Our additional pages concerning the other Religions are a contribution to better understanding and to the interreligious dialogue. In this additional page we go into the similarities and differences between traditional Taoism, Confucianism and Christian teachings for those who are conscious of their own spiritual depth. It is not an attempt to describe the old Chinese religions extensively. But essential points will be discussed precisely.
In traditional Chinese Spirituality several similar sources meet:
1. The original teaching of the highest principle.
The original teaching of the highest principle, Tao, "about which nothing can be said", is also the original unity before the separation of the polarities Yin and Yang*) and after that of the "5 elements"*. , This original unity is that which is behind the manifestations of the universe.
The Christian missionaries, e.g. the Jesuits, found this highest principle to correspond with God, although the Franciscan and Benedictine monks and finally the Pope disagreed. On one hand the "Tao" is not in keeping with the new experience of God as a Father which one can contact personally, as Jesus taught. On the other hand it is possible, that it is an older way of seeking and experiencing God, as it was possible in ancient China.
*) Yin is an expanding, "female" principle - e.g. in the sympathicus nerve; Yang a constricting, "male" principle - e.g. in the parasympathicus nerve, both working together. The "5 elements of earth, water, wood, fire and metal" correspond to the "4 elements or characteristics of earth, water, air, fire = heat", as the old European alchemy and esoteric schools taught it. (There were Christian alchemists too.) The Chinese 5th Element, the so-called "metal" was sometimes called "prima Materia" in Europe (Latin for "original substance") - compare it with modern elementary particle physics - old Indian theosophical and Anthroposophical sources name it "ether" and ascribe it to contain several levels, resulting finally in 7 aggregate states. Today one would not relate such old ideas to religion in a narrower sense. However, it was not simply a speculative philosophy; it is an ancient type of advanced cosmology with an almost natural scientific nature - it does not matter that today's methods are different.
It does not alter the fact that the practices of the old Chinese and later Taoist masters show a spiritual nature. The old insights about the role of "elements" and forces in the body were taken up, because one can hardly bypass physical imperfection on the way to more spiritual perfection - in a holistic sense. That is a style of spirituality that does not intend to withdraw from the earth, unlike some other eastern spiritual traditions. Striving for perfection as such would not be contrary to the Christian teaching of the redemption. It has often been forgotten that Jesus said, "Be (become) perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5,48). However, the methods are different. The Early Christians knew that one can prepare and open oneself actively for the influence of God. However, Christians also knew all the time that it is not possible to force the mercy of God by activities like this: God is free too.
Between heaven, Chinese "T'ien", the earth and man - all stemming from the same original unity - Chinese teachers saw similarities ('correspondences') everywhere. (The "7 Free Arts" of the High Schools of the European medieval age included similar teachings). So all striving was directed to the harmony of human life with "Heaven" - as the "highest Power" of the manifested world - and the earth. This shows the religious nature of that aspiration too, apart from the spiritual nature. Re-ligion (from Latin) means reconnection to the origin of everything. Nevertheless, from the Christian viewpoint the Creator is the origin and the end of everything and Jesus Christ is the link, helping us to connect with God.
In the course of time, people venerated several "separate Gods": Heaven, Gods of the soil, local spirits and saints. The term "polytheism", used for such religions, is not very meaningful; because the "Gods" were originally characteristics of the one highest principle, as can also be found in some other religions. (A special matter is the adoration of saints - but that will seem familiar to some Christian Churches.)
In this way, dividing all things into two polarities, yin and yang, may keep the mind within these polarities; but a seeker may successfully aspire to go beyond them, into a mystical state of consciousness.
That which has been described so far is the common ground of the later schools of Lao-tse und Con-fu-tse (Confucius) - historians think they lived around 500 BC
Taoism (Lao-Tse: among others the book "Tao-te-ching") taught "To act with the meditative attitude of doing nothing" (Woo-Wai). That is, nothing is done by the egoist and intellectual part of man, but by the natural instincts of the good core of man - being in harmony with nature. This attitude wouldresult in some kind of natural ethics of altruism and modesty.
