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Philosophy & Religion in China. Chinese Folk Religion Taoism Confucianism. By Laura Ellen Shulman. Chinese Folk Religion. Belief in spirits Reverence for ancestors Priests perform blessing rituals: purifying space Exorcising evil spirits (“hungry ghosts”) Astrology Divination.

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philosophy religion in china

Philosophy & Religion in China

Chinese Folk Religion



By Laura Ellen Shulman

chinese folk religion
Chinese Folk Religion
  • Belief in spirits
  • Reverence for ancestors
  • Priests perform blessing rituals:
    • purifying space
    • Exorcising evil spirits (“hungry ghosts”)
  • Astrology
  • Divination
chinese metaphysics is about
Chinese metaphysics is about…
  • Energy
  • Change
  • Balance
  • Harmony
  • Inter-relationships
chinese metaphysics
Chinese Metaphysics

Movement of cosmic energies:






Represented by and expressed in the “five elements” of nature…

the five elements





The “Five Elements”

Productive cycle

the five elements1





The “Five Elements”


Destructive cycle





chinese metaphysics concepts
Chinese MetaphysicsConcepts
  • Chi – life force, life energy (“ultimate”)
  • Yin-Yang – harmony of opposites
    • Yin = passive state of energy
    • Yang = active state of energy


  • Tao – the “way” of the cosmos, of nature
  • Heaven (t’ien) and Earth
  • “Mandate of Heaven”
  • Practical applications: I-Ching and Feng Shui
the i ching book of changes
The I-Ching“Book of Changes”
  • Ancient divination technique (at least 3000 years old)
  • Intended to guide humans in decision making
  • Based on combinations of lines representing the ever changing relationship between passive (yin) and active (yang) energy flow of heaven, human, and earth

= yin

= yang

the tri grams eight combinations of three lines each
The Tri-gramsEight combinations of three lines each:


wind / wood







using the i ching tool
Using the I-Ching Tool


  • Symbolism of the lines:
    • Upper line = energy state of heaven
    • Middle line = energy state of human
    • Lower line = energy state of earth
  • Two sets of trigrams are divined to create a hexagram
  • Use coins or sticks to divine one of 64 hexagrams
  • Use I-Ching text to discern meaning of the hexagram and any additional meaning for “changing lines” (energies on the verge of changing)
  • A skilled interpreter is needed to apply the generic meaning of the hexagram
feng shui
Feng Shui
  • The Chinese art of placement (geomancy)
  • Means “wind water”– symbolically, the constant flow of wind and water that creates constant change in the world also affects us
  • Uses the five elements and the eight directions of the I-Ching as the Bagua tool
  • Seeks to maintain constant and balanced flow of energies (chi) in a space for improved flow of energy in the people who use the space
learn more on the web
Learn more on the Web
  • Learn more about Yin-Yang and the Five Elements:

I-ching sites:

  • I-Ching Resources includes history of the I-Ching and details about the trigrams:
  • How to use the I-ching:

Feng Shui sites:

  • Series of pages on Feng Shui theory and application:
  • Feng Shui products and tips from MJG Designs:
taoism the way of harmony with nature
TaoismThe Way of Harmony with Nature
  • A philosophy
    • Profound and paradoxical
  • A way of life
    • Playful and practical
  • A religion
  • Originating in 6th century BCE China

