INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY
DALLAS M. ROARK
The Orient gives us some unusual ideas and terms. Karma and samsara, or transmigration are different and unfamiliar to many. There are different emphases in the thinking of the East. Instead of monotheism the East has polytheism in its more base form and monism or pantheism in its more sophisticated forms. Much of western thought stresses the individual and personality whereas the East deprecates the individual and personality with the aim of merging or achieving union with the world soul. The western traditional philosophy has been based upon rationality whereas the East has a strong emphasis on intuition. Western religion is related to revelation whereas eastern religion stresses contemplation. In western thought God is sought outside of man--out there--whereas in the East God is sought within--inside man. In the West this has been called the transcendence of God, and the view of the East is called immanence of God. In the west nature is to be subdued whereas the eastern emphasis on nature is a part of God. Many of the differences will appear as we look at some of the different oriental philosophies.
Our treatment here will be limited to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto. Japanese religion has been highly influenced by Chinese as well as Buddhist sources. Our main purpose is to see the nature of the ideas as they are connected with the founding leaders, as far as this is possible. It is fitting that we now turn to our first philosophy.
Hinduism is difficult to define in a few words. It is not connected with a founder as many other religions are. In those cases it is convenient to say that Buddhism is the religion of Buddha, Judaism is the religion of Moses, and so on. But this cannot be done with Hinduism. We can define Hinduism in a general way as the great social and religious system of India that has grown up since the third century B.C. to the present.1 There are no single orthodox doctrines that hold true for all. One can be a pantheist, an atheist, a polytheist, a monist, pluralist, or dualist. Hindus range from intellectuals who are sophisticated monists to ignorant polytheists who make religious pilgrimages to wash in the Ganges River. We shall have to limit our treatment of Hinduism generally to the views reflected in the Upanishads. The Upanishads give the most sophisticated form of Hinduism and it is the inspiration for the views of several modern religious movements imported to the States as seen in the Divine Light Mission, the Transcendental Meditation movement, and other groups. We now turn to our four headings.
The view of reality in the Upanishads, written about 300 B.C., gives a monistic view of the world. There is only one reality in the world, or that is the world.
The group of all being, whether material or spiritual whether in the form of man, beasts, or gods, heaven, earth, or hell, is an all-inclusive unitary reality, beyond sense-apprehension, ultimate in substance, infinite in essence and self-sufficient; it is the only really existent entity. This reality is commonly called Brahma.2
The attempts to define Brahma or Brahman in a positive way are not as many as the negative way. Brahman is "not conceivable, not changeable, not injurable . . . inaudible, invisible, indestructible, cannot be tasted, cannot be smelled, is without beginning or end, and greater than the great."3 The Mundake Upanishad describes Brahman as "invisible, incomprehensible, without geneology, colourless, without eye or ear, without hands or feet, eternal, pervading all and over all, scarce knowable, that unchangeable one whom the wise regard as being womb."4
How is knowledge possible? If the nature of Brahman is unknowable, how is it known? The answer is that Brahman cannot be proved by "perception or reasoning, but is to be taken either on the basis of scriptural testimony (The Upanishads) or by direct and intuitive experience of the kind made possible by Yogic concentration."5 Scriptural basis here is yet related to intuition since there is no concept of a revelation from Brahman. If one speaks of revelation, it is intuition that is implied.
The Upanishads speak of the Brahman as the all-objective. Everything that is experienced by the five senses is Brahman. But the Upanishads also go further and declare that everything that is subjective is also Brahma; however, the subjective experiences are called Atman. This unity of Brahman-Atman is one of the great points of the Upanishads. Atman, or the internal experiences of feelings, self-consciousness, emotions, are in actuality identified with Brahma. This truth is implied in the statement, tat tvam asi, meaning, that art thou, and which points to the identification of the self with Brahman. One of the important stories in the Upanishads points to this truth:
Now there was Shvetaketu Aruneya. To him his father said: "That which is the finest essence--this whole world has that as its soul. That is Reality. That is Atman. That art thou, Shvetaketu.
"So you, Sir, cause me to understand even more."
Then said he to him: "Verily, my dear, that finest essence which you do not perceive--verily, my dear, from that finest essence this great Nyagrodha (sacred fig) tree thus arises. Believe me, my dear," said he, "That which is the finest essence--this whole world has that as its soul. That is Reality. That is Atman. That art thou, Shvetaketu."6
Later thinkers raised questions about the relation of the world to Brahman. Sankara in the eighth century A.D. believed that Brahman alone is real with the implication that the world is an illusion, maya, an appearance. Ramanuja in the eleventh century A.D. believed that the world is real and that it is a part of Brahman being like the body is part of the soul's existence. In either case the Upanishads view of reality is pantheistic and has all the problems of pantheism. Such problems involve: is evil real or an illusion? Is the universe growing and changing? If so, is Brahman growing and changing? Pantheism also implies a spiritual determinism quite akin to a materialistic determinism. There is the additional question about the nature of personality and its freedom and independence.
The self--in a monistic or pantheistic world--is a part of the whole. The Atman is identical with Brahman: that art thou! In this context it is obvious that the body of man is not the important part of his existence. The inner self is the key. One Upanishad says:
The Self (Atman) which is free from evil, free from old age, free from death, free from grief, free from hunger and thirst, whose desire is the real, whose thoughts are true, he should be sought, him one should desire to understand. He who has found out and who understands the self, he obtains all worlds and desires.7
If the true self is internal, what is there to say about the body that all can see and experience? One answer to this question is that man's nature is two-fold. There is the empirical, or the knowable part of man's nature, or as the Hindus would say, the guna-self. Behind this self and obscured by it is the real self, the atman. The guna-self or empirical self includes man's psycho-physical existence and life can be lived in this dimension without regard for the Atman or real self. The Bravagad Gita tells a story of a warrior, Arjuna, who raises questions about his role as a warrior and protests the killing of his cousins. Counseled by Krishna (who is an appearance of Brahman), Arjuna is told, "The dweller (Atman) in the body of everyone, O Bharata (Arjuna) is eternal and can never be slain."8
The goal of existence, however, is to get beyond the empirical self. The Socratic motto, know thyself, is not easy, and in Hinduism it is as difficult as getting to know Brahman. Since Brahman is known intuitively, Atman, or the internal self is known intuitively also. This intuitive knowledge is related to yogi, or a method of concentration with the goal of seeing (intuitively) that the essence of Brahman is really one with myself. This knowledge is not logical, rational, or empirical, but is born of intuitive insight. The end result of the yogi process is not merely knowledge, but samadhi, or the ecstatic mystic union of oneself with the whole (Brahman).
