Comparative Study of Indigenous Religions

Religion has been one of the most fundamental parts of the human
society. Indeed, it has played an immense role in the shaping of the
lives of the human society, especially with regard to their
relationships with each other, their beliefs, as well as the acceptable
behavior. It goes without saying that the world has seen a proliferation
of a wide range of religions, each of which are concentrated in certain
areas while spreading to other parts of the world. Such is the case for
Taoism and Confucianism, both of which were born in China. Taoism, also
called Daoism, refers to a religious and philosophical tradition that
lays emphasis on living in harmony with Tao. Tao is used to underline
“principle”, “path”, or “way” and may be seen in other
religions and philosophies in China apart from Taoism (Oldstone-Moore,
2003). However, Tao in Taoism underlines something that doubles up both
as the driving force and source of everything in existence
(Oldstone-Moore, 2003). Confucianism, on the other hand, is usually
categorized as a system of ethical and social philosophy and not a
religion. This is especially considering its deficiency of deity and it
beliefs pertaining to afterlife. In fact, Confucianism was established
the institutions, transcendent ideals and social values of the
conventional Chinese society on ancient religious foundations (Rainey et
al, 2010). However, of particular interest are the beliefs that these
two religions or promoted pertaining to life and death. While the two
religions may have been different, it is evident that their beliefs were
mainly aimed at promoting morality and moral living in the lives of the
followers.
Both Taoism and Confucianism did not lay emphasis on the afterlife
rather they emphasized on the current life. For both of them, the
quality and length of one’s life on earth was determined by his
actions. Taoism stated that the afterlife was incorporated in life,
where human beings are of Tao when living and become of Tao again upon
death (Chin, 2007). However, an individual is presumed to be closer to
Tao with increased length of his life, with the eventual hope being that
the individual will become immortal, achieve Tao and reach a deeper
life. This deep life would only be achieved by individuals that were
pure in thought and actions (Chin, 2007). This is the same case for
Confucianism, which does not lay emphasis on life after death as an
ultimate standard against which human beings would measure how
successful their life on earth was (Rainey et al, 2010). For Confucius,
human beings had too rudimentary understanding of life on earth to waste
it on planning for afterlife that they comprehended even less. In
essence, human beings had a duty to enhance the morality of their
current lives (Rainey et al, 2010).
In addition, both Taoism and Confucianism underline the fact that the
spirit survived after death. To Taoists, life does not start with birth,
nor does it end with death. The soul continues living after the death of
the physical body and simply migrates to another life, a process that is
repeated until the achievement of Tao. The major and common goal amongst
Taoists is the achievement of immortality and not the entry into a
regular afterlife (Oldstone-Moore, 2003). The achievement of Tao
necessitates that an individual eliminates impurities from his physical
body and leads a good-hearted, moral and upright life. As much as
Confucianism talks of a heaven thereafter, it does not underline a realm
of everlasting reward for individuals that die in righteousness rather
it is the highest spiritual presence that human beings know (Littlejohn,
2011). Retribution is extended to the individual soul as its existence
continues in another form after its separation from the body upon the
death of an individual (Kirkland, 2004). Retribution underlines the
punishment meted on an individual for sins that he committed in his
lifetime (Kirkland, 2004).
While both Taoism and Confucianism do not believe in heaven, they
underline the fact that the nature of an individual’s soul after death
is determined by his or her actions. For Taoists, the afterworld comes
with suffering and blissful states. Taoists who strive to follow the way
in the course of their lives are bound to become crucial ancestors, who
not only help human beings on earth but are worshiped by them
(Oldstone-Moore, 2003). Taoists who do not live a deeper life are to be
cast out to the nine stages of Hell, which is a place for agony and
purgatory. Confucianism, on the other hand, espouses that human beings
become spirits after they die. The soul that survives the death of human
body has the capacity to travel via space and depending on its status,
would enjoy the sacrifices of the human beings (Littlejohn, 2011).
However, this state would be achieved after an individual lived a life
where he or she is in harmony with the cosmos, while the “ren”
virtues are self-cultivated, as well as extended to other people
(Littlejohn, 2011). The ‘ren’ power is the capacity to modify human
beings from their ability to do bad and allow them to achieve their
primary accomplishment, which is the power of human love and to do good.
On the same note, as much as the two religions did not make any
insinuations pertaining to heaven, they had clear ideas as to the best
manner of living one’s life and safeguarding a place in the afterlife.