Nature knows best

taoism origins and texts
TaoismOrigins and Texts
  • Legendary founder: Lao Tzu (6th century BCE)
  • Primary text: Tao Te Ching (the “Book of the Way and the Power”)
    • 81 short “chapters” containing the basic philosophy of living in harmony and balance
  • Chuang Tzu (4th century BCE)
    • Author of companion text: The Chuang Tzu
    • Collection of stories exemplifying the wisdom and nature of the Taoist sage
philosophical taoism
Philosophical Taoism
  • The Tao (“path” or “way”)
    • The “nameless”
    • The “Mother of ten=thousand things”
    • The “uncarved block”
    • All pervading within and beyond nature
  • Te (“power” or “virtue”)
    • One’s natural ability brought to peak potential through following the way
  • The Taoist Sage: learns from observing the way of nature (flowing water, wind) and letting nature guide his way through life
more taoist concepts
More Taoist Concepts
  • Wei-wu-wei (“active non-action”)
    • Passive non-resistance to the natural forces of life
    • Natural way to get things done with least effort and greatest success
    • “Go with the flow,” yield to the natural way of things
    • Applied in all walks of life
  • Relativity: “good” and “bad” as a matter of perspective
    • The Taoist sage is non-judgmental
taoism as a way of living
Taoism as a Way of Living
  • Seeking Health and Longevity: through diet, meditation, exercise, and a stress-free life
  • Alchemy: seeking the chemical “elixir of life”to achieve immortality
  • Meditation: “Inner Alchemy Meditation” – seeking spiritual rather than chemical transformation
  • Natural/holistic healing: herbal medicine, acupressure, acupuncture, exercise…
  • T’ai-Chi-Ch’uan (“grand ultimate boxing”)
    • A slow, graceful martial art stressing movement in balance
religious taoism
Religious Taoism
  • Deification of Lao Tzu
  • The Jade Emperor and the eight “Immortals”
  • Taoist templeswith images of Lao Tzu and other “immortals”
  • Taoist Priests combine Taoist meditation with purification rites of folk religion exorcism practices
  • Taoist sects develop beginning in 1st century, additional teachers and texts

A political and social philosophy seeking social harmony on all levels:

Within the self

…the family

…the community

...the state

…the nation

…the world

…the cosmos

Learning from the past to improve the future

confucianism origins
Confucianism - Origins

Kung-Fu-tzu (Confucius) “Master Kung”

  • 551 - 479 BCE
  • Embraces the values of the past
  • Political aspirations unfulfilled
  • The “greatest teacher who ever lived”
  • Rejected in his own day, but the model for Chinese culture for over 2000 years

Meng-Tzu (Mencius) (4th century) continues to develop teachings of Confucius

confucianism texts
Confucianism - Texts
  • The “Five Classics” (of the past):
    • I-Ching
    • The Book of History (Shu Ching)
    • The Book of Poems (Shih Ching)
    • The Spring and Autumn Annals (Ch’un Ch’iu)
    • The Book of Rituals (Li Chi)
  • The “Four Books” (Confucian)
    • Analects (Lun Yu)
    • Doctrine of the Mean
    • The Great Learning
    • The Book of Mencius (Meng-Tzu)
goal of confucianism
Goal of Confucianism

To develop one’s Jen: Human Heartedness - the innate goodness of humanity

Thus becoming a Chun Tzu: the “Great Man” or “Gentle Man”

Jen is developed through intentional living by Confucian virtues…

confucian virtues
Confucian Virtues

Filial Piety (Hsiao) - respect for the five constant relationships:

    • Parent and child
    • Husband & wife
    • Older & younger sibling
    • Older & younger friend
    • Ruler & subject
  • Human-heartedness is developed only within the context of human relationships
more confucian virtues
More Confucian Virtues
  • Rectification of names– a person or thing should be true to its name
  • Recipricity (shu) – the Golden Rule:
    • “Do not do to others what you would not want others to do to you”
  • Li (rites, ritual) – the inherent “pattern” in things
    • For Confucius, Li is especially significant in a social context – propriety or etiquette, the “pattern” of humane behavior
neo confucianism
  • Develops 11th – 16th century by Various Confucian philosophers
  • A metaphysical foundation for Confucian social ethics
  • Two main schools:
    • School of Reason (more scientific) – through the “investigation of things” one can discover the underlying pattern (li) principle behind all reality (patterns and principles are manifest only within the material world)
    • School of Mind (more mystical) – microcosmic-macrocosmic parallel between the human mind and the universe, reflecting an essential unity of all that is
confucianism as a religion
Confucianism as a Religion
  • Deification of Confucius - statues
  • Confucian Temples – honoring Confucius
  • Veneration of the ancestors
  • Rituals within…
    • the household
    • the village
    • the state
    • the nation
explore more on the web
Explore more on the Web
  • Taoist sites:
    • The True Tao Homepage: a pleasant place to visit and learn more
    • Taoism and the Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan:informative on both origins and religious Taoism
    • About the Tao:
  • Confucian sites:
    • an academic review of basic Confucian teachings
    • The Lun Yu (Analects), an English translation online: