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Example research essay topic: Yin And Yang Lao Tzu - 2,592 words

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Confucianism and Taoism Confucianism is a rigid set of social guidelines and rituals based on ones place in a mainly patriarchal society. Taoism is based on the harmony of the universe and the union of polar opposites-Yin and Yang; a philosophy that one lives their life by. In times of war, Confucianism is prevalent while Taoism is usually practiced during peace. In this essay I will explain how both Confucianism and Taoism, two major Chinese traditions, complement each other as a part of Chinese concept of cosmic order. Confucius was a failed politician, great teacher, and Eastern democrat. It is said that culture provides a set of rituals to fall back upon in an unknown situation, like shaking hands with someone when meeting them for the first time.

Living during a time of constant war, when morals and ethics were at an all-time low, he drew up a set of strict guidelines for the immoral man to follow. Confucianism, major system of thought in China, developed from the teachings of Confucius and his disciples, and concerned with the principles of good conduct, practical wisdom, and proper social relationships. Confucianism has influenced the Chinese attitude toward life, set the patterns of living and standards of social value, and provided the background for Chinese political theories and institutions. It has spread from China to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam and has aroused interest among Western scholars. Although Confucianism became the official ideology of the Chinese state, it has never existed as an established religion with a church and priesthood. Chinese scholars honored Confucius as a great teacher and sage but did not worship him as a personal god.

Nor did Confucius himself ever claim divinity. Unlike Christian churches, the temples built to Confucius were not places in which organized community groups gathered to worship, but public edifices designed for annual ceremonies, especially on the philosopher's birthday. Several attempts to deify Confucius and to proselyte Confucianism failed because of the essentially secular nature of the philosophy. The principles of Confucianism are contained in the nine ancient Chinese works handed down by Confucius and his followers, who lived in an age of great philosophic activity. These writings can be divided into two groups: the Five Classics and the Four Books. The keynote of Confucian ethics is ren, variously translated as love, goodness, humanity, and human-heartedness.

Ren is a supreme virtue representing human qualities at their best. In human relations, construed as those between one person and another, ren is manifested in zhong, or faithfulness to oneself and others, and shu, or altruism, best expressed in the Confucian golden rule, Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself. Other important Confucian virtues include righteousness, propriety, integrity, and filial piety. One who possesses all these virtues becomes a quiz (perfect gentleman). Politically, Confucius advocated a paternalistic government in which the sovereign is benevolent and honorable and the subjects are respectful and obedient. The ruler should cultivate moral perfection in order to set a good example to the people.

In education Confucius upheld the theory, remarkable for the feudal period in which he lived, that in education, there is no class distinction. With the flow of time the ideas of Confucius were further developed, which resulted into creation of Neo-Confucian movements. Neo-Confucianism branched out into two schools of philosophy. The foremost exponent of one school was Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi), an eminent thinker second only to Confucius and Mencius in prestige, who established a new philosophical foundation for the teachings of Confucianism by organizing scholarly opinion into a cohesive system. According to the Neo-Confucianist system Zhu Xi represented, all objects in nature are composed of two inherent forces: li, an immaterial universal principle or law; and qi (chi), the substance of which all material things are made. Whereas qi may change and dissolve, li, the underlying law of the myriad things, remains constant and indestructible.

Zhu Xi further identifies the li in humankind with human nature, which is essentially the same for all people. The phenomenon of particular differences can be attributed to the varying proportions and densities of the qi found among individuals. Thus, those who receive a qi that is turbid will find their original nature obscured and should cleanse their nature to restore its purity. Purity can be achieved by extending one's knowledge of the li in each individual object.

When, after much sustained effort, one has investigated and comprehended the universal li or natural law inherent in all animate and inanimate objects, one becomes a sage. Opposed to the li (law) school is the xin (mind) school of Neo-Confucianism. The chief exponent of the xin school was Wang Yangming, who taught the unity of knowledge and practice. His major proposition was that apart from the mind, neither law nor object exists. In the mind, he asserted, are embodied all the laws of nature, and nothing exists without the mind. Ones supreme effort should be to develop the intuitive knowledge of the mind, not through the study or investigation of natural law, but through intense thought and calm meditation.