Man's existence in Hinduism has more theoretical regimentation connected with it than western views. Society is divided into four varnas, or classes: (l) Brahmins, or priests and teachers who are the religious leaders and savants of culture, (2) Kshatriya varna, or rulers, soldiers who protect the rest of society, (3) Vaishya varna, or the traders, farmers, artisans and business people, and (4) Shudra varna, the workers and servants.
The rationale behind these divisions is that society needs people suited to functions of society for a well-ordered society. The practical tragedy of the matter is that position is based upon class by birth rather than achievement. Since varna has been outlawed, some mobility is possible in moving upward. Until it was outlawed, however, caste restrictions were like segregation restrictions in the United States. Moreover, caste was linked with the doctrine of karma in which justification was given for one's birth and position. Karma or destiny was linked to man's present existence via the idea of reincarnation. As an example of this, if I am a Brahmin now it was because of good karma in my past existence. If I am an outcast now, it is because of my past bad deeds in a previous existence. I am merely reaping the results of a previous existence. Although the rational justification for social classes appears good, the practical results involved a sense of futility and pessimism.
Another aspect of human existence concerns the ashrama, or stages in life. A man pursues the stage of knowledge, or the life of a student in which all kinds of knowledge is learned for living. This stage may run to age 25. The second stage of life is the householder, or that period of life in which one works, raises a family, contributes to society's ongoing, and the third stage is retirement from society in which a man will retreat to the forest for the attainment of the fourth stage, sannyasin, achievement of the state of oneness with the universe or Brahman.
India has an unusual sense of the divine. The innate pantheism leads to the conclusion that all is divine. The doctrine of ahimsa, or non-injury is the logical conclusion of pantheism. Everything is divine; everything is sacred, and nothing should be harmed. Cow protection is the best known consequence of this doctrine, but vegetarianism is another facet of Hinduism. Other animals are also sacred.
Pantheism tends to be impersonal and where it exists there is the result that the Whole is fragmented into parts, or to put it another way, polytheism is an outgrowth of pantheism. Polytheism and pantheism often exist side by side. Polytheism gives the Formless an understandable shape and form. Krishna is regarded as an avatar, or appearance, of Vishnu who is an appearance, or avatar, of Brahman. Brahman is personalized in other god-forms. Brahman is expressed in Brahma, a creator-god, but who is seldom worshipped. Brahman is seen in Shiva, the destroyer who has many consorts, Kali, a spreader of disease, Durga, the patroness of the robber caste, Ganesha, the elephant-headed god and others. Vishnu, mentioned above, had many appearances such as Krishna, a tortoise, a boar, a man-lion, and others.
The practical outgrowth of polytheism is to view the gods as functional. Or, to put it another way, polytheism is a supermarket approach to deities. If you want help for a dying father, you take yourself to the worship and petition of Rama. If your problem is obstacles, then one turns to Ganesha, and if one has drought, sickness, famine, or whatever, there are specific deities to petition.
While there is idol-worship and polytheism, there is also the most sophisticated idealism in religious concepts. This form of pantheism is expressed in the Upanishads in which "Brahman is said to have created the universe and then entered into it."9 The basic pantheism we have discussed already in the views of reality and man. We will now turn to our fourth heading.
In a general way, the Mahabharata, a monumental body of literature, indicates that all persons without regard to caste or class should control their temper, be truthful, be forgiving, have children by one's legitimate wife, conduct oneself in purity, friendliness, and justice. The case of dependents is also enjoyed along with the doctrine of ahimsa, i.e., non-injury.
These values are important and are complemented by four basic aims of human existence that are outlined. The four aims are: (l) dharma, or duty or moral law. Dharma is a difficult word to pin down, but it gives the idea of a "rule of action" or the way to live.10 Dharma has a personal and social dimension. In the personal sense it relates to morality, and in the social sense it may relate to settling disputes, or duties of the individual to the community. (2) Artha, or the means of life. The pursuit of wealth is not contrary to the Hindu view of things as long as one is aware of the futility of it all. The Mahabharata says,
What is here regarded as dharma depends entirely upon wealth (artha). One who robs another of wealth robs him of his dharma as well. Poverty is a state of sinfulness. All kinds of meritorious acts flow from the possession of great wealth, as from wealth springs all religious acts, all pleasures, and heaven itself. Wealth brings about accession of wealth, as elephants capture elephants. Religious acts, pleasure, joy, courage, worth, and learning; all these proceed from wealth. From wealth one's merit increases. He that has no wealth has neither this world nor the next.11
An interesting contrast is that the love of money is the root of evil in the Christian view. Here the lack of money is the root of evil. Wealth and power are not important in themselves, but are the means of the enjoyment of life, or (3) kama.
Kama is the desire for pleasure and the enjoyment of the proceeds of wealth. The Kama Sutra defines kama as
. . . the enjoyment of the appropriate objects of the five sense of hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting, and smelling, assisted by the mind, together with the soul. The ingredient in this is a peculiar contact between the organ of sense and its object, and the consciousness of pleasure that results from the contact is called Kama.12
The Kama Sutra is a tract upon the physical aspects of love, but there are tracts for the intellectual stimulation of love and literature. The pursuit of pleasure must be held within the bounds of society, but it is regarded as good.
The fourth aim, (4) Moksha, means release, liberation, emancipation, freedom or salvation. The first three aims of man's existence are good, but not final. Pleasure, wealth, and duty are not enough. As these three aims are sought simultaneously, so should be Moksha. Moksha defined negatively means release from the cycle of rebirth, and defined positively means the fulfillment of existence. The achievement of moksha involves being united with the World Soul, or Brahman.
