of the people”, it creates a different reality. It is an ointment that numbs the pain, helps us to keep going, to hope for a better tomorrow. To better identify the elements that establish these two traditions as religions, it seems appropriate to start off by in traducing the history of Buddhism and Confucianism.
The founder of Buddhism, Gautama Siddharta, was born in 563 B. C. in Nepal, near the Indian border. His father was a king, and surrounded Siddharta with wealth, beauty and fortune “I wore garments of silk and my attendants held a white umbrella over me. My unguents were always from Banaras”. (Smith 83) Although he had everything a man could ask for, in his twenties he felts overwhelmed by discontent which determined him to leave the worldly fortunes. The source of his discontent is presented in the legend of the “Four Passing Sighs”.
Although his father made sure Siddhartha was protected from witnessing any suffering, disease or ugliness, on some of a few consecutive rides he was faced with some lessons from the gods: he encountered the embodiment of old age, disease, death and he was introduced to the idea of the life of withdrawal from the world. These encounters helped Buddha realize that: “Life is subject to age and death. Where is the realm of life in which there is neither age or death” (Smith 84) There are several aspects found in the formation of Buddhism that are common in many religions.
Siddharta began dedicating his life to Raja Yoga through deep meditation. Smith describes how, reminiscent of Jesus’s temptation scene, in the eve of his ministry, Buddha is also tempted by the Evil One. Because it sensed that his antagonists’ success was imminent, he tried to disrupt his meditation by attacking him in form of Kama, the God of Desire and Mara the Lord of Death. Gautama managed to resist temptation and deepened in meditation instead, arriving into the “Great Awakening. ” This is the point where he became the Buddha. He describes this rapture experience of forty-nine days as complete bliss: Nirvana.
Rudolph Otto had introduced the idea of “numinous” as a pristine reality. The word comes from the Latin word “numen” which means ideal in a tangible, physical form. The ideal is so perfect it cannot exist in tangible form. The entire physical world represents an ideal- an impeccable blueprint. We become aware of the absolute, we become sensitive, alert, we realize we are in the presence of far greater, mysterious beyond description” ineffable”. It reminds us how insignificant we are, we are re-prints of that “Real “something. This conclusion makes us humble, reverential, everything else pales in comparison.
Nothing can remain unchanged after the encounter with the numinous. This is exactly how Buddha described his experience with Nirvana. After this experience Buddha decided to dedicate his life witnessing his enlightenment to others, a ministry of forty-five years. The sentence from his death bed that echoed through the ages was:” All compounded things decay, work out your own salvation with diligence. ” (Smith 88) Theravada Buddhism emphasizes the individuality of humans, and not the dependence on other humans or other forms of life or divinity.
It holds that humanity is in its own in the universe and no gods exist to give us miraculous help: “No one saves us but ourselves, No one can and no one may, We ourselves must tread the Path: Buddhas only show the way. ” (Smith 123) Buddha focused his reaching on useful tools for everyday problems, emphasizing the usefulness of his teachings; it was therapeutic, as a major trait of any religion: “One thing I teach: the suffering and the end of suffering. It is just Ill and the ceasing of Ill that I proclaim” (Smith 99);
Buddhism emerged from Hinduism, as a religion that reacted against Hindu perversions; therefore it can be compared to a reformation of another religion. Buddha will criticize and denounce the basic six aspects of Religion: authority, Ritual, Speculation, tradition, Mystery. Instead he preached a religion of relying on self, without rituals or speculations: “whether the world is eternal or not internal…whether a Buddha exists after death or does not exist after death” (Smith 95) was not something to be concerned about, instead he preached a religion of intense self-effort. He said: “Those who relying upon themselves only…. t is they who shall reach the topmost height” ( Smith 95). “Let persons of intelligence come to me, honest, candid, straightforward; I will instruct them, and if they practice as they are taught, they will come to know for themselves and to realize that supreme religion and goal. ” ( Smith 97). Buddhism presents other elements of the religious structure like the Scriptural writings:
The Pali Canon- the ancient canon or authoritative teachings, also named the Tipitaka. Comparable to Christianity, The Triple Gem of the Buddhist tradition are: The Buddha- the prophet, the Dharma- the Scriptures, and the Sangha – the order of bhikshus or monks. Fisher 149) Buddhism is a religion because it offers a recipe for salvation. The Buddhist philosophy starts from the realization of the Four Noble Truths, which apply to all humans: life is Dukkha, suffering. This is caused by Thrishna, the desire for private fulfillment. The cessation of suffering is Nirvana. The recipe to eliminate the suffering is embodied in The Eightfold Path. This method is the Buddhist way to salvation, but it is an internal course of treatment rather than a divine intervention. Buddha believed that humans can train themselves to follow the Path.
There are eight steps that Buddha prescribes: rights views- which make us rational beings and help us avoid dangers and suffering, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness- raja yoga. All these are meant to take control over our feelings, sensations and desires that cause the suffering. (Smith 110). The Right conduct is the Buddhist version of the Ten Commandments: do not kill, do not steal, do not Lie, do not unchaste, do not drink intoxicants. Its moral message is also expressed through the Four Noble Virtues: loving-kindness, compassion, equality, joy in the wellbeing of others.
Another religious organization is the Sangha- Buddhist monastic order comparable to the Christian monks. Buddhism is often described as a non-theistic religion, because there are no personal gods who created us and who will provide our salvation. Buddhists who attended the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago found it necessary to explain to people of other religions that they do not worship the Buddha: “Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was not God or a god. He was a human being who attained full Enlightenment through meditation and showed us the path to spiritual awakening and freedom.
Therefore Buddhism is not a religion of God. Buddhism is a religion of wisdom, enlightenment and compassion. Like the worshipers of God who believe that salvation is available to all through confession of sin and a life of prayer, we Buddhists believe that salvation and enlightenment are available to all through removal of defilements and delusions and a life of meditation. However unlike those who believe in God who is separate from us, Buddhists believe that Buddha… is inherent in us all as Buddha-nature or Buddha-mind. ( A message from Buddhists to the Parliament of the World’s religions, Chicago, September 1993, as quoted in Worlds Faiths Encounter no. 7, February 1994, p. 53) The general impression that prevails in the world about Buddhism is a tradition does not prescribe to the existence of God. Although Theravadins, are known to believe only in the ultimate wisdom in man, although they do not worship Buddha directly as a deity, there is very little difference between the veneration shown to the Buddha by the Buddhists and the manner of worship of God found in other religions.
They bow to his images just like any other idolatrous religion in the world. Despite the denial of God by most Buddhists, deep within their hearts there seems to be an inclination to worship something. Buddhists worship the Buddha without formally recognizing him to be a god. Confucianism was created by Kung Fu-Tzu or Kung the master. The Chinese respectfully speak of him as The First Teacher. He came from humble beginning and as he, himself declares, was not particularly successful at any career. He became convinced that in order to make his message heard he would have to become successful in politics.
Although a failure as a politician, Confucius was one of the world’s greatest teachers. After his death, Confucius became “the mentor and model of then thousand generations” and “ the greatest single intellectual force “ (Smith 158). Among Confucius’s teachings he preaches a very moral life, achievements through hard work and virtues. Here are some famous quotes that many of us guide our lives after: “What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others”, “Do not wish for quick results, not look for small advantages…. you will never accomplish great things. He concluded that people need models to guide their lives after “When you find someone of worth think of how you may emulate. When you see someone unworthy, examine your own character. ” ( The Analects IV:17) His anecdotes and proverbs in his Analects were designed to create an example of what the Chinese hoped the Chinese character would become. ( Smith 159) Many scholars have argued that Confucianism is purely a code of ethics.