This good core is not automatically identical with Jesus Christ, who can take shape in man, and is active there (John 15: "...Remain in me and I will remain in you"). But today's theologians cannot deny that persons of a different faith have a good core - the similar ethics of most religions show that "the Good" has caught on everywhere. Even the Holy Spirit "blows wherever he pleases" (John 3).
Taoists were always practicians, not theoreticians. Taoism makes use of:
- Asceticism. This occurs within all religions. But there are also practices for the sublimation or transformation of sexuality (e.g. Mantak Chia, "Tao Yoga" and "Tao Yoga of love". The old eastern paths often start "from the bottom to the top", unlike European/western paths, which start mainly "from the top to the bottom" today, meaning "from the consciousness".
- Exercises for body, breath, and concentration for awaking and directing the live energy, or "Chi". Since the scientific investigation of acupuncture and electro-acupuncture, the existence of that live energy has been proved. It is not important that these scientists have not yet been able to understand the exact nature of that phenomenon. The "Meridians" of acupuncture have now been proven to exist, even in the tissue, as "empty channels". So this life force is not "Taoist", as some Christians thought, but simply human. In the old Greek and early Christian era it was called "Pneuma", a Greek word meaning the breath and the life force as well - the breath of life, blown into man by God -; and it was also used to mean the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is in the context of Jesus Christ. So, if someone does not attune himself to Jesus Christ, how should he know that he is experiencing the Holy Spirit which Jesus announced?
- Furthermore, the Taoist methods include - like the Indian Yoga - the meditative absorption into the Origin, to go beyond the limitation of life. The alchemistic search for immortality plays a role too.
Con-fu-tse (Confucius) similarly recommends people to adjust themselves to "the cosmic ethical law". But instead of the rather individualist way of the Taoists he searched for an educational system of morals for the whole society. Confucianists worked on the conscious cultivation and perfection of a good human core - by habits and by taking others as an example:
If one learns love and reverence etc., an ethical society should result.
- Since ancient times, e.g. murder, theft, prostitution and cults with images have been forbidden in China.
- Like almost all World Religions Con-fu-tse taught "... charity. Don't do what You don't want to be done" ("Do as You would have done to you")
- This includes self-control, humanity, goodness;
- respectively the ethical virtues: goodwill, legality, appropriate respectful manners (also concerning the ancestors), generosity, wisdom, uprightness;
- double qualities according to the book Shu-djing: friendly and dignified, mild and firm, straight and polite, orderly and respectful, docile and bold, upright and meek, indulgent and moderate, strong and reliable, courageous and fair.
- They strove for an attitude of contentment beyond of anger, grief and fun.
There are timeless values in the old teachings and values which were cultivated at the time of the empire.
4. So this two Chinese schools had things in common, but some points of
controversy too. In spite of that they complemented each other in their
teachings. This was even true in their later experience with Buddhism, which
came from India with its teaching directed to overcoming earthly suffering.
Today's Chinese temples, e.g. in Hong Kong, may give the impression of some simple search for oracles and rites for happiness in life. This is simply because not all people know of the original spiritual depth - like the majority of all other religions.
Concerning the Chinese tradition, some methods should be mentioned which are not directly religious: the oracle book I Ching; the Chinese horoscopes; "Feng shui" - the Chinese version of Geomancy and "Baubiologie-" (healthy construction of buildings); and the previously mentioned traditional Chinese medicine.
An early Christian Church in China - no longer existing today - "translated" essential contents of Christianity for a taoist context in the 8th century: Martin Palmer, "The Jesus Sutras", Ballantine Wellspring, New York, USA. (As far as books of others are mentioned, "Ways of Christ" does not automatically support all (of) their contents.)
topics and main text.