We are ready to examine the four religions in the Far Eastern category of world religions. Two of these come from China, one from Japan and the other, Buddhism, began in India but spread eastward and then worldwide.
All four of these religions have common traits:
- All are a mix of beliefs taken from different cultures, and many of the teachings are common to all four.
- They accept the idea that truth is universal, but since individuals only have part of this universal truth, each person's idea of truth is different.
- They practice various forms of ancestor worship. The spirit of past generations is maintained so long as the present generation keeps their memory alive.
- These religions have an element of "animism," believing in the presence of good and evil spirits that need to be appeased in various ways (e.g. fireworks, kites used to keep evil spirits away).
- Far Eastern religions are usually associated with the country's politics.
- They are more concerned with what is socially appropriate rather than sin, salvation or the end of the world. For example, in Japan, political or other type of leaders will resign their positions if they lose face (failure, social embarrassment).
Let us begin with the two religions from China first: Taoism and Confucianism.
Lao-tzu (604-517 BC) Known as the "Old Master."
He was a humanist and believed/taught that man was at the highest level. To experience God, man had to look within himself and nature. He believed in the perfect unity and harmony of nature. He rejected social organizations (the federal political system of the times) and withdrew from society to live as a hermit.
Taoism taught that there was a force in nature called the Tao. It was this force that animated nature. The Tao had two elements which, when balanced, produced a good life. The force was separated by the Tao symbol of yin and yang (Yin - black, negative, earthly, feminine; Yang - red, forceful, heavenly, positive).
The idea was that the forces within the Tao flowed back and forth between positive and negative creating the life one had, and man's lot was to observe this flow and adapt to it in order to find balance. This helps explain the pragmatic approach that the Chinese have towards politics, social movements or conflicts. They carefully observe the flow of events and make decisions that will create or achieve the favorable balance necessary to maintain the status quo.
In Taoism the objective is not to "know" because absolute truth is not knowable, the objective of man is to be "at one" with the Tao. At death the soul merges with the spirits of the ancestors which are embodied in the yin part of the Tao.
Taoists built temples and practiced various rites (we would describe as magic) and developed Taoist philosophies.
One such work entitled, "Tao Te Ching" (treatise of Tao and its power) was written in the 4th century BC by several authors, however was not considered a "holy book" or seen as divine revelation.
This religion began in China and spread to Tibet and Japan.
Taoism has approximately 40 million followers. Taoists have no concept of morality (absolute right or wrong). They reject all institutions as counterproductive.
Kung Fu Tze (551-478 BC)
He was a civil employee of the Chinese government who was promoted to the position of provincial judge. He saw social injustice destroying the state and wrote a treatise on the "art of living" as an attempt to correct the problems of his society caused in large part by a declining feudal system.
His treatise was not written as revelation from God. His teachings were directed at the noble and ruling classes. Eventually, he formed disciples to carry on his teachings.
The religion is based on the teachings he left behind and not any divine revelations or his personal charisma. However, his synthesis of past wisdom into a system of teaching influenced Chinese society for over 2000 years until Mao Zedong's communist revolution took over the country in the 20th century.
There is no personal deity in Confucianism. The usual nature or spirit worship and/or ancestor worship as seen in other religions is practiced in Confucianism as well. This ideology has no religious "end of the world" scenario.
In Confucianism man is part of the universe and born good. The emphasis is not where mankind goes after death, but rather how he interacts now with the five major relationships in life. The study of these relations and the objective of each individual within that relationship was the essence of the teaching and practice of Confucianism:
- Father (kind) - Son (respectful)
- Elder brother (noble) - Younger brother (obedient)
- Husband (kind) - Wife (obedient)
- Elder (kind) - Younger (deferential)
- Ruler (benevolent) - Subject (loyal)
There is no concept of heaven or hell for individuals. The ideal to which the religion pointed was proper harmony in life between all men based on the proper maintenance of their relationships with one another.
There is no practice of worship or ritual to honor a deity. The practice of Confucianism was the study and implementation of its teachings. In addition to this there was the pursuit of the five cardinal virtues:
The Five Virtues
- Ren is the virtue of benevolence, charity, and humanity.
- Yi, of honesty and uprightness.
- Zhi, knowledge.
- Xin, the virtue of faithfulness and integrity.
- Li, correct behavior, or propriety, good manners, politeness, ceremony, worship. Harmony with each other meant harmony with the past, harmony with the spiritual forces (Tao) and ultimately harmony with heaven.
In later times Kung Fu Tze's disciples raised him to the status of deity with temples and worship systems developed throughout China.
His writings and those of his disciples were collected in the Four Books:
- Analects - sayings of Confucius.
- Great Learning - how to be a gentleman.
- Doctrine of the Mean *key* - Philosophy.
- Book of Mencius - Commentary on Confucian philosophy.
Confucius himself compiled six books of writings called "Classics."
