During the Spring and Autumn period [722-484 B.C.] of Chinese history, in 551 B.C., a great sage was born. He was Confucius. Throughout his life, he tirelessly propagated the virtues of humaneness and righteousness, and the doctrines of filiality, fraternal respect, loyalty, and trustworthiness. But instead of being welcomed, he was rejected everywhere he went. Even though he constantly faced setbacks, he never altered his principles of education and continued promoting the way of peace and harmony.
Confucius was a great educator. He spared no effort in promoting the idea of equal and universal education. He was “never weary of teaching and never tired of learning.” Instead of composing new texts, he explained the ancient books in a faithful and devoted fashion. In his later years, he edited the Book of Odes, complied the rites and music, and wrote the Spring and Autumn Annals. The Book of Odes, the Book of History, the Book of Changes, the Book of Rites, and the Spring and Autumn Annals are the Five Classics.
Confucius had three thousand students. Among these there were seventy-two who mastered the six skills of rites, music, archery, charioteering, writing, and mathematics. Rites refer to the proper ceremonial rituals for weddings, funerals, and sacrificial offerings. One has to master all six skills before one can be considered a perfect person.
Confucius taught each person according to his or her individual potential, and he taught by example. His students can be divided into four main categories [according to their area of strength]:
1.Virtue, represented by Yan Hui and Min Ziqian
2.Speech, represented by Zi Gong and Zai Wo
3.Politics, represented by Zi Lu and Ran You
4.Literature, represented by Zi Xia and Zi You
After Confucius’ death, his students split into two sects. Zeng Zi advocated the propagation of the Way (Tao); Mencius represented this school, which was later recognized as the orthodoxy. Zi Xia advocated the propagation of classics, and that school was represented by Xun Zi. The school advocating the propagation of classics prevailed during the Han, Tang and Qing dynasties, while the school advocating the propagation of the Way prevailed during the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties.
The noumena and phenomena in the world are all interrelated. In China, Confucianism, Toaism and Buddhism have aided each other. Confucianism is like an elementary school for young children, Taoism is like a secondary school, and Buddhism is like a university. The principles of these three religions are related. Students in the elementary school don’t understand the subjects taught at the secondary school, but university students know the curriculums of both the elementary and secondary schools.
Confucianism teaches the principles of being a person and developing a wholesome character. Taoism places half its emphasis on establishing a good character and half on the cultivation of transcendental principles. For that reason, Taoist priests are like laypeople in that they do not shave their heads; however, they do dress like the hermits of ancient times. Buddhist monks, on the other hand, shave their hair and beard, wear clothes of dark and somber colors, and don’t care about their external appearance. They maintain the appearance of Bhikshus and Bhikshunis and always wear their sashes. Buddhism teaches people to cultivate the principles of world-transcending Dharma. Is there a Buddhadharma outside of worldly dharmas? No. As long as you truly recognize worldly dharmas and are not deluded by them, just that is the Buddhadharma.
Some people have suggested combining the three religions into one. It is said,
Like the red blossom, the white root, and the green leaf of a lotus plant.
The three religions originate from one family.
This expresses how Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism are interrelated. The roots of Buddhism, the foundation upon which faith arises, lie within Confucianism. One has to study, understand the principles, and learn how to be a person first, and then one can cultivate in accord with the Dharma. It is said, “Even though there are many expedient doors, the nature at the source is nondual.” Students of Buddhism should understand this principle.
A talk given on September 25, 1983