Various traditions have historically characterized the East Asian Thought (EAT). They include Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and Shinto. These traditions are spread across various parts of the world. However, they are mostly practiced in East Asia. Nations such as China and Japan have manifested these traditions and have taken part in their development. Its commitment to their development made them valued by the population since they are essential features of the national culture. Later on in East Asia, Christianity and Islam became new forms of traditions and spread through most part of the continent. However, their expression is limited compared to the four key traditions.
Various scholars in East Asia engaged in discourses regarding the Confucianism. The father of this was tradition Confucius. He was a respected and highly acknowledged sage in Asia. His ideas about Confucianism provided a foundation for the development of this tradition through ideas that defined its characteristics. Years later, Zhu Xi advanced new ideologies about Confucianism. For the time he lived, Zhu Xi’s philosophies provided a premise for the advancement of modern Confucian philosophy. These developments marked the birth of neo-Confucianism and Zhu Xi became the steward in this development.
The practice of Taoism began in the early centuries. This tradition developed into two prongs namely the religious component and the philosophical component of Taoism. The philosophical component was called philosophical Daoism while the religious component was called the religious Taoism. The tradition displayed its complexity in many forms. It had various texts that guided its followers. Buddhism also emerged and spread across the various cultures in the world. It spread to regions such as India and showed heavy presence in Southern and East Asia. With time, Western Countries such as Europe and Unite States had begun to embody Buddhism. Buddhism expressed in various forms while it spread to countries across the world. The major forms of Buddhism constituted various schools such as Tiantai, Chan, Nichiren Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism. Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism showed major presence in China.
Another tradition that came emerged in East Asia was the Shinto. This was mainly practiced in Japan, in the East Asian belt. Shinto was mainly a system of religion among the original inhabitants of Japan. It had features that distinguished it from Buddhism and Confucianism even though it was influenced by the two. The focus on Shinto is the deities that are in the world. One thing characterized these traditions. The family played an important role in the East Asian Thought. The way in which the family as a unit was perceived in these traditions is something to write home about.
The Confucian thought influenced both the government and the society of China. This thought was grounded on the belief that the universe had an existing order. This order is the cause of harmony that seems to prevail between man and nature. This philosophy views man as a social being and held the belief that man should exhibit the natural order in his relations. To achieve this order, the family plays a role as possible conduit through which order could prevail. The family unit is the basic social unit where man interacts with his immediate family. If social order is to be achieved in Confucianism, it has to begin from the family unit before it can be experienced elsewhere. The relationships that exist among family members are of crucial importance to all others. It is characterized by a hierarchy that places the husband and wife on the highest social order. The children follow in the same hierarchy.
There are clearly defined responsibilities for each member of the hierarchy. However, some roles demand mutual responsibility and participation from every member in the hierarchy. The relationship between subordinates and their superior is a major tenet of this philosophy. Respect for parents under this tradition was paramount. In the same respect, parents had a compelling duty to attend for their children. They were required to provide their children with the basic needs in return of the respect. This mutual relationship between parents and their children created a virtue of devotion that was popular called filial piety. This system in which the family was held in high regard promoted and influenced various thoughts. For example, there was the belief that the state would be established in the framework of the family among many philosophical thinkers and scholars. In this regard, they assumed that the government would be established on a monarchical arrangement while the state retains its family model. Confucianism views the ruler as a father of all people and that he is ruling under the mighty grace of Heaven.
Morality was the basis of leadership and anyone that had ambitions of ruling the state had to come from a high moral foundation. Reputation of the rulers could not be compromised. Attention was put on his family background rather than the changing laws. The ruler was viewed as a father-figure. His conduct on the matters of state was tied to his uprightness and development in the family. This philosophy believed that the society, through the family churns potential rulers and that any breach of acceptable norms was viewed as an insult to the state. This form of loyalty made the Chinese people to regard the state as a nation-family. Confucianism bestowed the state as the guarantor of the welfare of the people. The assumption is that better governance by father-figures can guarantee order and peace.
