Four structural factors for religious tolerance in the Chinese culture: Tao, mind, sage and scripture

CHEN Lisheng1

(1.Department of Philosophy, Sun Yat-sen University)

【Abstract】This paper attempts to reveal the conditions for possibility of religious tolerance in Chinese culture from the following four aspects: (1) the ambiguity and inter-ness of Tao in the category of creativity; (2) a kind of unbiased, moderate, and totally-unselfish mind for everything as well as a perceptual thinking with three ingredients (mutually-beneficial Yin and Yang, harmony in diversity, and principle of benevolence and loyalty) that stem from the Tao and mind as mentioned above; (3) an ethical notion that makes no distinction among all existing values; and (4) the openness of scripture. The four structural factors provide a solid philosophical ground for the inclusive-learning spirit rooted in Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, or even in the wider range of the Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, and Christianity.

【Keywords】 Tao; mind; sage; scripture;


Download this article


    [1]. (1) For more discussions on the relevant topics about definition of multiple religious affiliation, see Many Mansions? Multiple Religious Belonging and Christian Identity, ed. Catherine Cornille, Marynoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2002. [^Back]

    [2]. (2) Tang, J. 中华人文与当今世界. Taiwan: Student Book Bureau, 456–499 (1978). [^Back]

    [3]. (1) For Tang Junyi’s three points of view on sacrifice, see Peng, G. in Jin, Z. & Zhao, G. (eds.) Religion and Philosophy (宗教与哲学) (vol.1) Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press (China), 336–361 (2012). [^Back]

    [4]. (1) These records from Chinese literature show that the Tao originated from the natural world but had some supernatural quality, that is, the one that could be connected with human beings by its subjectivity, instead of being eternally-unchanged objects from within. “You can hand it down but you cannot receive it; you can get it but you cannot see it” means that the Tao itself can communicate with people through a channel from top to bottom, which is intangible so people cannot see it, so that people communicate with and get it through learning through mind. It cannot teach by hands or eyes. It is obvious in this paragraph that the Way is one above of the world as a supernatural being. “It is its own source, its own root,” which theologically means that the world could not be the root of itself, but the Tao could be the one itself, making it different from the ordinary one. “Before Heaven and earth existed, it was there,” which uncovered the ontological primacy of the Tao. It creates not only the world but also ghosts and gods. All these can be regarded as a pioneer of Tillich’s theory of God beyond God. See He, G. 月印万川: 宗教, 社会与人生. Beijing: China Social Sciences Press, (2003). [^Back]

    [5]. (2) 朱子语类 (Vol. 1, Vol. 4) in朱子全书 (Book 14), 118, 119. [^Back]

    [6]. (3) [Britain] Bruce, J. Chu Hsi and His Masters. Zhang, X. & Zhang, H. (trans.) Xiamen: Xiamen University Press, 171–174 (2010). [^Back]

    [7]. (4) Hans Küng suggested that the Tao was not a humanoid god but it was featured by creativity, making it surprisingly similar to god. Kong also argued that the Tao in Chinese philosophy was similar in structure to Heidegger’s existence and the God of Christianity. This similarity is crucial to the understanding of the absolute concept of cross-cultural or religious communications. See Qin, J. & [Swiss] Küng, H. 中国宗教与基督教. Wu, H. (trans.) Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company, 154, 156 (1990). [^Back]

    [8]. (5) Ma, D. (ed.) Yang, Y. & Ma, J. (annot.) 四典要会. Xining: Qinghai People’s Publishing House, 21–22 (1988). [^Back]

    [9]. (1) 传习录 (I) in 王阳明全集 (vol. 1), 23. “认定” in the original text was written as “认谓” in Chinese, and changed to today’s format in 传习录集注详评. [^Back]

    [10]. (2) See Wang, B. 唐会要(vol. 49). Content of Emperor Tang’s decree was completely included in the Inscription in 景教流行碑. [^Back]

    [11]. (3)Tang, Y. 汉魏两晋南北朝佛教史. Beijing: Zhonghua Books Company, 62 (1983). [^Back]

    [12]. (4) Weng, S. (coll. & annot.) 汉语景教文典诠释. Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company, (1996). [^Back]

    [13]. (5) 王阳明全集 (vol. 6), 205. [^Back]

