Eastern Religions: A Comparison
an article debating the similarities between islam, taoism and confucianism. religions of the east.
Where the Arabic Muslim culture meats with Taoism and Confucianism.
At first sight, people from a Muslim culture and people from a Taoist or Confucianist culture have nothing at all in common except the fact that all these religions and cultures have their roots in, what is nowadays called, Asia. Islam, one of the most widely spread religions on the planet and a very popular theistic world view is in many ways different from Taoism and Confucianism. In fact, it is a religion that is centered around the existence of an all-powerful god to whom we, as human beings, have to prove our goodness and to whom we must answer after our death. God, will then decide if we deserve to have a good after life in heaven or if we deserve to burn in hell. In Taoism, the main purpose of life is to live it to its fullest and achieve happiness and satisfaction while we are still living. In order to do so, we must live in the context that we exist in, without trying to change it or create any unrealistic needs or desire that will cause us to think that life should be different than what it is. In Confucianism, life is a factor of harmony and etiquette. From this perspective, we ought to create a perfect world of harmony in order to get the most out of life. Doing so requires that we follow very strict rules of etiquette and nurture the hierarchical relationship that we have we our family and other human beings. This perfect harmony of life is the best life possible. For the Confucian, there is not a right way and a wrong way to do things. There is only the best way that will lead to harmony even if we have to sacrifice a little more to achieve it. However, the ways people look at life in a Muslim culture have many similar aspects to the way people look at life in Taoism and Confucianism.
In fact in the Muslim culture, as in a Confucianist culture, there is a very important hierarchical organization of the society that is to be respected at all times no matter what the consequences are. Very similar to Confucianism, the Muslim cultures have devoted complete respect, recognition and power to older people. Furthermore, as in Confucianism, Muslims attach a great deal of importance to the five relationships: Father-Son, Elder Brother-Younger Brother, Husband-wife, Elder-Junior and Ruler-Subject. In each one of these relationships, the older person is to be enormously respected and in exchange, he is to have a minimum of compassion for the younger and is also supposed to act in the way that will best serve the young’s interest. But even if the older was to act in a very unconventional and mean manner, respect towards him is still required and any disruption of the hierarchical order instated would mean very tough societal punishment (such as being disowned or rejected) to the disrespectful. But on the other hand, if harmony is achieved in all the relationships, life will take it’s best turn and become a fully enjoyable experience that will eventually lead to a great life after death.
In the Taoist culture, the purpose of life is to live life to its fullest without thinking that it should be different than the way it is. In fact, in Taoism, it is believed that: “if we have no perceived lack, our life will be the best one because then there will be no desire for things that we don’t have.” Some similarities to this way of thinking exist in the Muslim culture. Even though it is not part of the main and most important ideas of the Muslim religion, it is very typical in such a culture to associate with the Taoist concept that with no perceived lack, there is no desire. In fact, in the Muslim culture, people tend to follow a path of social life that has been traced by their parents and grandparents without desiring to change it, because there is no need for change. For example, from a very young age, young boys are taught that their role in the society is to get educated, start working and then after achieving a good and decent job, their duty is then to care (financially and physically) for their parents when they become too old to care for themselves. Many people will of course be very active and adventurous in their search for financial success and stability. And of course, as we all know, business success requires a lot of ambition and desire to succeed and change the present situation. However, even though there is much desire to succeed, there is no desire at all to get out of the path of societal and familial expectation. People from the Muslim culture are totally dedicated to follow their path in the society without trying to change it because it is perceived to be the best path, one that does not need to be changed. That’s where, as in the Taoist beliefs, we can notice a certain “fatality” to follow your life as “planned”. People live their lives like it is without desire to change it. They just make sure that they make the most out of it without imagining it being different, as explained by the Taoist concept: “ The purpose of life is to live life, without thinking that it should be different than what it is right now.”
It is very interesting though, to notice how the main beliefs in the Muslim religion have been used to influence this way of thinking, whereas in Confucianism and Taoism, this way of thinking is the core of the religion. The influence of the Muslim religion is expressed by what Halverson called: “Touchstone Proposition”. In other words it is the center, fundamental truth on which all this particular world view is based. In the Muslim culture, this fundamental truth is that: “God is infinitely good, powerful and he is the creator.” Interestingly enough, the “words of god” have been used in a way that would be suggesting what the right path of life is. People follow this path in order to be doing the “right things” that god “suggested.” On the other hand, in the two Asian religion considered, people follow a fairly similar path without trying to satisfy god’s will. They live their lives in order to satisfy their own will and in order to, themselves, reach the highest level of harmony with nature without having any “colored filters” between their eyes and reality.
Nowadays, many of us tend to compare every different type of religion to the other and then decide which one is the most appropriate or which world view is the best suited to explain our existence. I, myself, find it very interesting to compare one religion to another. However, I believe that it is of no use to take side by advocating one religion over the other. Having lived in Africa, coming from a Lebanese family and having been exposed to a very large number of religions and cultures, I can honestly conclude that from my own perspective, there is no religion that is “better” than the others. Every single religion has its very positive and interesting aspects, but every single one has also its many flaws. So there is not one that is better, there is one that is better in answering our personal question by giving us a world view that fits most with our beliefs.