Confucianism pays close attention to personal conduct and the moral order and if Religion is a way of life constructed around a people’s “ultimate concern” like Paul Tillich said: “Religion is our ultimate concern” bsolute, final, unconditional. There are different levels of decisions. While the consequences of our decision increase, ultimately the way we decide expresses our sense of value. The ultimate concern focuses on an ideal. Our awareness of that will determine our actions and our value will guide our physical survival. In this way we can conclude that Confucianism is a religion. There were five principles that guided Confucius’s teachings. He taught “Jen”: goodness, the ideal relationship between human beings, “the virtue of virtues” in Confucius’ view of life. Chun Tzu” is “Humanity at its best”, the ideal host. “Li” is propriety. He considered necessary for people to have models after to which guide their lives-the Analects.
In this sense the Doctrine of the Mean was particularly important, illustrating the middle and constant way: “Respect for the Mean brings harmony and balance. ” He emphasized the importance of the Five Constant Relationships that are at the basis of a sound society, between: parent and child, husband and wife, older and junior sibling, older and junior friend and ruler and subject. Smith 176) “Te”, the fourth concept means power of ruling people through virtue and honesty: “He who exercises government by means of his virtue (Te) may be compared to the north pole star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn toward it. ” (Smith 179) Next is “Wen” which refers to the “art of peace” as in contrast with the “art of war”. Confucious valued the arts tremendously considering them a huge dimension to the human being. He also extended the idea to politics: “in war, ultimately the victory goes to the state that develops the highest Wen, the most exalted culture” (Smith 180)
Confucius never denied the existence of God or heaven. In his view, Heaven and Earth are considered a continuum and he tries to “shift people’s attention from Heaven to Earth without dropping Heaven from the picture. ” (Smith185) In his book: An introduction to Confucianism, Xinzhong Yao says that: “The religion of Confucianism comes from establishing relations, harmony and unity between humanity and Heaven, ancestors and descendants, between the secular and then sacred. ”( Yao 49) Whenever he was asked about the afterworld and death he always tried to bring the focus back on life and human beings: “You are not even able to serve the people.
How are you able to serve the spirits? You do not understand even life. How can you understand death? ” (The Analects XI:11) Another illustration of how Confucius shifted the focus from Heaven to Earth is seen in him shifting from spirit worshiping to filial piety. He always that the most sacred tie was the tie among blood relatives. (Smith 186) And if there was any more doubt, ultimately he reassured his followers that his teachings were appointed by divinity: “Heaven has appointed me to teach this doctrine,” ( The Analects , IX: 5 ) “There is Heaven- that knows me,” …“He who offends the gods has no one to pray to” (The Analects III:13)
Rodney Leon Taylor, in his book The Religious Dimensions of Confucianism says that: “Confucianism is an ethical system and humanistic teaching. It is also however, a tradition that bears a deep and profound sense of religious and any interpretation that ignore this quality has missed its quintessential feature…. it is essential to identify the element of this tradition that may be described as deeply and profoundly religious. ” (Taylor 3). This element revolves around the Confucian understanding of “Tien”, Heaven, the traditional god of the Chinese. The religious core itself is found in the relationship of humankind to Heaven. ” As presented in the beginning of this essay, relationships are an essential aspect of religion. In that sense Taylor introduces the term “Transformation”. “Religion provides not only for a relationship with what is defined as absolute, but provides as well a way for the individual to move toward that which is identified as the absolute. This movement is the process of …ultimate transformation. ” (Taylor 3).
This becomes the salvation that Confucius offer, and is an essential element in identifying a religious tradition. Both Theravada Buddhism and Confucianism can be considered religious traditions, despite the absence of god. God is only one of the many aspects of what religion really means. Both of these traditions offer principles of “ultimate concern” and recipes for right livelihood that will ultimately lead to salvation. Unlike other religious traditions, the salvation is attained without divine intervention but through one’s own merits.