(Minghui.org) When talking about traditional Chinese culture, many people often relate it to ancient philosophies, poetry, painting, and various art forms. Through the many manifestations, we can glimpse its essence—the divine root—and how it inspired Chinese culture for thousands of years.

Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism are the three pillars of traditional Chinese culture. They are the starting point, foundation, and guiding principles followed throughout history. They represent the core values of traditional Chinese culture.

The Divine Connection

Looking back, these three faith systems were born at approximately the same time. Buddhism was introduced by Shakyamuni, Taoism by Laozi, and Confucianism by Confucius. All these happened around the 6th century BC, similar to the time of Socrates (470-399 BC) in Western civilization. Together, they influenced the glorious ancient civilization and helped mankind’s awareness of the world and to understand how to be a better person.

Taoism talks about the harmony between heaven, earth, and mankind. Confucianism discusses kindness in the human world. Buddhism focuses on compassion as well as the cause and effect of relationships throughout the reincarnation cycle.

It is not difficult to understand the divine connection through Taoism. Laozi believed that both heaven and earth were derived from the Tao, and thus mankind should follow the divine. In Chinese, Tao means a road, path, or way, and so mankind should follow the guidance of the divine. In other words, the heavenly law dictates human principles.

Buddhism believes human beings were created by the divine. By enduring hardships in reincarnation cycles, one can return to heaven. According to the Book of the Late Han, Emperor Ming (28–75 AD) of the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) once dreamed of a Buddha and built the first Buddhist temple called White Horse Temple. Other documents showed that Buddhism could have been introduced to China even earlier than this, probably through the Silk Road.

Buddhism flourished in China starting from the third century and was well accepted by scholars by the fourth century. It played an important role in shaping Chinese history, literature, and arts.

Conversation Between Confucius and Laozi

Now let us look at the pillar of Confucianism. Its founder, Confucius, claimed he was a student of Laozi. Sima Qian wrote in Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji in Chinese) that Confucius visited Laozi and asked him about the Tao.

“If the Tao is something tangible, people would not wait and dedicate it to the king. If Tao can be given to others as a gift, people would share it with family members,” Laozi said.

“Born between heaven and earth, mankind is in harmony with heaven and earth. They are all products of nature,” Laozi continued. “Nature has spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Similarly, as a product of nature, mankind has childhood, youth, adulthood, and aging. So, there is no need to worry about one’s life.”

“Birth is part of nature, so is death. Follow the natural course and one’s true self will be retained. While one insists on pursuing benevolence and righteousness, core values of Confucianism, (ren yi in Chinese) against the course of nature, one’s most innate character might be restrained,” Laozi continued. “With fame in mind, one would be bothered by the emotion of anxiety. With material interests in mind, one would be trapped by the emotion of worry.”

Upon hearing Laozi’s remarks, Confucius said, “I am afraid that if the great way (Tao) is abandoned and people do not follow ren yi, it might lead to non-stop wars and turmoil in the nation. Life is short. I want to contribute to the world and help people.”

Referring to the Yellow River, Laozi said, “Why not learn the virtue of water?”

“What is water’s virtue?” Confucius asked.

“The best kindness is seen in water: benefiting everything without competing. Water is also humble and stays in places that others dislike,” Laozi explained. “The sea is where all rivers meet. Because it is good at being humble, it becomes the king of all rivers.”

“Water is the softest thing in this world, but those hard substances cannot conquer it, this is the virtue of softness. That is, the soft will win over the hard, and the weak will win over the strong,” Laozi continued. “Because it does not have form, it can penetrate the tiniest space. This is teaching without words and the benefit of following the course of nature.”

Upon hearing these words, Confucius was very impressed. “Your words are from your heart and they touch my soul,” he said. “I benefit from them so much and will never forget them.”

After returning from the visit, Confucius did not say a word for three days. His disciple Zigong asked him why he was so quiet.

“If I meet someone whose thoughts are agile like a flying bird, I could target his talking points precisely like an arrow and conquer him,” Confucius replied. “If his thought is rapid like an elk, I could chase it with a hunting dog and restrain him. If his thought is profound like a fish swimming in deep water, I could catch it with bait.”

