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Chinese Traditional Culture (Part I) - Catastrophe and Renaissance
March 18, 2008 | By Danchen
(Clearwisdom.net) Mankind has come to the present day after going through several thousand years of ups and downs and numerous tribulations. The cultures that mankind has created are complete and rich. I believe that in terms of a culture’s essence, origin, manifestation, and impact, mankind’s cultures can roughly be divided into two major categories of belief or disbelief in gods.
For example, whether it is in their inheritances and manifestations or in their essences and impacts, Chinese traditional culture and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cultures are drastically different. They are vastly different in both content and format. Let us look at the two cultures’ historic origins, developments, and manifestations, so as to have a clear understanding of China’s traditional culture.
1.Preliminary understanding of the origin of the Chinese traditional culture
Chinese traditional culture stresses belief in gods.
Gods created mankind, and at the same time, imparted mankind with a culture that people can rely upon to live and develop. So, the belief in gods is the core of the Chinese traditional culture.
Chinese traditional culture includes cultivation-centered cultures, such as Buddhism and Taoism, as well as a culture that praises gods. Despite various cultural phenomena that are not related to gods, these cultures contain nothing against the belief in gods. By tracing back their roots, we can find that they are all somehow related to cultures imparted by gods and contain traces of divinely-imparted cultures.
As the story goes, the god Pangu created heaven and earth and laid down the foundation of Chinese traditional culture, a culture imparted by gods. The Eight Diagrams, which was invented and passed down by the ancient Chinese emperor Fu Xi, the father of the Chinese traditional culture, is the source of the broad and profound Chinese culture. The god Nuwan created man with earth. Emperor Huang gained control over China, and ever since then, the Chinese people, under gods’ blessings, have had a place to live and a stage to play out their existence upon. Emperor Huang’s historical chronicler Cang Jie (1) invented the Chinese characters, and mankind could then pass down the heavenly-imparted culture in their writings.
Simple and unadorned, ancient Chinese people were pure and compassionate. Their belief in gods originated from the bottom of their hearts. Because of this, the lengths of the three early Chinese Dynasties (Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties) were extremely long. The contents of the oracle bones (from Shang Dynasty) were mostly about beliefs in gods, worshiping rituals, foretelling, plain and simple customs, and compassion of people. Shi Jing (i.e., Book of Lyrics, the first anthology of poetry in China, was divided into Feng, Ya, and Odes according to melody and subject matter). A considerable part of Odes was for the eulogy of gods.
Over 2,500 years ago, the teachings of Confucius and Lao Zi in China, and those of Shakyamuni in India (who lived during the same time as Confucius and Laozi) later became the three great schools of thought in China; that is to say, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Of course, beliefs in gods are obvious in the Tao School and the Buddha School, as they are doctrines that people use to guide their cultivation to reach divinity. Strictly speaking, the cultures of the Buddha School and the Tao School are about the knowledge of “going beyond the secular world;” that is, the knowledge does not apply to the secular world. Buddhist monks live in temples, isolated from society; they go outside just to beg for alms, which, in itself, is also a part of the cultivation. Furthermore, once monks enter temples, they change their names and sever themselves from the secular world. Many Taoists cultivate themselves in solitary ways; some stay far away from the secular world; some stay inside it, but their hearts are beyond it. In history, the cultivation processes of many great cultivators in the Buddha School and the Tao School, and their achievements of consummation, have enriched the cultures of the Buddha School and the Tao School.
Confucianism talks about knowledge within the secular world, and it is also the most orthodox culture in China. However, the core of Confucianism is the Tao. Confucius said, “Upon hearing the Tao in the morning, one can pass away in the evening without regret.” The most well known of Confucian texts is the Book of Changes. Confucius liked reading the Book of Changes so much in his late years that the leather string that bound his copy of the book broke three times. TheBook of Changes describes Yin and Yang and the Eight Diagrams that are of the highest wisdom and are the most essential parts of Chinese traditional culture. They are in themselves parts of the divinely-imparted Chinese culture. The Tao School and Confucianism share the same origin. When Confucian practitioners reach a high realm in cultivation, they belong to the Tao School. Confucius selected a portion of the “Tao” that he felt was suitable to spread in the secular world at the time, and taught it to others. As a result, many highly accomplished Confucian scholars in history were also great hermits; they not only had the talents of governing the country, but also knew of heaven and earth, and had profound knowledge; they had the character of “Tao.”
Many highly accomplished scholars in history mustered all the three teachings, Confucianism, Tao School, and Buddha School. However, Buddha School and Tao School cannot be mixed together. Tao School stresses “nothingness,” while Buddha School emphasizes “emptiness.” On the surface, the two schools seem to be similar, but in fact, they are drastically different, and each constitutes an independent cultivation system. Through mutual exclusion, they have maintained and enriched their own respective cultures. Scholars can learn the two schools as knowledge; however, genuine cultivators cannot mix the two in their cultivation. Traditionally, Chinese culture does not name any of the three schools of thought as being better than the others. Each is an essential part in the development of the Chinese traditional culture.
Because Chinese traditional culture is imparted by gods, the realm of “gods” is naturally reflected in the culture, which has endowed Chinese traditional culture with the characteristics of profundity, an all-encompassing nature, etherealness, elegance, nobility, beauty and sacredness.
(1) According to legend, Cang Jie was the inventor of the Chinese character system. He also is claimed to be the official historian for the Yellow Emperor. In Chinese legend, he had four eyes, with two pupils in each eye. As he created the character system, it is said that malicious deities cried out in the night and the sky poured forth millet. He is not considered to be the sole inventor of Chinese characters.