The overall implication of the Hindu view of man, values, and its teaching about existence is that perfection is achievable by man himself. Even where devotion of a deity as in Bhakti Marga, a way of seeking release from the cycle of rebirth by devotion to a particular god like Krishna, it is yet the human devotion that counts. For in reality, the gods worshipped are no better off than the humans worshipping except their further progress along the way. The gods have insights, but they are still subject to change and the cycle of rebirth. In the final analysis, Hinduism is a philosophy of pantheism in which man is responsible for his own salvation. There is no "outside" help. It has to come from within, or it doesn't come at all.
Hinduism has developed many interesting ideas through the centuries. However, there are certain questions that arise. First, the problems of monism or pantheism are great. The problem of evil raises its head immediately. Evil has to be regarded as unreal, or illusory. Because Brahman is everything, everything is Brahman, and all evil can be traced to It. Second, the matter of personality is at stake. The Upanishads foster the idea that ecstatic union with Brahman only comes when one gives up thinking he has individual existence. When one realizes that there is only Brahman-Atman then union with the World-Soul is possible. The problem is this: Brahman has caused something to be which must be negated for union to take place. The very thing that Brahman has brought into being is the obstacle to re-union with Brahman. It would seem more likely to conclude that since Brahman causes personality to be, it is good. Personality is good. Individualism is good. Otherwise, there appears a contradiction at the heart of what Brahman does and what man is.
Third, the matter of religious knowledge has problems. On what basis can one conclude that knowledge about Brahman is meaningful since Brahman does not speak to man. On what basis can we conclude that intuitive insight is correct? If Brahman cannot be known, described, or revealed, why should any of the ideas be philosophically accepted?
Buddhism, the religion of about 400 million people in the Orient, may be regarded as a heresy of Hinduism. Buddhism accepts some Hindu ideas and rejects others. Buddha retained the ideas of Karma and Samsara, or transmigration, or re-incarnation of souls. He rejected the Hindu ways of salvation, the authority of the Vedas and other Hindu scriptures, and belief in the many gods of Hinduism. It seems evident that the Buddha--which means enlightened one--was not interested in the many religious and philosophical questions that we are interested in. Questions like the nature of reality, whether God exists, and the nature of life after death held little importance to him. Buddha makes no claim to be divine and he was nothing more than a remarkable humanist.
Unlike Hinduism which has no founder, we have a movement that begins with a significant person, Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 B.C.). Our primary purpose will be centered on his insights and only casually refer to developments later in the movement. But this raises an important issue: is it legitimate for a religious movement to depart from the founder's teaching? If a religion begins as a humanistic movement without belief in gods, is it legitimate for it to develop an elaborate polytheism later on? How does this reflect upon the founder's insight and authority? Buddhism does begin as a humanism and evolved later to belief and worship of many gods.
The life of Guatama is interesting and available in many works. We will forego recounting it and turn to the basic elements in Buddha's thought.
The Buddhist view of reality is complicated because there are different emphases in the several schools that developed after Buddha. Buddha himself did not teach much on the subject. Two generalizations can be made. The Buddhists reject a substance view of reality like that seen in Hinduism. A spiritual substance like that seen in the idea of Brahman requires the ideas of permanence, identity, and unity. But the Buddhist view begins with the doctrine of annica, or impermanence. What emerges is a view of the world that is akin to atomism of ancient Greek materialism but without the causal implications of one atom causes the movement of another. Instead of cause and effect, the Buddhist speak of dependent origination which means that things "replace one another rather than cause one another."13 When I grow older it is a change that takes place, but it is not caused by men, or by youth, or anything else.
The second generalization is that for all practical purposes the view of reality inherent in Buddhist thought is a friendly form of materialism. The world exists, but it is in a state of change and impermanence. The world appears to have unity, but it actually does not. The view of impermanence will be found to have consistency with the view of man, to which we turn.
Buddha's view of man is similar to that of David Hume in modern philosophy. The similarity is based on the idea of process. Man is a composite of processes. The most visible process is the bodily processes. Mental processes are more numerous and are called skandhas. They include the feelings, conceptual knowledge, sankharas which include the instincts and the subconscious, and reason as related to value-judgments. When these processes are related and unified, one may say then that a man exists. When they disintegrate, one may say that man is no longer in existence. This is similar, it will be recalled, to what Hume said. If one has no perceptions, one may be said not to exist.
The nature of the self as impermanent raises the question concerning transmigration, or the passage of the soul from one body-life to a new body-life. How can that which is impermanent and will disintegrate at death pass over to another existence? This is answered poetically and metaphorically. A king's seal placed in wax makes an impression, but the ring or seal does not pass over, or transmigrate. One such story is that concerning King Milinda.
Said the king, (King Milinda), "Bhante Nagasena, does rebirth take place without any transmigrating?
"Yes, your majesty," rebirth takes place without anything transmigrating."
"How, bhante Nagasena, does rebirth take place without anything transmigrating? Give an illustration."
"Suppose, your majesty, a man were to light a light from another light; pray, would the one light have passed over to the other light?"
"Nay, verily, bhante."
"In exactly the same way, your majesty, does rebirth take place without anything transmigrating."
"Give another illustration."
"Pray, your majesty, did the verse pass over (transmigrate) to you from your teacher?"
"Nay, verily Bhante?"
"In exactly the same way, your majesty, does rebirth take place without anything transmigrating."
"You are an able man, bhante Nagasena."14
In spite of the doctrine of impermanence, there is something permanent about man's existence since rebirth is a possibility. The cycle of existence is yet related to the doctrine of karma in which life continues on permanently, either out of Nirvana or in Nirvana. Conze defines Nirvana as
permanent, stable, imperishable, immovable, ageless, deathless, unborn, and unbecome, that it is power, bliss, and happiness, the secure refuge, the shelter, and the place of unassailable safety; that it is the real Truth and the supreme Reality; that it is the Good, the supreme goal and the one and only consummation of our life, the eternal, hidden and incomprehensible Peace.15
In spite of a very permanent sounding view of Nirvana as defined by Conze, the belief of affirmation of a permanent self is the root of suffering. We will see more of this when we turn to values later.
It is customary to regard Buddha as being very little interested in the question of God's existence. It is true that he rejected the Hindu idea of gods. Buddha reacted negatively against the Hindu God Brahma, different from Brahman, who prided himself on being the creator, on being uncreated himself, and on giving birth to all things. Buddha regarded these claims as vain and prideful. In a more positive way Buddha adopted an agnostic view on the question of a creator. In a practical way one may say that Buddhism, in its original form, was practical atheism.
