Religion and philosophy are, arguably, one in the same in that both are usually established during a time in which there is either no social order or the order that does exist is fundamentally weak. Philosophy and religion could be viewed as the necessary response to cultural change and the innate human desire for answers to questions that cannot be explained simply. Because of its explorative nature and explanations on heady, enigmatic topics such as life, existence, and purpose, curious folks tend to turn to religion or philosophy for comfort. Two examples that immediately come to mind are Confucianism and Buddhism. Outwardly, Buddhism and Confucianism are seemingly dissimilar; the core of Buddhism is the concept of no-self, while Confucianism contrastingly highlights self and how we all have instinctive roles we should play. In this essay, I seek to consider how, despite their differences, Buddhism and Confucianism are similar.
Buddhism first began in India in approximately 6 B.C.E. The religion’s founder, Siddhartha Gautama, was born in the warrior caste comfortably sheltered from the cruel, dark reality of the outside world. At the age of twenty nine, Siddhartha was struck with a series of visions (an old man, a sick person, a dead person, and a monk) that ultimately pushed him towards his quest for enlightenment through trials of extreme asceticism. Despite his great discipline, Siddhartha didn’t seem to be any closer to enlightenment. It was then that the future Buddha sat underneath the trunk of a Bo-tree to test his limits mentally through meditation. In his journey towards “supreme and absolute wisdom”, he was met by the god Mara and his army of demons. The demons’ persistence was no match for Siddhartha’s self-control and resistance as he successfully triumphs over Mara.
This event not only leads to Siddahartha’s Buddhaship, but also the establishment of the “middle path”, which proposes that self-denial and self-indulgence should live harmoniously with one another. In addition to the middle path, Buddhism thrives off of the idea of no-self through the death of one’s ego. During ego death, one is stripped of their self-identity usually through meditation. Buddhism seeks to dissolve all suffering in ordinary life; by killing one’s sense of identity and becoming focused on the present [rather than the past or future, which allows pain in the form of suffering to exist], you become enlightened.
Confucianism was, appropriately, established by the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius in 551-479 B.C.E. Because of his role in the government, Confucius began by developing his philosophies first on concepts of government, education, and society. After realizing his ideologies weren’t valued by his political peers, Confucius turned to teaching. Confucianism puts great emphasis on society and one’s role [in it], as well as harmony. The Five Constants of Confucianism are: humaneness, justice, proper rite, knowledge, and integrity. This ethical code was created with social harmony in mind.
Buddhism and Confucianism, while seemingly different, do uphold some of the same values at their cores. One correlation between the two beliefs is the idea of questioning your surroundings, as well as your own self in order to better understand how to live properly then according to unique Buddhist or Confucianist judgment. On the topic of teachings, the concept of harmony is strong throughout both Buddhism and Confucianism. In Buddhism, we have the “middle path”, which urges people to find the medium between indulgence and denial of self. Similarly, in Confucianism, the idea of a “middle way” exists. Confucianists believe that in order for social harmony to be achieved, we should live in the middle of yin and yang, or lightness and darkness.
Religion and philosophy alike are vital to society. Religion and philosophy not only guide us through our lives, but also seek to explain them. Buddhism and Confucianism, while not identical, are similar in that they both serve as the ideal response in their own like towards our need for structure, guidance, and explanations of life’s various phenomenas.