Taoism indicated that the earth and higher realm of the same was
harboring spirits that could take account or record the transgressions
of men and take away some years from their assigned term of life
depending on the gravity and lightness of their offenses. This was one
way of compelling human beings to lead righteous lives or rather align
themselves with the cosmos or the universe as a whole (Rainey et al,
2010). It is worth noting, however, that Taoism did not incorporate the
concept of heal as it saw morality as a man-made distinction. Taoism, in
its country of origin, China, adopted aspects of other religions such as
beliefs pertaining to Taoist hell that comes with numerous spirits and
deities that punish sin in varied horrible ways (Rainey et al, 2010). In
this case, it underlines the belief pertaining to the existence of Diyu,
which is a purgatory place that only serves to punish, as well as renew
spirits in readiness for their next incarnation. Of course, there are
variations between the number of stages of hell, as well as their
associated deities, with the numbers ranging from as little as three to
as many as ten. Each of the ten courts has a single judge who deals with
specific aspect of atonement, which attracts a specific form of
punishment including incarceration in filthy pits, climbing trees that
have sharp blades or being beheaded (Rainey et al, 2010). After the
atonement of the soul and repentance for its deed, the soul would be
cleansed of its memories and reborn in another form, which may entail
further punishment. However, these punishments can be averted through
leading upright lives. Confucianism, nevertheless, does not hold beliefs
pertaining to the Hereafter, Hell or paradise, nor does it have any
beliefs on resurrection. This, however, does not underline any notion
pertaining to the existence of the soul after it has left the physical
body. It is worth noting that Confucianism is primarily founded on
living the physical life to the fullest and in line with the acceptable
norms of morality, rather than paying attention to issues pertaining to
the afterlife (Littlejohn, 2011). Of particular note, however, is the
fact that the beliefs of the religion on life after death underlined the
immortality of the spirits, with sacrifices being offered by the human
race to the spirits. In addition, Confucianism underlined the view that
death and life of human beings are determined by fate, while nobleness
and wealth would be determined by heaven. The “heaven” stated in
this case is not the conventional heaven that is somewhere above the
globe where there are deities and angels and a Supreme Being, rather it
is a state of being purified and immortal (Littlejohn, 2011).
Nevertheless, an individual is required to fulfill his responsibility to
the realization of the ideal pertaining to a harmonious society in his
or her lifetime. Indeed, it is imperative that human beings consider
giving testimonies pertaining to ways of heaving as their duty and
responsibility (Littlejohn, 2011). It is the duty of heaven to strive to
attain eternal movement, while gentlemen should concern themselves with
making unrelenting efforts pertaining to continuous improvement.
In conclusion, religion has been one of the most fundamental parts of
the human society. Indeed, it has played an immense role in the shaping
of the lives of the human society, especially with regard to their
relationships with each other, their beliefs, as well as the acceptable
behavior. While Confucianism and Taoism may have been different, it is
evident that their beliefs on life and death were mainly aimed at
promoting morality and moral living in the lives of the followers. Both
Taoism and Confucianism underline the fact that the spirit survived
after death. Taoists believe that life does not start with birth, nor
does it end with death, with the common goal amongst Taoists being the
achievement of immortality and not the entry into a regular afterlife.
Confucianism talks of a heaven that revolves around highest spiritual
presence that human beings know rather than the realm of everlasting
reward for individuals that die in righteousness. It posits that
retribution or punishment would be extended to the individual soul as
its existence continues in another form after death. In addition, while
both Taoism and Confucianism do not believe in heaven, they underline
the fact that the nature of an individual’s soul after death is
determined by his or her actions. Both religions also emphasized on the
current life rather than the afterlife, with both underlining the fact
that the quality and length of one’s life on earth was determined by
his actions.
References
Littlejohn, R. (2011). Confucianism: An introduction = Ru. London: I.B.
Tauris.
Rainey, L. D., & Wiley InterScience (Online service). (2010). Confucius
& Confucianism: The essentials. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K:
Wiley-Blackwell.
Kirkland, R. (2004). Taoism: The enduring tradition. New York:
Routledge.
Oldstone-Moore, J. (2003). Taoism: Origins, beliefs, practices, holy
texts, sacred places. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chin, A (2007). The Authentic Confucius: A Life of Thought and Politics.
New York: Simon and Schuster
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