But a religion without God or gods did not stay that way. The first step is seen in the adoration and worship of Gautama. Since the idea of reincarnation is part of the system, Gautama was believed to have existed before his birth in 563 and he came to earth out of compassion. The next step is seen in Mahayana Buddhism, one of the two major divisions in Buddhism, in which many saviour beings appear. The new savior beings, called Bodhisattvas, are of three kinds: (l) those who appeared in the past, like Gautama, and are no longer living, (2) those now serving in the present of whom the most popular is Avalokitesvara, and (3) those yet to come in the future like Maitreya.
To move from the practical atheism of the founder to the polytheism-like saviour beings of the later movement is quite a revolution. It gives two kinds of Buddhism. Once there was no prayer; now prayer is in. Once there was no outside help, now there are all kinds of saviour-beings to help. Once there was only meditation, now there is worship and prayer.
Which view of Buddhism is correct? Obviously they both are. The Mahayana Buddhist teach that Buddha taught several levels of doctrine based on the needs of the hearers. Both are regarded as correct forms of Buddhism by Mahayanists. The Hinayana reject this explanation.
The realm of living a practical life is where Gautama is most clear and important. He had struggled with the harsh realities of life and sought release from life's problems by means of tortuous self-discipline, but to no avail. Forsaking the route of self-mortification, he came to rest under a Bo-tree and there his enlightment took place. His enlightenment concerned the causes and cessation of suffering. These simple views are summed in the Dear Park Sermon under the heading of the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold path. The Four Noble Truths are:
l) This, monks, is the Noble Truth of Suffering: birth is suffering; illness is suffering; death is suffering; presence of objects we hate is suffering; separation from objects we love is suffering; not to obtain what we desire is suffering. In brief, the five aggregates which spring from grasping, they are painful.
2) This, monks, is the noble truth of the cause of suffering; Thirst, that leads to rebirth, accompanied by pleasure and lust, finding its delight here and there. This thirst is three-fold: namely, thirst for pleasure, thirst for existence, thirst for prosperity.
3) This, monks, is the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering. It ceases with the complete cessation of this thirst--a cessation which consists in the absence of every passion--with deliverance from it, with the destruction of desire.
4) This, monks, is the Noble Truth of the Path which leads to the cessation of suffering: that holy eight-fold path, that is to say, right belief, right aspiration, right speech, right conduct, right means of livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, right meditation.
The four noble truths appear obvious and simple, but some items need more emphasis than others. The second truth is, in some ways, logically prior to the first, namely, suffering is caused. Its most profound cause is desire, or thirst. Desire of things is the cause of misery. The more one desires the more potential misery one faces. If one has a large family of ten that is deeply loved, then the loss of ten members is greater than one. If one has no family, there is no loss. A life without wife, family, goods, houses, wealth and other possessions is a life without desire.
More profoundly, desire leads to the false conclusion that one is a self, or has a self. Thirst for existence merely perpetuates thirst, and there is no end to it, unless one seeks to deal directly with desire or thirst.
Desire is a basic problem of man's existence, but there is an internal contradiction to the problem of desire or thirst. Desire for getting rid of desire is yet desire. Thirst for getting rid of thirst is yet thirst.
The eight-fold path needs some amplification. (l) Right belief means accepting the four Noble Truths as the correct understanding of human suffering. It also implies the usual aspects of Buddhist prohibitions against destroying animals, stealing, lying, frivolity, illegal sexual relations, and other similar vices. (2) Right aspiration or purpose means that one overcomes the things in Right Belief listed above as well as other. Belief is not enough, it must take practical application. (3) Right speech indicates the elimination of lying, slander, profane talk, in a negative sense, and the incorporation of kind, gentle soothing words to people in a positive sense. (4) Right behavior or conduct is the achievement of belief and intention. Right behavior means the actual abstemious of sexual relations, destroying life and other deeds. (5) Right livelihood means that one secures his living in the right manner; it also means the proper use of one's time and energy. (6) Right effort means (A) effort to avoid bringing to one's mind new sources of temptation and evil thoughts, (B) the effort to overcome by sheer will power degenerative ideas that will harm one's progress, (C) the effort to develop one's enlightenment, and (D) the effort to maintain the progress and maturity already achieved. (7) Right mindfulness or attentiveness concerns the self-mastery of one's total being, the body, feelings and mind. (8) Right meditation and concentration refers to the process of complete detachment from all objects and the concentration of one's being for the achievement of Nirvana. The eighth step assumes the end of karma and rebirth.
The four-noble truths and the eight-fold path contains common insight to the problems of living and how to live in dealing with these problems. Moralists of all ages and cultures have been acquainted with these insights. The different aspect in Buddhism is that it is set forth as a way of getting rid of the cycle of rebirth and attaining Nirvana. Buddhism, therefore, as Gautama formulated it, becomes a philosophy or religion of self-achievement.
Buddhism is a remarkable summary of humanist aspirations. It has influenced several different cultures, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese. It holds the loyalty of almost half a billion people. At its best it is a search for the living of life now and escaping from the cycle of rebirth. Like Hinduism it is pessimistic and world-denying. It has the same problem of denying the real value of personality in that the universe caused persons to be and their individuality stands in way to their being united to Nirvana.
The concept of karma can mean destiny, but it also means bad news for one's attitude toward life. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, the law of karma works without recourse. There is no forgiveness and there is no mercy. Nor is God conceived in either Buddhism or Hinduism as a moral being who is interested in his creation. Even when gods are affirmed in later Mahayana Buddhism, they are not basically different from man. They are beings who have achieved merit but do not enter Nirvana.
Buddhism in its beginning may be described as a great humanistic movement. This is both a compliment and a condemnation. To claim that your destiny is in your own hands is a heady doctrine, but it is also terrifying. The sad truth is that humanity has tended to make a mess of itself.
III. CHINESE PHILOSOPHIES
In China we confront two major native philosophies. Taoism and Confucianism. There were lesser rivals as well as the later introduction of Buddhism into the country. For our purpose we speak only of the two. We will attempt to treat them together. Lao Tzu is often dated as being born around 570 B.C. The date of his death is unknown. He is the alleged author of the classic, Tao Te Ching. The customary dates on Confucius are from 551 to 470 B.C. The thought of both men had great influence upon China. Let's turn to the consideration of their views.
