World Religion and Man Essay

A Comparative Look At Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism

Throughout history, great civilizations and people have risen and fallen, and during their

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fleeting existence, religious activities have assumed important functions in those societies.

Confucianism, Buddhism, and Islam, are three legacies left by great men, which still have a

profound affect on society. Like with all human inventions, though, these three philosophies are

all relative to each other : They are comparable in their simplicity of beliefs, the emphasis they

placed on the role of women within their society, and the transformation into different sects in

later years; but differ from each other in their emphasis in each field respectively.

The basic doctrines of these three philosophies can be readily compared with each other.

They each carry their tenets in a basic, simple format which is easy to understand and follow.

Their beliefs also provide an ethical code encompassed within their beliefs, and each has an

objective to attain through simple means.

In Buddhism, the fundamental beliefs are to recognize life as cycle of birth and rebirth,

and to overcome this cycle to attain Nirvana. The fundamental beliefs of Buddhism are

contained in The Four Noble Truths, which are :

3. The way to end suffering is to end desire,

4. The way to end desire is to avoid the extremes of a life

vulgar materialism and of self-torture, and to

follow the Middle Path(Eightfold Path).1

Following the Middle Path, to Buddha is the way to overcome the painful cycle of life, and are

relatively simple practices. They are thus:

1.Right understanding, or views: recognizing that material

security does not bring peace of mind and that rituals do

not erase the effects of pass acts;

2.Right motives: the quality of the drive behind the thinking

and being free from carnal thirst, malevolence, cruelty, etc…;

3.Right speech: not indulging in cruel and harsh talk, thereby

being able to establish a link between ‘right motives’ and

4.Right action: any actions that proceed from an unobstructed

mind. This also includes abstaining from unwholesome actions

and performing those which are beneficial;

5.Right means of livelihood: the idea of not harming living things

through any means, and to abstain from indulging in anything

6.Right effort: efforts taken to encourage the development of

of the other paths and to discourage any hindrances;

7.Right mindfulness: to prevent the excessive development of

of one path at the expense of another;

8.Right meditation: to quiet the mind and present true pictures to

the mind of any hindrances to the Middle Path.2

The Middle Path, as seen above, is an ethical code for a relatively simple life of performing

good deeds, not harming yourself and others, and maintaining ethical thoughts and frame of

mind. By following the Middle Path, a person would eventually reach enlightenment and be able

to achieve Nirvana. To the Buddha, Nirvana is the extinction of self hood and a final reunion

Similar to Buddhism, Islam is also a simple faith with simple teachings, with an easily

obtainable objective. Islam’s beliefs though are held in a monotheistic framework ,and in what is

known as the “Five Pillars of Islam.” The supreme deity of Islam is Allah and obeying the will of

Allah is done by following the “Five Pillars of Islam.” They are thus:

1.Every Muslim must utter “There is no God but Allah and

2.Every Muslim must pray five times a day and publicly

3.Every Muslim must give alms(charity) to the poor and

4.During the holy month of the Ramadan, every Muslim must

5.Every Muslim must make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least

Along with the “Five Pillars”, Muslims(followers of the Islam faith) must also abstain from

eating pork, gambling, drinking alcoholic beverages, and engaging in dishonest behavior. These

“rules” are the basic laws a Muslim must obey, and they do not require too much effort from the

individual or put a strain on the individual. By following them and by obeying the will of Allah,

a Muslim is guaranteed a place in an eternal paradise filled with sensual delights. This eternal

paradise is the objective of those who are faithful to Allah and Islam.

Confucianism is also similar to the others, in its simplicity in teachings and adherence.

First Confucianism deals with the rational cosmic order and the organization of worldly affairs.

Confucian belief is that all humans were endowed with their own Dao(Way), which was

dependent on their role in life, and it was the individuals duty to live accordingly to their Dao,

and not to ignore it. And by following their Dao accordingly, then their own affairs and those of

the community would prosper. From this philosophy comes the concept of duty and humanity. In

the concept of duty, the individual sacrifices his personal interests and desires for the “good” of

the family, community, and state. With the concept of humanity, this consists of compassion and

empathy for others.5 These are the central concepts of Confucianism, where the objective of its

followers is for the affairs of the state, community, and individual to be prosperous and

Though Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism share the common ground of simplicity in

teachings and adherence, they differ from each other sharply. First is the emphasis of each

philosophy. Buddhism is sometimes called a reinterpretation of Hinduism, but is not a religion.

Buddhism does not emphasize a god, nor the need to worship a god, but the adherence to an

ethical lifestyle. On the otherhand, Islam is a religion(called a “Religion of The Book”) and

emphasizes a supreme deity, Allah, and the need to obey his will. Whereas Confucianism as a

philosophy, does not emphasize a higher metaphysical order(other than the Dao), nor does it

emphasize the necessity to worship a deity. Confucianism is also not a reinterpretation of the

some other religion or philosophy, either. Confucianism can be seen as a political philosophy,

because Confucius’ philosophy took shape during China’s “Spring and Autumn Period”- a period

of quarrelling and fighting among regional political leaders.6 Confucius looked to the Golden

Age of Zhou, in lamentation and inspiration of his philosophy. He is quoted to have said:

The practice of the Great Way, the illustrious men

of the Three Dynasties – these I shall never know

in person. And yet they inspire my ambition……7

Thus each philosophy’s emphasis is the difference, in the similarities of each one. With

Buddhism, its emphasis is on a mere ethical lifestyle. With Islam, it is obedience to and adhering

to the will of a deity, Allah. And finally with Confucianism, emphasizing the “greater good” of

