Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism are the three major religions of China and the Far East. However, unlike Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism have not become world religions. They exist mainly in China and in the places where Chinese culture has influenced people. Although there is no official data on the actual number of followers of Daoism and Confucianism in China during the past 2000 years, they dominate the religious life of nearly a quarter of the world’s population. People have always found contradictions in the ideas of Confucianism and Daoism. Thus, I want to compare the view of the internal development of humans and their behavior in society in Daoism and Confucianism.
Daoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical theory that tries to explain the basics of the structure and existence of the world and find the path, which man, nature, and the cosmos can follow. The founder of Taoism is Lao-tzu, whose name means “Old Master.” “Taoism’s opposite has been Confucianism. Where Confucianism emphasizes moderation, harmony, and social structure, Taoism offers a refuge from society and the trap of material success” (Johnson, 2010).
Confucianism is ethical and political doctrine, which originated in ancient China and has had a huge impact on the development of spiritual culture, politics, and social order in China for over two thousand years. Confucius established the fundamental principles of Confucianism. Since its emergence, Confucianism has expressed the interests of the ruling class, hereditary aristocracy, and has played an active role in the social and political struggle. “The main principle of Confucianism is ren (“humaneness” or “benevolence”), signifying excellent character in accord with li (ritual norms), zhong (loyalty to one’s true nature), shu (reciprocity), and xiao (filial piety). Together these constitute de (virtue)” (“Confucianism,” 2015).
Firstly, the main difference between the Confucian and Taoist cultures is the attitude to human nature, from which the distribution of “roles,” established between them in the Chinese culture, occurs. Confucians consider that the true essence of man is humanity, which is the good and true human element. Under the self-improvement, they understand self-education, the development of a “humane beginning,” which is the carrier of high moral and psychological qualities, and the suppression of a “wild”, “evil”. At the time when Daoism appeared, Confucianism was the official doctrine, the basis of the state structure. The ideal of Confucianism is the “noble man”, who is the carrier of the Confucian mind. His virtues are self-control, justice, reverence for elders, and social responsibility. His goal is to serve the community as the person submits to society in Confucian ethics.
Moreover, the Confucian culture is elite because among its main followers are noble people, mainly officials, whose main activity is in the government. There is a desire to streamline governing all possible spheres of life. As in the psychological sphere, people achieve the changes by limiting the undesirable factors, mainly through the assimilation of norms of behavior control, at first external and then internal. Permanent control over the mental health and the preservation of permanent self-control are important for the “noble man.”
Secondly, Taoists still condemn “savagery”, wildness, and the susceptibility to passions. The primary goal of Taoism is the identification and ultimate actualization of the “true principles” of a human soul and the complete submission to them, “merging” with one flow of the motion of the universe.
In addition, assessing the susceptibility to passions as the negative aspect of life, Taoists are opposed to the violent suppression of undesirable sides of human nature. Instead of fighting with themselves, Taoists practice the cultivation of a state of rest, including detachment from their own passions. The practice allows a stream of consciousness to flow in the usual way.
The Confucian ideology and ethics are an attempt to defuse tension between the individual and society, strengthen and improve the social and political systems of China. Taoism developed its own original concept of cultural development of a human. Confucianism is an elitist doctrine for educated people and Taoism has become very democratic awakening spontaneity and naturalness. The essential difference between Confucianism and Taoism is that the latter offers the doctrine to achieve the ideal, which includes the idea of passivity and inactivity. In contrast to Taoism, Confucianism argues that people should act. Only by working on himself/herself, a person can achieve moral perfection. Taoists see teachings of Confucius as the criminal interference in the almighty Tao.
Ways of perceiving the world are different for Taoists and Confucians. Confucian thinking is binary and based on the knowledge of the phenomena through their opposition, on contrasting pairs such as “natural – cultural”, “peace – movement”, “good – evil”, “subject – object” etc. Moreover, Confucians clearly separate and oppose the natural passions and cultural ones, designed to curb these passions. However, the Taoist worldview perceives public rules and regulations as violence against the person, conditionality, an artificial creation, which prevents the manifestation of the true nature of man, and the factor increasing separation from the human world. This all does not fit in this artificial world model, which is either distorted or ignored. Just Confucian upbringing contributes to the internal confrontation, leading to intrapersonal conflict.
The Taoist worldview is holistic, the so-called “contradictions” combine becoming inseparable interacting poles of the whole and it is the source of movement and development. Unity with Tao blurs the line between the object and the subject, the man and the world. The adherents of Confucianism use primarily the reflective layer of consciousness to get changes through self-examination and self-control. They think that a noble person is demanding of himself/herself and poor people are demanding of others. Conscious assimilation of self-education should balance the start of the natural and cultural identity.
Furthermore, the main task of the Taoist practices is to allow people to manifest the inherent space top and let it work through them. To do this, it is not only important to acquire new properties, but also to remove the obstacles in the form of passion, selfish feelings, and other manifestations of a person’s “I”, preventing the natural flow of events. Taoists consider the attempts to overcome the undesirable effects unacceptable.
However, the apparent opposition of these traditions exists more on the surface. In reality, however, in full compliance with the Taoist worldview, both doctrines are inseparable poles of a single socio-cultural phenomenon. Originating in the state where Confucianism occupies the leading position, Taoism is a kind of alternative. However, Confucianism and Taoism are not opposing cultures. Their interaction, which leads to the interpenetration, enriches both traditions.
In conclusion, the master of Taoism is Lao Tzu and the founder of Confucianism is Confucius. Both religions have neither gods nor special rituals. The main difference is that Taoism suggests achieving the Tao (truth) through peace, harmony, and withdrawal from the world. Confucianism is rather the ethics of human behavior in society, people’s relationship with each other and the authorities. However, Confucianism and Taoism have a number of common features. Both seek to understand the religion of human beings and the world around them; they propose to achieve harmony in different ways, but the general goal is the awareness of the world.
I like the religion of Daoism. To my mind, Confucianism is the way of self-restraint when the conscious self-constraint suppresses the unwanted sides of a person without condescension to the fact that they are also a part of him/her. Thus, I think that Taoism is better because it does not offer to fight with oneself and encourages a person to be in a state of rest trying not to prevent the manifestation of the cosmic whole. The detachment from the flow of his/her own thoughts and feelings dilutes the emotional life of the Taoist. Non-interference of “I” makes it possible more fully demonstrate the specificity of each mental factor. Taoists believe that a person should strive for natural behavior rather than be guided by social doctrine. Thus, I like that they prefer the natural way of the human behavior and do not have so many rules.