Initially, people were so tied to the virtues of peace and social order that they viewed their rulers as promoters of social stability and population growth. They were expected to enhance conditions that would foster and develop the welfare of the people, in the same manner a father does in the family. Hansen posited that it was the role of a father in the family setup to ensure that social order, peace and stability prevail. In the same respect, the rulers, having emerged from existing family set ups were required to exemplify the traits of responsible fathers. Families that produced rulers were revered and perceived to be the greatest embodiment of order under the Confucian philosophy.
The state played a key role in ensuring that the water was available for use by the population. It also ensured constant supply of food to allay fears of that droughts and floods presented. The rulers were bound to deliver services to the people for the fear of losing the mandate to rule. Lew et al. added that the power to rule was seen to have come from Heaven and rulers were expected to guarantee their citizens essential services that would enhance their comfort and stability. The Confucian thought viewed the man as a perfect being. It perceived all men to be equal and that individuals had similarities. The perception about the perfectness of a man was instrumental in ensuring that he provides for the family. Against this backdrop, the role of a man was equivalent to that of the rulers of state. The political systems of China borrow from this model. Both the government and opposition were bound by the commitment to ensure that the people acquire basic education.
The family head had a responsibility of ensuring that his generation had access to schools while the state was obliged to facilitate conditions that would be favorable for learning in the schools. The family played an important in the promotion of Confucian ethics. These set of ethics were related to the entire concept of the universe that comprised man, nature, heaven and earth. Actions that were considered acceptable were said to come from high ethical foundations while those that were regarded as unacceptable owed their foundation to unethical behaviors. The ethical component of an individual was tied to his biological-historical setting. The family, therefore, played a role in promoting high ethical values.
According to this philosophy, unethical attitudes and behavior came from family backgrounds that failed to exercise firmness in nurturing ethics. The practice of culture among human beings was acceptable and it was to be done in a manner that upheld high ethical perceptions. Confucianism supported the relationship among people within the family and their environment. According to this tradition, the heavens, earth and humans were creatures in the universe. Due to their relationship in creation, they acted together. In this regard, the family played a role in the development of environmental ethics. This philosophy underscored the significance of group effort. It believed that for a greater amount of work to be done, group effort was necessary for it symbolized love and yielded greater strength and oneness. Individuals that emphasized oneness achieved collective goals. Thus, the family’s centrality in enhancing this goodness could not be overemphasized.
The focus on family bred consciousness among the people and invited their attention to the necessity of having a sustainable environment. In this regard, they possessed a strong ethic of indebtedness that influenced their behavior towards their environment. This consciousness invoked a sense of attachment to the past generations while it reminded them of their commitment to the sustainability of future generation through their practices. Confucianism focused on lineage and the raising of individuals in ethical perspectives. The family had a responsibility of nurturing an ethical culture among its members.
The tradition of Taoism viewed a family as a united group. According to this tradition, both the living and the dead related to each other through worship. It was influenced by the belief that the dead exist after death and can be consulted in times of need. It believed that the spirit of the departed has power and can intervene in terms of need. In this regard, the family unit was seen as a basis towards ensuring social order and harmony with the dead. The family offered various sacrifices to appease the dead. Culturally, this was important as it was believed to be a way of getting rid of evil in the society. It was meant to fulfill the filial duties of an individual and affirm his commitment to traditional obligations that Taoism advanced. Filial piety was a major component of this practice.
The family was the purveyor of this cultural exercise since worshipping was done at the family level. The family improvised shrines depending on its economic status. The shrines displayed the names and photographs of the dead relatives. Taoism required the living family to show honor for the departed soul(s) as a sign respect and to demonstrate to them how relevant they were during the times they lived. They were honored because through their existence, the living descendants came to exist. During the moment of honor, family members sought the wisdom of the departed relatives.
Buddhism’s focus was on the establishment of Sangha. Centrality was placed on the role of sangha in promoting oneness within a spiritual community. Sangha was central to establishing foundation for Buddhist practice. The importance of sangha was to promote love, peace and mutual coexistence among children and families as a whole. It was perceived to be important in overcoming counterproductive habits among the people. This tradition focused on all aspects of human life including his material and spiritual needs. The family was seen as a means that could foster and promote the ideals of sangha. The family produced children that were modeled in the spiritual community and encouraged to adopt skillful practices.