    [14]. (1) Dong, L. & Qian, M. (punc.) 从吾道人语录in徐爱 钱德洪 董澐集. Nanjing: Phoenix Publishing & Media, 264 (2007). [^Back]

    [15]. (2) Deng, H. (ed.) Deng, H. (coll. & annot.) 南询录校注. Wuhan: Wuhan University of Technology Press, 80 (2008). [^Back]

    [16]. (3) Zhu, W. (ed.) 利玛窦中文著译集﹒导言. Beijing: Fudan University Press, 26, 43 (2001). [^Back]

    [17]. (4) 广弘明集 (vol. 6), 132. [^Back]

    [18]. (5) Zhang, X. Liu, Z. in 续修四库全书﹒子部﹒宗教类 (Book 1296), 470–471. [^Back]

    [19]. (6) Ma, Z. 清真指南. She, Z. (punc.) Yinchuan: Ningxia People’s Publishing House, 190 (1980). [^Back]

    [20]. (1) Official Knowledge about Oblong Heaven, quoted from Sun, Z. 王岱舆与刘智评传. Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, 24 (2006). [^Back]

    [21]. (2) Wang, T. 漫游随录. Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press (China), 10, 78–79 (2007). [^Back]

    [22]. (3) Du, W. in 杜维明文集(vol. 3), 481. [^Back]

    [23]. (4) Rao, Z. in 选堂选集. Taiwan: Taiwan Maitreya Press, 470–471, 474 (1984). [^Back]

    [24]. (5) Wang, J. in Wu, Z. (punc.) 王畿集 (vol. 17). Nanjing: Phoenix Publishing & Media, 486 (2007). [^Back]

    [25]. (6) Shi, J. et al. 中国佛教思想资料选编 (vol.3, vol. 2), 465. [^Back]

    [26]. (1) Shi, J. et al. 中国佛教思想资料选编 (vol.3, book 2), 163 (1987). [^Back]

    [27]. (2) 林子三教正宗统论 (book 1) in四库禁毁书丛刊(book 17), 667–677. [^Back]

    [28]. (3) 牟子理惑论in弘明集, 2. [^Back]

    [29]. (4) 大慧普觉禅师普说 (vol. 4) in 中华大藏经(book 4, vol. 3), 1460. [^Back]

    [30]. (5) “Sage, the Heaven, earth and people are in the world, where Confucianism, Buddhism, Lao Tzu, Zhuangzi are all useful, that is the big Tao. Making wisdom different is for private intention, that is the small Tao.” 王阳明年谱三in王阳明全集(vol. 34), 1298–1299. [^Back]

    [31]. (6) Zhou, R. in东越证学录(vol. 1) in四库全书存目丛书﹒集部 (book 165), 437. [^Back]

    [32]. (7) Jiao, Hong. & Li, J. (punc.) 答耿师 in澹园集 (vol. 12), 82, 83 (1999). [^Back]

    [33]. (1) [America]Knitter, P. One earth, Many Religions: Multifaith Dialogue & Global Responsibility. Wang, Z., Si, Z. & Wang, H. (trans.) Beijing: China Religious Culture Publisher, 53 (2003). [^Back]

    [34]. (2) Shi, S. 弘明集后序 in 弘明集 (vol. 14), 97. [^Back]

    [35]. (3) 广弘明集 (vol. 6), 132. [^Back]

    [36]. (4) Wang, T. 中说﹒周公篇. Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company, 14 (1985). [^Back]

    [37]. (5) Jia, 则堂集 (vol. 2) Imperial Collection of Four (vol. 1189), 298. [^Back]

    [38]. (6) Zhu, W.(ed.) 畸人十篇 in 利玛窦中文著译集, 488. [^Back]

    [39]. (7) [Italy] Ricci, M. 利玛窦中文著译集, 96. [^Back]

    [40]. (1) 天方圣教序(vol. 20), 469. [^Back]

