The Chinese people have a rich religious and philosophical heritage. While Western thought and religion are gaining popularity and support in China and among Chinese people, more and more occidental thinkers are discovering the beauty and value of the Eastern philosophies.
China is the home of Taoism and Confucianism, as well as very widely practiced folk religion. Buddhism gained an early entry into China, and has since become the most widely professed belief.
Chinese Buddhism is often mixed with local traditions and folklore, and in many cases not practiced in a "pure" form. However, Buddhism has a strong following in China. There are many Buddhist temples and monasteries, as well as a very large population of lay disciples. One of the core teachings of Buddhism is that life is a continual cycle of suffering. The primary purpose of practicing Buddhism is to escape the cycle of death and rebirth and a release from the struggles of life. Enlightenment concerning the nature of the universe and self is a key component in achieving the state of unchanging, unbecoming. (A Buddhist would say a state of neither changing nor not changing, of neither becoming nor not becoming.)
Buddhism also offers a path of less resistance and pain to those on the journey towards escape. First, since every action brings about a consequence and has direct impact on future life or lives, it is important to avoid any negative actions or vices that will bring a negative karmic effect. Secondly, since disappointment, happiness, sadness, pleasure, pain, and every other condition a person can be in is predicated upon some want or desire, elimination of wants and desires is paramount to eliminating suffering.
Taoism was born in China. Tao is the character for a road or path, as well as that of knowledge and reason. Perhaps this religion/philosophy's most quintessential belief is that of balance. The concept of Yin and Yang originate from Taoism, with each side representing opposite and counterbalancing traits and qualities. In Taoism, understanding the nature of things and acting in a moderate way to avoid the consequences of extremes is a primary key. A lot of wise sayings and proverbs originate in the original Taoist poems and in Taoist writings. In many cases Taoism is a common sense way of looking at life. However, it is also very much interested in prolonging life and obtaining immortality.
Confucius was a great philosopher and thinker. Confucianism is more of a practical philosophy centered upon a few basic principles than a religion, but was often just as all-encompassing as any religion. Confucian thought assumes that people are basically good and that given a proper understanding of what they should do they will naturally do so. Confucianism places duty to the family as the center of morality, and all loyalties and virtues are an extension of this belief. One of the most important things one needs to do to be a good Confucian is to know one's role.
Chinese Folk Religion
The common Chinese person practices some folk religion, at least in some form. Even practitioners of other religions in China generally keep their traditions, or adapt new beliefs to their old practices. One prominent feature of the Chinese belief is idolatry. The worship of idols is performed at home, in public, at small shrines, in temples, and in some cases at work. Incense is burned, sacrifice offerings are made, and people literally bow down before their altars and statues. Often, these worships are directed to a god or posaht . There are many popular deities- such as Gun Yam , Gwan Dai , and Tin Hau . Deities tend to differ from place to place. These deities are besought for favors and to ward off evil.
Ancestor worship is even more wide-spread. It is customary to burn incense and fruit offerings as "prayers" to one's ancestors. Devoted practitioners will generally burn incense to a picture of a dead ancestor daily. Generally, there is a small red box dedicated to the worship of different idols and almost always one or more ancestors. Many people believe that by burning paper replicas of things (such as paper cars, paper houses, or paper 1,000,000 dollar bills), their ancestors in the next world receive the gift and will be able to make use of it. Just as often, however, these worshiping are out of simple respect for those who have passed on, and no thought is taken to receive any sort help or return from the offerings, nor seriously considering that the dead receive the gifts. For many it is more a matter of custom and respect than a serious religious belief. However these folk religions also have truly devoted followers and practitioners.
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