Another difference between Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism, is the ultimate

objective(or “salvation” as some may have it) of each philosophy. In Buddhism, the ultimate

goal is to defeat the painful cycle of life and attain enlightenment(Bodhi). On attaining bodhi,

the individual can reach the final reunion with the Great World Soul(Nirvana). This is not like a

heavenly salvation, nor an eternal paradise. Nirvana is “likened to a dreamless sleep or to a

‘blowing out'(as of a candle).”8 Islam, on the otherhand, does not emphasize a heavenly

salvation, nor an eternal sleep nor a Great World Soul. Islam does, however, offer the hope of

attaining a place in an eternal paradise of sensual delights, through devotion and worship of

Allah. The sensual delights probably consisted of pleasures not found in the geograhical region

of the Arabian desert. Thus, Confucianism is totally different from both Buddhism and Islam.

Confucianism does not offer a reunion with the Great World Soul, nor does it offer an eternal

paradise of sensual delights: It does offer to the individual, if one lives according to his Dao, the

hope to have the affairs of society(state, community, and individual) to be in order and

In all, each philosophy does emphasize an objective ,or form of “salvation”, though each one

differs dramatically : Buddhism, with its abstract Nirvana; Islam, with an eternal paradise; and

Confucianism, with the secular prosperity of the state, community, and individual.

Another similar aspect which Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism share is the

vulgarization ,or sectionalism, each experienced later in the centuries. Each underwent a

transformation, years after the founding individual had died. For Buddhism, it was the division

into the two sects, Mahayana and Theravada(Hinayana). Later the Mahayana sect became further

transformed into four other sects. Like Buddhism, Islam also underwent a transformation into

two factions, the Shi’ites and the Sunnites. Confucianism, like Buddhism and Islam, underwent a

form of modification into Neo-Confucianism. With Neo-Confucianism, two new schools

appeared. The School of Reason and School of Mind. Their transformation, though, affected

For Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism, their shared aspect of modification is also the

differences between them, as to how it affected each one individually. For Buddhism, the

modification of the belief became a complete vulgarization of Buddha’s original belief.

Buddhism went from an ethical philosophy to a Salvationist religion. Buddhism split into two

sects Mahayana and Therevada(Hinayana), with Therevada maintaing the traditional beliefs and

Mahayana becoming the Salvationist religion of Buddhism. It emphasized the worship and

devotion to Buddha as a God, Nirvana as a heavenly salvation, and the worship of

bodhisattvas(those who achieved bodhi) as saints. Mahayana was furthered divided into four

sects which further degenerated Buddha’s original message:

Chan-emphasized meditation could bring enlightenment instantly;

Pureland-emphasized Nirvana as a form of heavenly salvation;

Tantrism-emphasized the use of special gestures and symbols

to call upon mystical powers; and

White Lotus-emphasized the second coming of the Buddha and

and to rebel against existing regimes.9

These beliefs along with the Mahayana completely altered Buddha’s original message. For Islam,

it did not undergo such a dramatic change as Buddhism. For Islam, the religion divide into two

sects: The Sunnites and the Shi’ites. The two factions retained the original teachings of

Mohammed, but struggled over who should lead the Islamic nation, after the death of

Mohammed. Like Buddhism and Islam, Confucianism also underwent a change and appeared as

Neo-Confucianism. With Neo-Confucianism, the nature of thinking and learning changed. The

School of Reason and the School of Mind were the two current sects of “New” Confucian

thinking. The School of Mind emphasized instrospection and self-learning ,while the School of

reason emphasized education for all and investigation into all matters, but both were abstract and

enjoyed a fleeting popularity. Thus the changes to Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism were

very different in the effects each had on the ideology.

Another shared principle between Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism, is the

endorsement of the inequality of the sexes. Specifically, the low social status that the women

procured in each society. In Buddhism, though women could join the monasteries, there was a

secondary(if not menial) status of women. As Buddha had written to one of his followers,

Women are soon angered, Ananda; women are

full of passion, Ananda; women are envious, Ananda;

women are stupid, Ananda. That is the reason, Ananda,

that the cause, why women have no place in public

assemblies, do not carry on a business, and do not earn

In Islamic society, women were no better off than their earlier Buddhist counterparts. Islamic

culture encouraged the cloistering of women at home and prohibiting the social contacts with

males outside the family. Also, the women were often required to dress in a custom, which

would cover their entire body. This is probably due more to custom than religion, because in the

Koran men were admonished to treat women with respect and women were allowed to own

property. They were, however, better off than their Buddhist and Confucian counterparts.

Confucianism also did little to encourage the equality of men and women. Confucius did not

belittle or denigrate the importance of the woman’s role as a mother and a homemaker, but it is

evident that in his hierarchal Five Relationships, that he acknowledged that women took a

secondary status in society. His Five Relationships are:

4.Elder Brother to younger brother

5.Elder Friend to younger friend.11

From Confucius’ Five Relationships, it is obvious that women had a role of little importance in

the daily rituals of society. For Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism, the shared ideology of the

lowly stature of women is common to all three, though custom more than religious ideology

affected the status of women in society.

Buddhism, Islam, and Confucianism are legacies left by three very great and very

different individuals. Each philosophy, though different, shared certain aspects between each

other: Simplicity in beliefs and adherence as an ethical philosophy, the emphasis of the low

status of women in each society, and the fact that each became modified ,or vulgarized, to suit

the needs of its followers. But their shared aspects are also what contrasts each of them, in that

each emphasized the different needs of man and his society.

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