Some Commonalities in Confucian and Taoist Thought

A Dafa Particle

PureInsight | September 30, 2002

Those who are familiar with Confucius’ School of thought would know that the entirety of Confucius’ book Lunyu is intended to completely explain Confucius’s idea of “ren.” (humane) In the Chinese language, “ren” often refers to adopting a noble manner towards other people. “Confucius has left behind the doctrine of the mean, a way of conducting oneself..” (From “Not Cultivating the Dao, Yet Already in the Dao,” Zhuan Falun Book II, draft translation). The precise ideas of human interactions presented in Lunyu deeply affected the Chinese that came after, and it became one of the most valued Chinese legacies. But if we take a careful look at Lunyu, a book that was compiled by Confucius’ students after he passed away, Confucius mentioned “Tao” [used interchangeably with Dao] on numerous occasions. The best example is the phrase “learning the Tao in the morning, one can die in the evening” from the “Li Ren Chapter.” Why didn’t he say “learning the ren [instead of the Tao]?” Where did the whole idea of Tao originate from in a book that speaks so highly of ren? Also, the Tao was regarded as being more important than ren. What did Confucius, who liked to talk to his students about the metaphysical in his Book of Changes, but not about gods or spirits, have in mind?

In the “Li Ren Chapter” we find the following dialog. If we take a cultivator’s point of view it’s not difficult to find some clues.

Confucius said, “Zeng Shen, my Tao is “Yi Yi Guan Zhi” (meaning “Tao is One Law that penetrates all levels”).
Shen said, “Yes, I see.”
Confucius left. Someone asked, “What does that mean?”
Shen said “The way of Confucius is, 'loyalty’ and ‘forgiveness,’ that’s all there is.”

Obviously Confucius was using the opportunity of the conversation with Shen to explain the “Tao” to his students. We know that Confucius was a cultivator (1). In the Tao School, the teacher gives true teachings to only one chosen student [out of many potential students]. The one with good enlightenment quality and inborn quality will receive the true Fa (Law). This conversation was a dialog relating to cultivation. But Zeng Shen didn’t have good inborn quality. Confucius told him explicitly that his Tao has one Law that penetrates all, but Shen concluded that his teacher’s Tao meant “loyalty” and “forgiveness.” If one just learns loyalty and forgiveness in the morning and dies in the evening with no regret, that would be an understatement of Confucius’ Tao.

So what is the Tao of Confucius? In the “Wei Ling Gong Chapter,” there is another dialog concerning “Yi Yi Guan Zhi.”

Confucius said, “Siye, do you think that my knowledge comes from experience and learning?”
Siye answered, “Does it not?”
Confucius said, “No! It’s from One Law (that penetrates all levels).”

Here we learn that Confucius’ Tao is not [obtained] from learning. Therefore, Confucius is not talking about learning or knowledge; the real Tao has no relationship with study. In actuality, it would be difficult to know the Tao of Confucius without reading his explanations in the Book of Changes. In the first chapter of “Xi Ci Shang Zhuan,” it states explicitly:

“When the Heaven is formed above and the earth below, the Yin and Yang had been stabilized; Yang yields ease and Yin yields simplicity. Ease yields perception and simplicity yields obedience. Perception yields closeness and obedience yields results. Closeness yields duration and results yield effect. Duration yields De for the sage and effect yields Ye for the Sage [note: here, De (Virtue) and Ye (karma) mean the same thing: white matter]. Hence, ease and simplicity allow access to all knowledge (enlightenment). Upon having this knowledge, with time, the [fruit status] seat is within.” We can see that the Tao is the true law of heaven and earth. The nature of the true law is the fact that it’s simple and easy. The higher the law, the easier and simpler it is, as a great way is extremely simple and easy. So it’s not difficult to understand why Confucius kept on emphasizing that the Law is One Law that penetrates all levels. And “ease and simplicity allow access to all knowledge” is describing reaching the Tao (enlightenment), and learning the way of cultivation. And “the [fruit status] seat is within” refers to the time when one knows the Tao and has spent a good amount of time on returning to his true self, and his “gong” is high enough, and thus the Consummation status is within.