Taoism is pronounced as though it were spelled "dow-ism." It is easier to describe the universe from the Taoist view than the Confucian because much is said about it. Taoism is a metaphysics of nature. Following nature is a simple motto for life. Nature and the Tao are defined with reference to each other. The Tao, yet, is indefinable. The Tao Te Ching says,
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao; the name that can be named is not the eternal name. The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth; the named is the mother of all things.16
The Tao is basic. All things must conform to the Tao and if they do not, although one might be successful for a time in going against the Tao, the ultimate end is destruction. The Tao says, "Man conforms to the earth; the earth conforms to the sky, the sky conforms to the Way, and the Way (Tao) conforms to its own nature."17 And "what is contrary to the Tao soon perishes."18
The Tao moves quietly and it is known by intuition. The Taoist model of government is that the less government the better. Both of these ideas are seen in these important statements from the Tao Te Ching.
The Way of Heaven is not to contend and yet to be able to conquer. Not to declare its will and yet to get a response. Not to summon but have things come spontaneously . . . .
Tao produces all things . . . . It produces them without holding possession of them and raises without lording it over them.19
The Tao is the model of life. Following the Tao brings harmony and fighting against it brings tragedy, because the Tao always gets its way ultimately. The Tao Te Ching says,
Nature is not benevolent; with ruthless indifference she makes all things serve their purposes, like the straw dogs we use at sacrifices. What is contrary to the Tao soon perishes. He who is self-approving does not shine. He who exalts himself does not rise high. Judged according to the Tao, he is like remnants of food or a tumor on the body--an object of universal disgust.20
Confucius held similar views to Taoism, about the Tao, but with decidedly different emphases. Taoism is more akin to naive romanticism, whereas Confucius is a practical rationalistic humanist. Nature is the model of the Taoist whereas human nature is the model of the Confucians. Yet Confucius could speak of the Tao which is also the ideal of life which included the virtues, social propriety, and music. The Tao gives the basis for government, for human relations and yet stands above government and human relations. The Tao ran through Confucius' philosophy, but he applied it differently than Lao-tzu. In Lao-tzu the Tao led to a simple society without social concerns. In Confucius, the Tao was a "vision of a cooperative world. It was the conviction that antagonism and suspicion, strife and suffering, were largely unnecessary."21
The concept of heaven in Confucian thought is similar to the Tao. Heaven is not equated with the Christian idea of the future life. Heaven is an impersonal concept which, in Confucius' mind, gave him approval for his actions. Creel says about Confucius, "He looked upon Heaven, however, as the author of his power, which had entrusted him with a sacred mission as the champion of China's culture."22 The threats of his enemies were discounted because Heaven was against them. The conviction that Heaven approved his action gave comfort in times of despair and a sense of vindication when he was wrongly accused. Heaven may be thought of as an "impersonal ethical force, a cosmic counterpart of the ethical sense in man, a guarantee that somehow there is sympathy with man's sense of right in the very nature of the universe."23 One can see that it is easy to use Tao and Heaven interchangeably.
As a philosopher, Confucius was not interested in metaphysical questions that later philosophers dealt with. Questions about the nature of knowledge, how it is acquired, how would one know whether something is true or not, the nature of the way and how it is found, and similar questions are not treated by Confucius. Even if treated there would be no single answer since Confucius advocated a consensus opinion in many things, which grows out of the idea of a cooperative society. Metaphysics was not of great interest as we shall see when we look at the idea of God.
Taoism views man and nature together. Man lives in the matrix of nature. Taoism is an example in ancient times of environmentalism. If the environment is good, man will be good, and the opposite is true. Life will be good and man will live well if he is in tune with the Tao. Just as the Tao is the way of peace, if man follows the Tao he will find peace. Lao-tzu's emphasis was primarily on the nature of the Tao and life according to it. When we look at the nature of ethics, among other things, it will be noted that man is a creature of desires. Yet the Tao is without desires. Desire--somewhat like Buddha's view--is the root problem of man's conflict, competition, and need for a moral code. If there were no desires man would not need a code of ethics or government.
By contrast, Confucius said much about man. Confucius had definite ideas about man and the model of the superior man. The superior man was one who knew about names and duties, and whose action was motivated by jen (pronounced wren) and guided by li. The superior man was a model of the five constant virtues, self-respect, magnanimity, sincerity, earnestness, and benevolence. The superior man is modest, honest, a lover of justice, lives in good taste, and pursues the good because of the nature of good. Confucius was himself a model of the superior man. He said:
At fifteen I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty I stood firm. At forty I had no doubts. At fifty I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At 70 I could do what my heart desired without transgressing what was right.24
Confucius' view of man expressed optimism and freedom. He believed that man could achieve the goal of the model and man has the ability to do it. There is no fatalism in Confucius. This model and these ideas were expressed in Creel's summary: "The man who cultivates and practices virtue, who loves the Way and does his best to try to realize it in the world, he has fulfilled the whole duty of man."25 Confucius believed that men of all classes were objects or persons of worth. They must be treated as persons, not things. This was revolutionary for his time. This equality is seen in the model of the cooperative state. Confucius himself was not awed by rank, power, or wealth. Distinctions were warranted between people who studied and were enlightened against those who were unthinking and ignorant. This emphasis on education was basic to Confucius' life, political program, and philosophy of man.
The goodness of man as an idea runs through the philosophy of Confucius and later Confucians. This simple view is applied in a political theory of moral political example. If a ruler is a good person, then from the top down people will begin to be good. He said, "If a country had none but good rulers for a hundred years, crime might be stamped out and the death-penalty abolished. How true this saying is!"26 On another occasion he was asked by a ruler how he should rule. Confucius replied, "To govern is to keep straight. If you, sir, lead the people straight, which of your subjects will venture to fall out of line?" In another conversation he used the analogy of the wind and the grass. It is the nature of the wind, the ruler, to blow upon the grass (the people) which bends with the blowing.