During the Qing dynasty (Ching dynasty, 1644 - 1911) there was a strong reaction to both the li and xin schools of Neo-Confucian thought. Qing scholars advocated a return to the earlier and supposedly more authentic Confucianism of the Han period, when it was still unadulterated by Buddhist and Taoist ideas. They developed textual criticism of the Confucian Classics based on scientific methodology, using philology, history, and archaeology to reinforce their scholarship. In addition, scholars such as Dai Chen introduced an empiricist point of view into Confucian philosophy. Taoism and the Tao Te Ching was written by Lao Tzu who, when disgusted with society, and moved away. At the gate, he was asked by a gatekeeper to write down his teachings.

It is the way of the universe, reality, and human life. Taoism is meant to extract chi (energy) from life through herbs, movement, and meditation. Popular Taoism is spiritualism and magic, akin to New Age religions. By living a life of wu wei, ultimately active and relaxed, one can appreciate the greatness of life. The quote Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river, written by Lao Tse exemplifies the magnificent foundation of the Taoist philosophy.

The statement illustrates the power of forces in opposition believed to be inhabiting and controlling our universe. While one may remain physically still, in the mind, one may dream and imagine ideas and thoughts beyond our realm of reality. This interpretation of the quote brings our attention to the incredible balance between the complementary but opposing forces of stillness and movement. Taoist philosophy promotes living simply and in harmony with nature, and going with the flow. Although the Tao cannot be sufficiently described in words, it is a commonly referred to as a phenomenon that can be experienced by one in perfect harmony with the universe. Only when the Tao is in balance, is it believed possible to find perfect happiness.

Overall, Taoists believe that by following the ways of the natural world, observing strict meal and meditative guidelines, and not struggling with their lot in life, they can achieve improved health and most importantly, an inner calmness. Attainment of inner peace and tranquility can lead one along the path of becoming one with the Tao, the ultimate goal of all believers. The Taoists believed that healthy human life could exist only in accordance with the Tao, whose interpretations and teachings encourage one to go with the flow around them and not to struggle against the tide (Hansen, 21). Early Taoists conformed their actions in life with the natural way of things, always accepting of the lives that nature provided for them. The philosophy prides itself in the trust and attempt to understand the balance and power of the world and educates that in times of unbalance, all disorder and chaos that proceed to arise can be put to an end following the restoration of balance. If one can tap into this precious and steadfast resource and allow the world to be their guide, all will be at peace.

It is believed that the true Taoist will become enlightened when they can listen and recognize this way of the world, and can accept and understand the continuous flow of the Tao within the universe. According to Taoist philosophy, every object or matter in the world contains both Yin and Yang, which is why there is a portion of the Yang in Yin, and vice versa. The Chinese strongly believe that when something nears reaching its extreme, it becomes its polar opposite, as illustrated by the symbol. To illustrate this concept, for example, consider an ordinary balloon.

As the balloon fills to its extreme with air, the balloon will certainly burst, causing a transformation to a deflated piece of rubber. As illustrated by the symbol where Yin and Yang intersect, opposing forms are only a thin line from their counterparts. It would be very simple to re-inflate the balloon, creating a return to its original form, the opposite of its burst condition. Taoist philosophy infers that when opposing forces exist in balance all is calm, while on the other hand, when one force is disproportionate to its complement confusion and disorder arise. This bipolar worldview does not pertain to the principles of good and evil, but instead, yang and yin represent equally essential forces in the dynamics of an impersonal universe (Thompson, 3). One who can recognize the Yang and Yin in all matter will possess the capability to understand the philosophy of the Tao.

In summary, it can be explained that all things in life will move in one direction, and eventually in the other creating a healthy balance in the end. It is a Taoist belief that one who has reached this point in understanding the universe will be able to predict the outcome of events and situations and readily accept the constant evolution of life. In light of this thought, the philosophy encourages the Taoist to gain knowledge of what cannot be physically seen or felt by creating potential opposites of what can be seen and experienced. For example, operating under Taoist frame of thought allows one to assume the existence of another world, such as heaven from the existence of that which can be observed on Earth. Both will fail to exist without a complement, and the complement of earth by heaven would make perfect sense to the Taoist philosopher.