The Chinese had a religion for a thousand years before Confucius, but his system of teaching and personality gave form to that religion and after he died the two merged to produce a religion for China called Confucianism which eventually spread to South East Asia and Korea.
Until World War II this religion was woven into every part of Japanese life and thought. Their politics, religion and history were a single unit.
There is no founder of this religion. It evolved from basic nature worship. With time, a mystic story developed where Japan became the center of creation, destined to rule the world. They added concepts from Taoism (harmony) and Confucianism (social order) as well as Buddhism (philosophy) to form their completed religion.
They believe in many gods. Creation was a product of male and female gods.
A descendant of the gods was sent to rule Japan, his descendants in turn became the Emperors. The leading families and Japanese people were the descendants of lessor gods living on the island.
The Shinto concept of salvation is based upon the belief that all living things have an essence, soul or spirit known as Kami. Kami lives among us rather than in a glorified state or in heaven.
The Shinto religion was primarily used to maintain and promote Japanese supremacy. Ancestor worship continues to be the main purpose and practice of their worship. Shrines and temples have prayer and offerings to past patriotic ideals and ancestors.
Kojiki: Ancient legends of the formation of the island. Oracles containing religious ideas.
The Shinto religion exists only in Japan.
Before World War II, the Japanese saw themselves as a divine country, with a divine ruler and divine mission to rule the world. This divine destiny concept helps explain this nation's near suicidal attempt to win World War II. Japan was only dissuaded from this notion and continuing the war to achieve it when two atom bombs were dropped on their major cities by the American military.
Part of the Japanese surrender treaty required them to remove this idea from the Shinto religion and change the design of their flag which depicted their domination of the world.
One of three great missionary religions (Christianity and Islam). In 1932 a Buddhist conference in Ceylon declared, "Buddhism is the religion that begins without God and realizes that He is no longer necessary."
Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha/Enlightened One - 563-480 BC). A Hindu of the Kshatriya caste in Nepal, India. Stories of his life only surfaced 500 years after his death and so we have mystic accounts of his virgin birth where he declared as a baby that he would reach moksha in his lifetime.
He was dismayed as a young man seeing the world's suffering and proposed the "Middle Way" as the way of salvation (nirvana).
The difference in his teaching (from Hinduism) was that one could reach moksha while still alive (like Jainism).
He recruited disciples who continued his teachings, and with time gained deified status as his teachings and religion spread.
No personal supreme being. Spirits and gods exist but they are all part of the great being.
The sum total of everything is in the process of becoming.
Man has no soul, he is a collection of interconnected "skandhas" (body, senses, feelings, desires, reason).
These dissolve at death and reform into another being. Like lighting a candle from another candle.
Man's desire to have individual conscious life and all that it provides is what causes misery. Freedom from this endless cycle of desire is called "enlightenment" (one who desires nothing). One ceases to be and becomes - not being. By not being, one does not desire; without desire there is no misery.
State of nirvana - being within being. In other words, not yourself but part of the whole (e.g. Like a drop of water falling into the ocean).
There is a system of disciplines that lead one to this state. One must accept and live by:
- The Threefold Truth:
- Impermanence of all things
- Sorrow is part of all individualities
- Man has no soul (no individuality)
- The Four Noble Signs:
- All existence involves suffering
- All suffering is caused by desire
- Suffering ceases when desire does
- Desire is destroyed when one follows the Eightfold Path (a series of instructions in "right living")
Temples and shrines built for offerings to Buddha, prayers and teachings. Buddhist monks live in community.
Tripiktas (250 BC): Collection of writings known as the "three baskets:"
Dhammapada: Sayings of Buddha.
Began in India but almost extinct there (worldwide 200 million+).
Buddha seen in various ways:
- Essential Buddha - Being
- Nirvanic Buddha - Earthly, Buddha in blissful state after death
- Earthly Buddha - His appearance on earth
Zen: Japanese Buddhists who stressed meditation.
You will have noticed three common things about these religions in comparison to Christianity which help demonstrate Christianity's superiority:
- There were no prophecies (i.e. writings concerning the coming, work and influence of the founders before their appearance in history). Jesus, however, has a great body of prophecy describing His person, ministry and impact on the world far in advance of His actual birth.
- None of these religions have a resurrected leader whose appearance was recorded by many different eye witnesses. Each one died and remains so to this day. Only Jesus can claim a historical and verified resurrection from the dead.
- None have scriptures that have stood the test of fierce criticism for over 2000 years and continue to be influential today. Most of these others are not accessible. The Bible, however, has been translated into every language, open to investigation by all and continues to be relevant in every culture and time period.
There are other reasons why Christianity is a superior religion to these:
- A better hope for salvation (perfected conscious life forever).
- A greater result of good in history (impact for positive change).
- A more adaptable religion (not limited to one culture/place).
Hopefully you have recognized Christianity's superiority in this brief study of major world religions. Praise God and His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and the King of kings forever.