Moreover, there is a good bit of idealism seen in the rectification of names, which means that a prince should be princely, a father should be fatherly, a child should be filially pious. You can live up to your calling.
There is nothing higher than the Tao. It is superior to all things and is before all things. The Tao is not transcendent in the sense of God in western thought. The Tao is impersonal and one does not worship the Tao; one meditates on it. The Tao does not respond to persons. One does not think of mercy or forgiveness coming from the Tao. One does not sacrifice to the Tao. The Tao Te Ching does not give us a religion. But some passages have been used to foster the magical phase of Taoism that was interested in alchemy and other areas. The irony of the movement is that Lao-tzu was eventually apotheosized (made into a god) and heavenly associates were created for him. Much of this came from imitation of the Buddhists. Some of the gods in Taoism were deliberately fabricated for the express purpose of political saving of face. Scriptures were created, monastic groups organized, temples erected, and religious rites carried on for the sake of politics and competition against the influential Buddhists in China.
The views of Confucius about God or gods is somewhat vague. Confucius left few statements on the matter. We are told that he deliberately did not speak about "spirit," the reason being that if one is not able to serve man, how can one possibly serve the spirits. Confucius did say that wisdom is "to attend diligently to concerns which are proper to the people; and to respect the spirits and maintain the proper distance from them."27 His participation in sacrifices appears to have been out of a love for ceremony rather than actually believing in the value of the sacrifices.
He talked about Heaven rather than a personal deity by the name of Ti. Creel summarizes the attitude of Confucius about God.
Here is the key, then, to Confucius' attitude toward religion. He believed in it, apparently, but he was not much interested in it. It had to do with the realm of forces beyond man's control. But Confucius was interested in making over an intolerable world into a good world; what nothing could be done about did not concern him very much.24
Although a thousand years after the death of Confucius an official state cult had grown up with sacrifices and prayers to Confucius, these things are foreign to the way Confucius regarded himself.
The Tao Te Ching is concerned primarily with ethics as related to the Tao. There are certain ethical qualities to be emulated: humility, selflessness, genuineness, non-meddlesomeness, and similar virtues. This idea of wu-wei, or inaction, refers also to non-meddlesomeness. Wu-wei means to achieve without doing, and has several applications: (1) human relations-- ". . . if one does not meddle with others, human relations will fall as the Tao brings them to pass, naturally and simply. There will be spontaneous birth of true love, real kindness, simplicity, and contentment in the lives and relationships of men . . .;" (2) education-- "without going out of the doors, one can know the whole world. Without peering out of the window one can see the Tao of heaven. The further one travels, the less one knows. Therefore the sage knows everything without traveling; He names everything without seeing it. He accomplishes everything without doing it."29 (3) learning-- "The student learns by daily increment. The Way is gained by daily loss. By letting go, it all gets done;"30 (4) government-- "Tao is eternal, inactive, and yet it leaves nothing undone. If kings and princes could hold fast to this principle, all things would work out their own reformation."31
Too much government leads to bureaucracy. Too many laws make people into criminals. The key to inaction's success is eliminating the desire which causes conflict and competition, leading to the necessity of laws and government. The ideal community is sketched in the Tao Te Ching.
Make the people's food sweet, their clothes beautiful, their houses comfortable, their daily life a source of pleasure. Then the people will look at the country over the border, will hear the cocks crowing and the dogs barking there, but right down to old age and the day of their death, they will not trouble to go there (and see what it is like).32
In summary, the Tao Te Ching presents an idyllic
pastoral view of ethics that is optimistic, but unsuccessful in application
to Chinese politics.
Confucius centered his ethical ideas around four ideas: li, hsiao, yi, and jen. (A) Li means propriety, courtesy, religion, rites, reverence, ritual and ceremony as well as a well-ordered society. For our purpose here li may be understood as the form, the facade, or course of proper action. It was important for Confucius and he explained to a ruler once that "li is the greatest. Without li, we do not know how to conduct a proper worship of the spirits of the universe or how to establish the proper status of the kings and the ministers, the ruler and the ruled, and the elders and the juniors . . . ."33 Within the context of li one can see Confucius' principle of reciprocity: "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." This so-called Silver Rule is not the same as the Golden Rule. Confucius was asked: "What do you think of repaying evil with kindness?" which would have been more true to the Golden Rule. He replied, "Then what are you going to repay kindness with? . . . Repay kindness with kindness, but repay evil with justice."34
Li relates to the Five Relationship also. They are:
Kindness in the father, filial piety in the son,
Gentility in the eldest brother, humility and respect in the younger,
Righteous behavior in the husband, obedience in the
The conclusion of Confucius was that where these five relationships are actualized according to li, there a harmonious society will result.
(B) Jen (wren). If li is the form, then jen is the motivation for action. Jen means magnanimity, benevolence, human-heartedness, goodness. It is the motivation for virtue and if a man has jen he will live according to li.
(C) Yi. Yi means righteousness. This is the sense of doing right because of the commanding quality of right itself. As a general rule Confucius believed that right should be pursued as a matter of principle and not for profit. Nothing was higher than the claim of right with the exception of one situation. If a member of one's family committed murder, would a son shield the father or turn him over to the state. In this case, shielding--the priority of the family loyalty--seems to be the view of Confucius, although one must not push this too far.36
(D) Hsiao, or filial piety. This involves reverence for one's family, parents first of all, and then other members according to their respective positions. Loyalty to the family has been one of the trademarks of Confucius' thought. Examples of it are seen in many of the conversations of Confucius. Once he said:
Whilst thy father lives look for his purpose, look how he walked. To change nothing in thy father's way for three years may be called pious.
He that can feed his parents is now called a good son. But both dogs and horses are fed, and unless we honor our parents, what is the difference.37
The sense of family solidarity is so intense that one may say that a child never becomes of age in China. The father is the authority both in life and in death. The worship and reverence of ancestors continue the influences of the dead fathers to the present living.
Both Taoism and Confucianism have had great influence on Chinese culture. As philosophies they are not altogether opposites. They both share the idea of the Tao with different applications. We will look at each separately. (1) Taoism lacks depth and insight concerning the nature of the Tao, how it is known, and why it should be followed. To follow nature, or the Tao, is not much more than saying, whatever is, ought to be. It is unfortunate that Taoism arose as a religion later which is contrary to the Tao Te Ching and the views of Lao-tzu. The ethic of the Tao Te Ching is interesting as far as it goes, but it does not have the appeal of the rationalism of Confucius.