The idea of balance stands as the basis of a large portion of Taoist philosophy. An equally important concept in Taoist thought is that of change. The idea of a ceaseless flow of change can be seen throughout other aspects of Taoist philosophy (Thompson, 5). Along with the importance of change represented by the Yin Yang symbol, the philosophy addresses the constant evolution within what it is referred to as the Five Elements. These elements include wood, fire, earth, metal and water and are believed to be phases of a constantly moving cycle (En Britannica).

Each of the elements symbolize and correspond to certain objects and events in the universe such as colors, directions, parts of the body and seasons, among others. In Taoist philosophy, the element wood is seen to represent the direction of east, the season of spring and the color green; the element fire to represent the south, the summer and the color red; and the element earth to represent the center and the color yellow. In addition, metal is seen to represent the west, the autumn and the color white, while water represents the north, the winter and the color black. In addition of their recognition for the direct representation of objects and events, the five elements are understood to represent change and evolution. Each element is believed to evolve and replace the previous, similar to the process of the changing seasons. Two cycles can be seen at work within the rotation of the five elements, one constructive and one destructive.

In the constructive or creative cycle, burning wood creates fire, fire leaves ashes to create earth, earth contains ore, creating metal. In turn, metal melts, creating water, which nourishes plant life and creates wood, completing the cycle. On the other hand in the destructive cycle it is believed that wood hinders and destroys earth, earth becomes polluted destroying water, and water extinguishes fire. In completion of the cycle, fire melts and destroys metal and metal in turn destroys wood. These cycles have a practical use in the Taoist philosophy, that of restoring a balance of energy in a body which has been upset by for example, grief or unhappiness. Since grief is seen in correspondence to metal, earthy herbs with a metal boosting nature may be recommended, and any fire related foods may eliminated from ones diet, as fire destroys metal.

Most importantly, the five elements represent the underlying philosophy of the Tao that everything changes, and furthermore, changes in accordance to a universal law, and that appreciating the changes and working with and not against them makes for a peaceful and happy life (En Britannica). As well as its focus on many other concepts, the Taoist philosophy relies heavily on the concept of nothingness and the realization of the true importance of that which is empty. In the Chinese philosophy, meditation and contemplation are used in many ritualistic procedures and an empty mind is viewed as the ultimate attainment (web). It is believed that a mind that has no preconceptions or rigid plans is far more flexible than that filled with sturdy views and afflictions (Thompson 8). It during the time when one practices the art of doing nothing that the mind and body can truly relax and experience an inner peace. To illustrate this concept utilizing the example of a ship or vessel, the philosophy would place heavy emphasis on the inside emptiness of the ship, understanding that without this nothingness the boat would lack the inner balance to float.

Without nothingness in the world, matter and activity would throw our universe out of balance. Even though Confucianism and Taoism are hard to understand, the basic teachings we all grew up with are there. Jesus Christ told us that we must listen to God; Confucius said rituals are the way to true happiness; and Lao-Tzu believed that all the answers are found deep within ourselves. Chinese thought has tended toward humanism rather than spiritualism, rationalism rather than mysticism, and syncretism rather than sectarianism. (Ames 1983: 114) While Confucianism focuses mainly on social order, Taoism puts its central focus on being one with nature.

Even though Confucianism and Taoism had different concepts about the way (Tao), the common denominator of both schools was to achieve total harmony in the society. With Legalism developing a political philosophy that emphasized strict laws and harsh punishments in the control of every aspect of human society. As all the three beliefs displayed such diverse concepts, they all reigned as the official religion of China for either brief or prolonged periods, reinforcing the fact that although there are similarities and differences between all three philosophies, ultimately they reigned supreme during their time. Bibliography: Ames, Roger 1983, The Art of Ruler ship: A Study in Ancient Chinese Political Thought, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu. Thompson, Paul 1979, The Shenzi Fragments, Oxford University Press, London. Hansen, Chad 1992, A Taoist Theory of Chinese Thought, Oxford University Press, New York.

Thomas, Roy 1981, China: The Awakening Giant, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, Vancouver. web


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