That’s why Confucius always encouraged scholars to seek the Tao with the saying “the gentleman’s goal is the Tao” (“Li Ren Chapter”). He taught his students to “[put your] mind in the Tao, your base in virtue, rely on ‘humane,’ and enjoy art.” –“Shu Er Chapter.” The first two relate to cultivation, and the latter two relate to ruling and learning. But then, why did Confucius say, “I do not talk about demons and ghosts,” and “One knows not about death without knowing birth?” This might have troubled many ordinary scholars. In Zhuan Falun, Lecture 3, Teacher reveals the answer, “Once you want to truly practice cultivation, your life will be in danger right away…Many qigong masters dare not teach students toward high levels. Why? They just cannot take care of this matter, and they cannot protect you. In the past there were many people teaching the Tao. They could only teach one disciple, and about all they could do was to look after one disciple.”

Confucius did not come to earth to teach the Fa like an enlightened being. He is a typical example of a scholar becoming a cultivator. In “Shu Er Chapter,” Confucius wrote, “I am not someone who knew everything the moment I was born. I admire the ancient and love to learn.” And he said, “[I] admire the ancient.” Admiring the ancient is to inherit and follow ancient Chinese knowledge. In the vocabularies of the Book of Changes it talks about Taiji, the Eight Triagrams, Hetu, Luoshu, etc, and these are all knowledge of the universe that’s related to cultivation. Confucius [said he] “started learning at age 15.” He steadfastly studied the ancient cultures, and learned “the meaning of destiny,” that is, he understood the meaning of life. He started to “learn the Book of Changes at age 50,” walked the path of cultivation, and became a practitioner.

So from human society’s perspective, he taught his students how to live and to learn the ways of ruling and knowledge. As Confucius gradually gained more understandings of the Law, he added elements of cultivation into his teaching, so that students with good inborn quality could also become practitioners. Because he couldn’t protect all of his students, and since cultivation involves matters of life and karma from previous lives, in the past those who knew such rules wouldn’t talk about it in the open and students had to rely on their enlightenment quality to understand. Therefore, Confucius said to the more general students and ordinary people, “I do not talk about demons and ghosts.” But inside his heart he believed firmly in the Tao and that admiring (following) Lao Zi and Peng Zu would lead him to Consummation and to return to his true self. This “Confucius exterior with Taoism interior” shows that Confucius’ method of cultivation is just the same as the Tao School cultivation. Confucius also placed emphasis on being a humane person: “restrict oneself and be polite.” To start off by being a good person and to cultivate one’s xinxing (mind-nature, moral character) is the foundation of cultivation. So, it’s easy to see Confucius’ life and journey of transformation from the standpoint of cultivation, and from this perspective his Lunyu would make a lot of sense and no longer [seem to] contain contradictions.

Therefore, “the way of Confucius is to cultivate Truthfulness.”

From Confucius’ process to find the Tao, it’s not difficult to understand what he meant by “learning the Tao in the morning, one can die in the evening.” We can see that the “Tao” is very valuable! But learning the “Tao” is as difficult as finding a way into heaven. To “learn the Tao,” means to find someone who can clearly explain the way of cultivation to you. One must be present in the exact time frame when an enlightened being has descended to this earth, and the searcher himself must be able to identify the Tao. Because “[only] a wise person hears the Tao.” From this perspective, another implication of the saying “learning the Tao in the morning, one can die in the evening” is being born in the same era when an enlightened being has descended onto the earth, and being able to listen and understand his teachings. If one could meet him in the morning he would not regret dying in the same evening! To put it another way, Confucius feels that if he could do that, he would still be smiling if he died that same evening.

I was confused by Confucius’ Lunyu for a long time. Yet these questions have been resolved as I read Zhuan Falun; the answers are all in the book, and it explained to me Confucius’ saying of “learning the Tao in the morning, one can die in the evening.” Teacher said, “Falun Dafa has for the first time throughout the ages provided the nature of the universe — the Buddha Fa — to human beings; this amounts to providing them a ladder to ascend to heaven.” (From 'The Teachings in Buddhism are the Weakest and Tiniest Portion of the Buddha Fa' in Essentials for Further Advancement)

This is indeed an age that even Confucius would envy.


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