(2) Confucianism is much better in its approach to humanism. The rationality of Confucius' views explain why it triumphed over its other rivals including Taoism and ruled China for over 2000 years. But the questions of the human heart are left unanswered and require the entry and contribution of Buddhism to give Chinese life a more adequate religious answer. Confucianism leaves unanswered the questions of life after death and the existence of God. The naive optimism of Confucius' ethic is something that gets to the heart of every romantic person who asks: why can't mankind live in harmony? The analysis of man in both Confucian and Taoist views is inadequate. The problem of evil, and the misery of man need more complete and serious attempts at explanation than one can find in either Confucius or Lao-tzu.
IV. JAPANESE SHINTO
Japanese thought has been influenced by two "foreign" sources, Buddhism and Confucianism. It is difficult to keep a clear perspective on what is specifically Japanese. Writing was introduced to the Japanese by the Chinese as well as politics and ethics. Shinto, however, is native to Japan and although it was influenced by Buddhism through the centuries, our concern here is with Shinto as it is understood in Japan today.
Shinto has a mythology expressed in the Kojiki (712 A.D.) and the Nihongi (720 A.D.). There is a succession of deities prior to Izanagi (the Male who invites) and Izanami (the Female who is invited). The couple give birth to the Japanese islands by procreation. The last deity born to them is Amaterasu and her younger brother Susano-o-no-mikoto, a mischievous trouble-maker. Later Amaterasu sent her grandson, Ninigi-no-mikoto to bring peace to the Japanese islands. "Ninigi's grandson, Jimmu Tenno, became the first ruler of the Yamato clan and the founder of the Imperial Family still reigning."38 The myth also describes other deities born who become the Japanese people.
The myth does not give an indication of other peoples of the world. It is the basis of the sense of superiority expressed in Japanese history and yet prevalent in current newspaper editorials in Japan.
The myth stresses the goodness of the world, a world in which progress is made from chaos to order, to harmony and unity. All reality is alive in some way. Reality includes the kami (gods) as well as nature in general.
The myth affords an explanation for the corporate attitude in the Japanese view of reality. Not only is there a relationship with the living, but there is a relationship with the dead. The living now recognize the dead. The dead return annually at the Bon festivals and are honored. Reincarnation is not a Shinto doctrine as in Buddhism, or Hinduism. The dead are honored and in turn bestow their blessing on the living.
While the myth itself describes nature from a fairly polytheistic
viewpoint, it is not too far from a mild pantheism. The term "mild"
is used because there is not a world soul embodying the earth as a reality
as Brahman and the world are identified in Hinduism.
The common word for "man" is hito. Man is not only a child of kami, but he will become a kami. It is possible even to describe man now as a kami. The distinction of contrast between man and kami is hard to draw.39 Man owes his life to the kami, to his ancestors, and man is conceived in thought as good, not as having lost a primordial existence. Man is a direct biological descendent of the kami.
There is no doctrine of original sin as in the West, "no end of the world, no day of final judgement, no souls waiting for deliverance from the stains of sin, and no need for a savior."40 Thirty-three years after death the soul becomes a kami, a state of happiness, and assumes the role of protector of the family.
The soul of a baby enters the body of the fetus four months before birth. It is now a human being. This explains the easy attitude toward abortion. If there are no stirrings in the womb, the fetus is not viewed as a living being.
Shinto has not stressed individualism, but the "being-in-community." A person is raised in a community and decisions are made on the basis of community, ancestors, parents, family, peers, the corporation, the University, and the state. Professor Ono has written, "Man is born with a purpose, a mission, in life. On the one hand, he has the responsibility of realizing the hopes and ideals of his ancestors. On the other hand, he has the inescapable duty of treating his descendents with even greater love and care, so that they too realize the hopes and ideals of the ancestral spirits. Reverence for ancestors must never be neglected. It is the only way in which man's life can be lived which will fulfill the reason for his coming into this world."41
Man's life has been more structured in Japanese society than Western societies. There is strong emphasis placed on "harmonious integration (wa) of group members."42 This integration takes place within the group to which one belongs, not across groups. The individual has little chance to learn sociability with people in general or in other groups. It would be awkward for a politician to have a conversation with a professor. There is little communication between intellectuals of various disciplines.
Japan has been a man's world and still is in many ways. Women could not climb the sacred mountain of Fuji until 1868. They are still prohibited from other sacred areas, mostly because of menstrual impurity. The ideal goal for a woman is to marry, raise a family, and care for her husband. Boys have been spoiled from youth up and the wife is supposed to continue this role in marriage.
Man has a responsibility toward the kami, his ancestors, and society, but when it is understood that man and the kami are the same, there can be no worship in the Western sense, only reverence and respect. Shinto is a racial religion, linked closely with the Japanese customs and ways of thinking. The central focus is the kami.
The word kami means god. What is a kami? The most oft-quoted description is that of Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) who confessed ignorance on the subject but then continued with one of the most elaborate definitions in writing.
I do not yet understand the meaning of the term, kami. Speaking in general, however, it may be said that kami signifies, in the first place, the deities of heaven and earth that appear in the ancient records and also the spirits of the shrines where they are worshipped.
It is hardly necessary to say that it includes human beings. It also includes such objects as birds, beasts, trees, plants, seas, mountains, and so forth. In ancient usage, anything whatsoever which was outside the ordinary, which possessed superior power or which was awe-inspiring was called kami. Eminence here does not refer merely to the superiority of nobility, goodness, or meritorious deeds. Evil and mysterious things, if they are extraordinary and dreadful, are called kami. It is needless to say that among human beings who are called kami the successive generations of sacred emperors are all included. The fact that emperors are also called "distant kami" is because, from the standpoint of common people, they are far separated, majestic, and worthy of reverence. In a lesser degree we find, in the present as well as in the ancient times, human beings who are kami. Although they may not be accepted throughout the whole country, yet in each province, each village, and each family there are human beings who are kami, each one according to his own proper position. The kami of the divine age were for the most part human beings of that time, and because the people of that time were all kami, it is called the Age of the Gods (kami).43
Sokyo Ono agreed with Motoori's description and added, "To put it succinctly, the deities of Shinto are not supernatural absolute beings, but rather spiritualizations of all things in the Universe."44
There are said to be eighty myriads of kami. This is the Japanese way of describing innumerable existences. The better known kami venerated in the more than 80,000 shrines is about 2,500. Kami come and go in the minds of people.