“But if someone’s thought is like a dragon, traveling in clouds without form and out of sight, I could not follow and catch it,” he said. “When meeting Laozi, I felt his realm is like a dragon in the sky, high and intangible. As a result, I opened my mouth but did not know what to say. My tongue was out and it could not get back. All these made me confused: Is he a human being or a divine being? Laozi is indeed my teacher!”

Confucianism and Divinity

The respect Confucius had for the Tao can be seen from his remarks as documented in “Li Ren” in The Analects of Confucius, “When one hears the Tao in the morning, it is not pitiful even if he dies that evening.”

Other writings also showed Confucius’s respect and courtesy toward the divine. For example,

“... By age 50, I know my fate (arrangement of the divine)...” (“Wei Zheng” from The Analects of Confucius)

“If one has disobeyed the divine, praying will have no use.” (“Ba Yi” from The Analects of Confucius)

When high official Heng Tui in the Song dynasty attempted to kill Confucius, Confucius told his disciples, “My virtue came from the divine. Heng Tui can do nothing about it.” (“Shu Er” from The Analects of Confucius)

In summary, although Confucius spent his entire life advocating for li (manners) and ren (compassion), behind that was his trust and obedience to the divine.

Later Generations

Under Confucius’ influence, his disciples and followers also continued the tradition of a divine connection.

His disciple Bu Shang (also known as Zixia) once said, “I heard that, one’s life and death are fate, while one’s wealth depends on blessings from the divine.”

Similar thoughts were also seen in the remarks from Mencius and Xun Kuang. For example, Mencius believed that people have the nature of being good and there is harmony between the divine and mankind. Xun Kuang’s writings on li and zhi (wisdom) also indicated similar beliefs.

Confucianism flourished in the Han and Tang dynasties. In particular, Emperor Wu of Han rejected other theories and only promoted Confucianism. When he asked scholar Dong Zhongshu about the relationship between an emperor, heaven, and personality, Dong replied, “An emperor diligently follows the divine’s intention and order, while educating people well to nurture their personality.” (“Biography of Dong Zhongshu” in Book of Han)

In addition to highlighting the importance of Confucianism, Dong also emphasized the heavenly law. “Mankind came into existence because of the divine,” he said. In fact, the 365 bone fragments of a human being correspond to the 365 days of the year, while the 12 major bone fragments represent 12 months. Similarly, the Five Elements are seen in the five main internal organs, while the four limbs correspond to the four seasons. Human beings’ toughness and gentleness are manifestations of winter and summer respectively, while sadness and joy are reflections of yin and yang. That is, a human being is a copy of the divine. Only by obeying the heavenly law can one be healthy and safe.”

Another wave of Confucianism’s popularity occurred between the Song and Ming dynasties as well as in the Qing dynasty. Zhu Xi and others focused on li (principles) and used them to explain people and things in this world. They also emphasized that human beings must follow the heavenly law.

Therefore, like Buddhism and Taoism, Confucianism was established and passed down through the generations with its deep divine connections. This tradition can be seen in China’s writing, poetry, artwork, costumes, language, and even daily life.

Nearly Lost the Values

In ancient times, people always followed the Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian principles due to their belief in the divine. The book of the Later Han recorded a story about Yang Zhen. After he was appointed to a higher rank, his friend Wang Mi visited him late in the evening and brought 5 kilograms of gold. When Yang refused to accept it, Wang said no one would know that he was given the money. “The divine knows this, you know this, and I know this. What do you mean no one knows?” Yang replied.

After the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seized power in China decades ago, it targeted all faith systems and destroyed traditional values through numerous political campaigns, including the Cultural Revolution. As a result, its society is filled with brutality, corruption, and lies.

Fortunately, Falun Dafa and its principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance have restored traditional values for people and helped practitioners in over 100 countries to improve their mind and body. This will not only bring back traditional values, but help humans reconnect with the divine.