The Religion of China
Theosophical Quarterly, January, 1907
The records of China go back nearly five thousand years. Twenty-eight centuries before our era, say these records, a hundred families, coming from the west, entered China as conquerors, gradually building up a kingdom, and then an empire. From these hundred families several successive dynasties arose, among whom certain monarchs gained enduring fame. The sacred books of ancient China record the sayings and doings of these monarchs, their wisdom and justice; and they are sacred through the reverence paid to the antique kings, rather than from any claim to inspiration, or from dealing with divine things. In truth they are histories and poems, rather than scriptures; yet the divine shines through them, and the view they give of life is lofty and noble, full of faith in God and immortality.
Some three or four centuries after the coming of the Hundred Families, a certain Exalted Lord ruled over the Kingdom of Flowers. His title was Ti Yao, and his history is enshrined in the earliest chapter of the Shu King, the ancient Chinese Book of Histories. Of this monarch of the twenty-fourth century before our era, four thousand three hundred years ago, the Shu King says:
“Examining into antiquity, we find that the Exalted Lord, Ti Yao, was reverential, intelligent, accomplished, and thoughtful,—naturally, and without effort. He was sincerely courteous, and capable of all complaisance. His bright influence was felt through the four quarters, and reached to heaven above, and earth beneath.
“He distinguished the able and virtuous, and thence proceeded to the love of the nine classes of his kindred, who thus became harmonious. He also regulated and polished the people, who all became devoutly intelligent. He united and harmonized the myriad states, and so the black-haired people were transformed. The result was universal concord.
“He commanded the brothers of the Hsi and Ho families in reverent accordance with the wide heavens to calculate and delineate the sun, the moon, the stars, and the zodiacal spaces, and so to deliver respectively the seasons to be observed by the people. He declared to the Hsi and Ho brothers that a round year consisted of three hundred and sixty and six days. . . .”
The exalted Yao thus played in China somewhat the same part as had been played in Egypt, some two thousand years earlier, by the great Menes, who “united the Two Lands” of Upper and Lower Egypt into a single stable monarchy. In due time, Yao desired to retire from his throne, and sought everywhere for a worthy successor. A certain Shun was recommended to him, of whom it was said: “his father was obstinately unprincipled, his step-mother was insincere, his half-brother was arrogant. But by his filial piety he has been able to live in harmony with them, and to lead them gradually to self-government.” No stronger recommendation could be asked for, therefore Shun was sought out, and after due testing, was enthroned in Lord Yao’s stead, “receiving Yao’s retirement in the temple of the Accomplished Ancestor.” Of Shun, the Shu King tells us that:
“He examined the pearl-adorned turning sphere, with its transverse axle of jade, and reduced to a harmonious system the movements of the Seven Directors.”
In this poetical way we are told that Shun, like his great predecessor, was an astronomer; for the pearl-adorned sphere is the proud overhanging firmament fretted with golden fire, and the Seven Directors are the Seven Stars, called in India the Seven Seers, and later the Great Bear. The Shu King continues concerning Lord Shun:
“Thereafter he sacrificed specially, but with ordinary forms, to God; sacrificed with reverent purity to the Six Honored Ones; offered their appropriate sacrifices to the hills and rivers; and extended his worship to the host of spirits. He made a tour of inspection eastwards as far as Thai Tsung (in Shan-tung), where he presented a burnt offering to Heaven, and sacrificed in order to the hills and rivers. Thereafter he gave audience to the princes of the east. He set in accord their seasons and months, and regulated the days; he made uniform the standard tubes, with the measures of length and capacity, and the steel yards; he regulated the five ceremonies. . . . He then returned to the capital, went to the temple of the Cultivated Ancestor, and sacrificed a single bull. . . . He instituted the division of the land into twelve provinces, raising altars upon twelve hills in them. He also deepened the rivers. He exhibited to the people the statutory punishments . . . and money to be received for redeemable offences. . . . Those who transgressed presumptuously and repeatedly were to be punished with death. ‘Let me be reverent! Let me be reverent!’ he said. ‘Let compassion rule in punishment!’”
In due time, the Lord Shun “went on high and died.” Of his successor Yü, it is said in the Shu King:
“On the first morning of the first month, he received the appointment in the temple dedicated by Shun to the spirits of his ancestors.”
The Shu King records the following noble sentiments of another monarch of the same period:
“Heaven hears and sees as our people hear and see; Heaven rightly approves or displays its terrors as our people brightly approve or would awe; such connection is there between the upper and lower worlds. How reverent ought the masters of territories to be! . . .
“To revere and honor the path prescribed by Heaven is the way ever to preserve the favoring appointment of Heaven.”
It is related that, some three thousand six hunded years ago, the Lord Thang ruled over the Land of Flowers. To his princes he addressed these words, as the Shu King records:
“I am fearful and trembling, as if I were in danger of falling into a deep abyss. Throughout all the regions that enter on a new life under me, do ye not follow lawless ways; make no approach to insolence and dissoluteness; let every one be careful to keep his statutes; that so he may receive the favor of Heaven. The good in you I will not dare to keep concealed, and for the evil in me, I will not dare to forgive myself. I will examine these things in harmony with the mind of God.”
This last magnificent sentence would be hard to parallel, in the sacred books of other faiths. It is full of the grandeur of simple piety and abiding faith in Providence; and it is characteristic of the ancient religion of China that all earthly events are viewed as immediate expressions of the Divine Will. “Good and evil do not wrongfully befall men,” says the Shu King, “but Heaven sends down misery or happiness according to their conduct.”
