Free Essay About What Is Religion?
In light of recent studies involving primal, Confucianism and Taoism certain elements of religion are emerging. The elements of religion are found in all religions, they are common characteristics that help to define a religion. The elements include: belief in supernatural powers; belief in the holy or sacred; there is a system of rituals; sins or profane acts; a method of salvation; procedures for worship; ideology that is written or shared through oral tradition and a place where worship occurs (Eight Basic Elements”).
Confucianism id a blending of the social teachings of Confucius and ancient Chinese religion. It is often argued and contemplated whether Confucianism should be regarded as a religion or a social and ethical construct. Regardless, Confucian lessons and practices are still a part of Chinese culture in all areas of life: personal; familial; community; business and political. According to ancient Chinese beliefs, there is Earth and there is Heaven. The ancestors that came before and have died lead the way to heaven. They wait for their family to come and join them. In ancient Chinese belief, Heaven and Earth were a continuum. Earth led to Heaven and communication between the two was important. Communication occurred through sacrifice. The Chinese who inhabited Earth would provide sacrifices to their ancestors. The ancestors would respond through augury, signs and omens. Confucius in his teachings did not discount the concept of Earth and Heaven and the ancestors, instead he turned the focus onto how to live on Earth as a person who is still alive. He stated, “Recognize that you know what you know and that you are ignorant of what you do not know.” (Smith 354). He advocated pity from the younger generation towards their elders. Family was tied to each other and obligated to each other.
Confucian beliefs and doctrines are written in the Five Classics: I Ching or the Book of Classics; Book of Documents, a history; Classic Poetry; Book of Rites or social norms and Spring and Autumn Annals. The Four Books, contain the teachings, sayings and commentaries of Confucius, Mencius and followers. These written traditions are a guide to government, business, society and culture.
The Deliberate Traditions provide the guides for perfection and expectations for behavior. Jen is both humanity for others and respect for one’s self. Chun Tzu is this person who achieves the relationship described by Jen. Li is both how things should be done and using the words to describe the right way of doing these things. Te describes leadership of people and Wen, which is the art of peace (music, poetry and spirituality) (Smith 330-343). These are the guides for living life in a good and moral way. To ignore and not follow these teachings would be viewed as living profanely.
Lao Tzu, as the man was called was born and lived in mystery. He lived during the same time as Confucius. It is told that Confucius even visited Lao Tzu once, intrigued by his ideas. He likened him to a dragon, a creature that cannot be caught. His life is uncertain and many legends have grown up around him. He was born a full grown man with a white beard or that he rode away on day on a water buffalo towards what is now Tibet. Despite the mystery that surrounds his existence. He wrote a thin book, The Way and Its Power, which describes nature and man’s place in it (Smith 375-376).
Tao represents a path or a way. For man, the concept in its entirety is unimaginable and impossible to grasp. It is the ground where all life comes from and returns to. It also represents the rhythm of nature and the universe. It is described as the principle that orders all life. When this energy and rhythm are in man it is the way of life (Smith 378-379).
Taoism is both a philosophy and a religion. Philosophical Taoism is either the conservation of Tao or the expression of Tao. Teacher of Taoism guide students to avoid conflict and friction because it wastes Tao. Instead the coach people to learn and “know”. Those who are of the belief that Tao should be used and increased in themselves. To do so, these students practice controlling their breathing, exercise and diets. The use their mind in deep contemplation and meditation (Smith 383-384).
The religious side of Tao uses the principles of the philosophy along with as Huston puts it “Chinese folk religion” (390). There are a myriad of rituals associated with Taoism. Some make seem cheap or superstitious to Westerners of modern times, but their roots are deep in Chinese tradition and culture. The purpose of these rituals is to release energy so that is can be seen and act in the conscious and natural world. There is a natural relationship and progression in philosophical and religious Taoism according to Smith. They set out to maximize te and the energy of the universe.
The religious Taoism uses priests and their assistants for the practice of rituals due to their complexity. These rituals are meant to maximize the energy of the universe. Balance (yin and yang) in the universe and in the community is sought. Worship of various deities that usually represented nature (rains, clouds, rivers). The practice of worshipping and offering sacrifices for ancestors is also popular. Like Confucianism, there is no “sinful” acts. Instead there is man should strive towards balance and the seeking of the te.
The majority of primal religions are extinct or practiced by dwindling numbers of people. The Aborigines of Australia and some Native American tribes still maintain the practice of their religions. From these sources, many similarities are found in their beliefs. This lost can be attributed to native peoples that have disappeared mysteriously or destroyed by educated and religious men. The Spaniards wiped out many South and Central American tribes by spreading small pox. Missionaries have converted entire tribes to Christianity.
Primal describes the belief systems of man before the dawn of civilization and written word. The stories and principles of these religions from every corner of the globe were maintained through oral tradition. Where Confucius and Lao Szu had their written thoughts to share with others, primitive man did not.
A common thread in most primal religions is the concept of place. Place is beyond a finite amount of space. Place is where we experience it. No two places on earth are the same. Place and the objects that inhabit it are sacred to most primal religions. Their uniqueness is respected. A tree occupies the place it is meant to be, as does a river or a mountain (Smith 689).
Time is eternal. Smith (690) describes how most modern religions tend to focus forward toward the future, towards salvation. Primal religions hold time as a constant, we are always in the now. There was a cause for the now. There is a “Source”. A time when the gods ordered the things in the world. Renewal of nature occurs every year in primal religions and it is celebrated (Smith 691).
Individual man is an integral part of his tribe and his tribe is a part of nature and the world. These connections are important and powerful. A representation of this oneness with nature is the adoption of an animal as the tribe’s totem. The bond with this animal demonstrates the oneness of man with nature. The rites of primal religions may seem like attempts to control the animal or other aspects of nature, such as rain but this is a fallacy. Instead these rites serve to maintain the natural order of life in oneness with nature. (Smith 696).
Most primal religions do have minor deities that they worship but they are representative of nature. Most religions also have a main god who is not necessarily identified as such. Like Taoism and its recognition of the energy and rhythm of the universe, most primal religions acknowledge a Supreme Being who cannot be identified or describe but who can be felt. The Supreme is felt and seen in nature and the order in it.
Each of these religions demonstrate the elements of religion in very subtle ways. Confucianism and Taoism combined the philosophies and teachings of Confucius and Lao Tzu with established Chinese religion and the gods and ancestors they worshipped. Primal religions also have an Unseen and Unknowable Power that is responsible for the universe and nature. While Confucianism and Taoism have books that were written by their founders, primal religions relied on an oral tradition. None of these religions describe “sins” but they all promote a way of life that demands moral conduct as defined by their societies. The use of the power and rhythm of mature and the universe can guide man to live a good life.
“Eight Basic Elements of Religion.” Preserve Papers. n.d. Web 25 Mar. 2015.
Smith, Huston. The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. New York: Harper
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