    [41]. (2) Confucius said, “there is a great sage in the West, who helped people there living in peace without governance, making others believe without communication, and having good conduct of behavior without enactment, who is so great and broad that people cannot fail to obey and praise him!” Liu, Z. 天方至圣实录 (vol. 19), 462. In the late Qing dynasty, the Islam Confucian Ma Dexin (1794–1874) proposed, “there have been many religions since the ancient times. Does each of them have a sage for itself? This religion, however, does not establish an iconic sage, and this is of part wise people study the most.” This means that all sages are equal in the eyes of ordinary people, and he also emphasized that “the sage in our religion is the way of reasoning as the Heavenly-way, while other religions believe the way of doing in line with the sage. Wisdoms depend on how much you get instead of how many are there.” Buddhism creates sages above the reality and sages in the reality, and this concept also means that there do exist the way of reasoning (the Heavenly-way) about cause and effect, which is frequently mentioned in Buddhism. See Ma, F. 大化总归(I) Yang, D. & Ma, H. (coll.) 大化总归四典要会合印. Beiping: Halal Press, 22 (1923). [^Back]

    [42]. (3) Karl Rahner, “Christianity and the Non-Christian Religions,”in Theological Investigations, vol. 5 ( Baltimore Helicon,1966), 116. Quoted from [America] Fredericks, J. Buddhists and Christians: Through Comparative Theology to Solidarity. Wang, Z. et al. (trans.) Beijing: China Religious Culture Publisher, 10 (2008). [^Back]

    [43]. (4) Han, S. in Shi, J. (ed.) 中国佛教思想资料选编 (book 2, vol. 3), 352–353. [^Back]

    [44]. (5) Peter C. Phan, Multiple Religious Belonging: Opportunities and Challenges for Theology and Church, Theological Studies 64 (2003), pp. 500–501. [^Back]

    [45]. (1) Yang, J. 慈湖遗书 (vol. 1). [^Back]

    [46]. (2) 潜溪前集(vol. 6) in Luo, Y. (ed.) 宋濂全集 (vol. 1). Hnagzhou: Zhejiang Ancient Books Publishing House, 72 (1999). [^Back]

    [47]. (3) 王阳明全集 (vol. 7) 254–255. [^Back]

    [48]. (4) Hui, H冷斋夜话(vol. 6) Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company, 47 (1988). [^Back]

    [49]. (1) [America] Sharf, R. Coming to terms with Chinese Buddhism. Xia, Z. & Xia, S. (trans.) Shanghai: Shanghai Classics Publishing House, 15 (2009). [^Back]

    [50]. (2) In the Southern dynasty, He Shangzhi once said, “In the Southern dynasty, scholars had realized that Confucianism lacked a “spiritual meaning,” which showed that Confucianism needed wisdom from Buddhists and Lao Tzu, and it needed more renovation through developing Neo-Confucianism that may help Confucianism advance.” This is what Kugong said, “Still a big problem to face.” [^Back]

    [51]. (3) Lyu, D. 中国佛学源流. Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company, 100. [^Back]

    [52]. (4) Tang, Y. 魏晋玄学论稿. Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company, 133 (2009). [^Back]

    [53]. (5) Chen, L.东塾记 (vol. 4) in Shen, Y. (ed.) 近代中国史料丛刊 (book 47). Taipei: Wenhai Publishing House, 258–259 (1966). [^Back]

    [54]. (6) Knitter, P. F. Without Buddha I could not be a Christian, London: One World, 2009. [^Back]

    [55]. (1) Guo, Q. & Zheng, W. 杜维明文集(vol. 4) Wuhan: Wuhan Publishing House, 539 (2002). [^Back]

    [56]. (2) 赠郑德夫归省序 in 王阳明全集 (vol. 7), 254. [^Back]

    [57]. (3) Lyu, M. Collection of Modern History Research Institute (近代史研究所集刊), (32). [^Back]

    [58]. (4) Liu, S. 儒家思想的转型与展望. Shijiazhuang: Hebei People’s Publishing House, 316 (2010). It should be noted that with the prevalence of pluralism, the Americans have long disliked using the melting pot to flaunt their cultures, because the melting pot means taming differences and melting down the original characteristics. The metaphor of “kaleidoscope” has replaced the term “melting pot” as a hot word for the American cultural pluralism. See Lawrence H. Fuchs: The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity, and the Civic Culture, Wesleyan University Press, 1990. [^Back]

This Article


CN: 11-1299/B

Vol , No. 02, Pages 8-19

April 2017


Article Outline



  • 1 Tao
  • 2 Mind
  • 3 Sage
  • 4 Scripture
  • 5 Conclusion
  • Footnote