One may readily see the contrast of views about God from that in the West. Shinto is not monotheistic. There is no Supreme being, only beings; no Creator, but creators in a limited sense, and no creation ex nihilo.
Belief in kami varies from the country to the city, with the rural areas having a greater positive response to accepting kami belief. Science and education have made inroads against believing in the kami. Secularism has increased to the point where one prominent Shintoist complained, "We are raising a nation of ahteists in Japan."45
The lack of an ethical system has created considerable feuding in the past between Chinese and Japanese scholars. The Chinese ridiculed the Japanese for lacking a system, a set of rules, and regarded the Japanese as little better than barbarians. The Japanese defended themselves by maintaining that only a decadent people needed an ethical system. The Japanese lived natural lives that conformed to virtue without the necessity of having to teach it.
Shinto ideology is that "man by nature is inherently good, and the world in which he lives is good. This is the kami-world . . . That by which good and evil can be distinguished is the soul of man. This distinction is made possible by the help of the kami."46
In light of the above, there is no set of commandments, a la Ten Commandments, nor is there a prophet or legislator in the manner of Moses.
Japanese society is geared to a relative morality. The Ancient myths centered on civil wrongs relating to agriculture such as the breaking down of division of rice fields, filling up irrigation ditches and the like. Shinto itself does not condemn adultery or dishonesty as an absolute. There are sayings like "even a thief may be 30 percent right."47
The situation ethic may be seen in the experiences of WW II when Japanese were taken prisoner. "Some men asked to be killed, `but if your customs do not permit this, I will be a model prisoner.'"48 These men helped in locating ammunition dumps, military targets, etc.
Loyalty has been a prime virtue in Japanese history, but some of this comes from Buddhist influences in the Bushido code: loyalty to the Emperor, to the ancestors, family, corporation. This is expressed in the concept of bun, or portion. A person is a fraction, a part, a share of society. One's bun may involve the idea of reciprocity, or the word on. Reciprocity involves gift-giving as well as other sacrifices that one may make for the ancestors or family.
Japanese have been known for honesty. What accounts for it? "The deep concern for one's honor and still more so the honor of one's family is also a very effective substitute for a list of do's and don'ts. `Honor is the only tie that binds the Japanese to the ethical world.'"49
To achieve honor fulfills a sense of destiny, to fail in honor has frequently lead to suicide.
It is difficult to assess another culture as an outsider, but there are some questions one raises. The first area relates to the fundamental issue of reality--the kami. The kami are little different than humans, and while respect is to be given to all humans, veneration and worship is not warranted. Without doubt people do pray and seek the favor of the kami, and this creates the ultimate issue of idolatry. From a Western stance one should not worship a product of one's hands, a creature, something that is not ultimate.
Many Westerners have also adopted a situation ethic and this poses few problems to them. But there are others who view the lack of a normative ethical code as a serious problem.
The chart on the following page may help to sort out the different emphases of the four views of the Orient.
Reality Brahma-Atman Annica--impermanence
Man Tat tvam asi-that A composite of
God All is divine Practical Atheism
Values Non-injury--ahimsa Desire is
cause of suffering
Reality Tao is basic Tao is important
Man Desire is man's Confucius interested in
God Nothing higher Believed in will of
Values Model of wu-wei-- Li,
hsiao, yi, jen
Reality Matter is born of the kami
Japanese people are good
All living beings have an
Man Man is born good
God Kami are many
Values No "system" of ethics
For Further Study
The Analects of Confucius. Translated by Arthus Waley. New York:
Macmillan Co., 1938.
1John B. Noss, Man's Religion, revised edition, New York: The Macmillan Co., 1956, p. 113.
2Ibid., p. 129.
3John M. Koller, Oriental Philosophies, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970, p. 25.
4Ibid., p. 25.
5Ibid., p. 79.
6Noss, op. cit., p. 132.
7Koller, op. cit., p. 26.
8Ibid., p. 35.
9Ibid., p. 53.
10Ibid., p. 41.
11Ibid., p. 42.
12Ibid., p. 43.
13Ibid., p. 158.
14Noss, op. cit., p. 169.
15Edward Conze, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1959, p. 40.
16Koller, op. cit., p. 236.
17Quinter Marcellus Lyon, The Great Religions, New York: Odyssey Pres, 1957, p. 292.
19Noss, op. cit., p. 317.
20Ibid., p. 316.
21H.G. Creel, Confucius and the Chinese Way, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960, p. 123.
22Ibid., p. 116.
23Ibid., p. 117.
24Noss, op. cit., p. 360.
25Creel, op. cit., p. 130.
26Noss, op. cit., p. 354.
27Creel, op. cit., p. 115.
28Ibid., p. 122.
30Lyon, op. cit., p. 297.
31Noss, op. cit., p. 321.
32Ibid., p. 321.
33Ibid., p. 348.
34Ibid., p. 350.
35Ibid., p. 351.
36Creel, op. cit., p. 127.
37Noss, op. cit., p. 353.
38Joseph J. Spae, Shinto Man, Tokyo: Oriens Institute for Religious Research, 1972, p. 20.
39Ibid., p. 31.
40Ibid., p. 36.
41Sokyo Ono, Shinto, The Kami Way, Tokyo: Charles e. Tuttle (no year), p. 104.
42Chie Nakane, Japanese Society, Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1970-73, p. 52.
43D.C. Holton, The National Faith of Japan, London: Kegan, Trench, Trubner, 1938, p. 23.
44Sokyo Ono, An Outline of Shinto Teachings, Tokyo: Jinja Honcho, 1958, p. 8.
45Spae, op. cit., p. 45.
46Ono, Shinto, The Kami Way, pp. 106-7.
47Takie Sugiyame Lebra, Japanese Patterns of Behavior, Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press, 1976, p. 11.
48Ibid., p. 13.
49Jean Herbert, Shinto, London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1967, p. 76.
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