Another monarch of the same epoch declares:
“When I offer the great sacrifices to my predecessors, your forefathers are present share in them. They all observe the happiness I confer and the sufferings I inflict, and I cannot dare to reward virtue that does not exist.”
These passages give a fair view of the quality of the Shu King, with its pictures of Yao and Shun and Thang, and the ancient monarchs who ruled in reverence and virtue, sacrificing to God, to the Six Great Ones, to the Ancestors, to the spirits of river and hill. There is no theology here, but very genuine religion, and even more ethics. Religion is applied directly to life, to the social system; and the duties of all classes, from the king to the husbandman, are looked on as appointed by High Heaven, who rewards the righteous and punishes evil-doers. There is also a strong faith in immortality, in the survival of the spirits of the ancestors, who dwell close to their descendants, watching over them, and receiving from them the offerings at the four great sacrifices of spring, summer, autumn and winter. “When the lutes are strongly swept or gently touched,” says the Shu King, “the progenitors of the Ruler come to the service.”
The Shih King, the Book of Odes, sheds a further light on these sacrifices to the Progenitors. Here is part of the Ode sung at the sacrifices offered to the Lord Thang, of whom we have already spoken:
“How admirable! How complete!
Here are set our cymbals and drums.
The drums resound harmonious and loud,
To delight our meritorious Ancestor!
The descendant of Thang invites him with his music,
That he may soothe us with the realization of our thought.
Deep is the sound of our cymbals and drums,
Shrilly sound the flutes,
All harmonious, and blending together,
According to the notes of the sonorous gem.
Oh majestic is the descendant of Thang;
Very admirable is his music.
The large bells and drums fill the ear;
The various dances are grandly performed.
We have the admirable visitors,
Who are pleased and delighted.
From of old, before our time,
The men of old set us the example,
How to be mild and humble from morning to night,
And to be reverent in discharging the service.
May he regard our sacrifice of winter and autumn,
Thus offered by the descendant of Thang!”
We see that the quarterly sacrifice to the spirits of the Ancestors was a kind of dramatic performance, with music and dancing, and a certain effect of orchestral richness. It was held in the temple of the Ancestors, and visitors were invited to take part in it. Sacrifices were offered, generally a red bull, and we learn that a liquor distilled from rice or millet was also poured out as a libation to the spirits of the ancestors.
One sentence in this Ode needs further consideration: that in which the spirit of Thang is asked to soothe his praying descendant with “a realization of his thought.” This refers to the central event of the sacrifice, the apparition of the progenitor himself. The descendant who offered this sacrifice spent three days in fasting, during which he was to call up before his mind’s eye the image of the progenitor to whom the offering was made, imaginatively reproducing every detail of his face and garments and gestures, until a living and moving picture was visible to his mind’s eye. He was to carry this picture to the temple of the ancestors, and there the spirit of the ancestor would enter and vivify the form thus reproduced, communing with his descendant, and revealing to him secrets, or giving him wise counsel. The Book of Odes makes it clear that not only fathers and grandfathers were thus invoked, but that the spirits of women ancestors were likewise called on:
“Abundant is the year with much millet and rice;
And we have our high granaries,
With tens and hundreds of thousands, and millions of measures,
For liquors and sweet liquors,
To present to our ancestors male and female,
And to supply all our ceremonies.
The blessings sent down on us are of every kind.”
Among the Odes of the Shih King, there are some full of pathos and aspiration; prayers in a very true sense. Such is the following, uttered by a servant of the state, who had been wrongfully accused and disgraced by the king:
“O vast and distant Heaven,
Who art called our Father!
That without crime or offence,
I should suffer from disorders thus great!
The terrors of great Heaven are excessive,
But indeed I have committed no crime.
The terrors of great Heaven are excessive,
But indeed I have committed no offence!”
Hardly less touching is the following prayer of a youthful prince called to reign before he had come to strength, and weighed down by the burden laid upon him:
“Alas for me, who am a little child,
On whom has devolved the unsettled state!
Solitary am I, and full of distress,
Oh my great father,
All thy life long thou wast filial,
Thou didst think of my great grandfather,
Picturing him ascending and descending, in the court,
I, the little child,
Day and night will be as reverent.
Oh, ye great kings!
As your successor,
I will strive not to forget you!”
Noteworthy all through the earlier Chinese books is the view that God removes dynasties as well as sets them up. There is the divine right of kings, so long as they rule justly. Then, when they fall from justice and virtue, a new dynasty is appointed, and rules equally by right divine. This doctrine is well illustrated in the following lines from one of the Major Odes of the Shih King:
“Great is God,
Beholding this lower world in majesty,
He surveyed the four quarters of the kingdom,
Seeking for someone to give establishment to the people.
Those two earlier dynasties
Had failed to satisfy Him with their government;
So throughout the various states,
He sought and considered
For one on whom He might confer the rule.
Hating all the great states,
He turned kind regards on the west,
And there gave a settlement. . . .”
It is a tribute to the essentially democratic spirit of ancient China, that the poem of the small farmer appears in the ancient Book of Odes, side by side with the memorial song of the departed king. It would be hard to find a more vivid expression of common life, the life of the toiling millions of men, than is enshrined in this poem:
“Very sharp are the excellent plough-shares
With which they set to work on the south-lying acres.
They sow their various kinds of grain,
Each seed containing in it a germ of life.
There are those who come to see them
With their baskets round and square,
Containing the provision of millet.
With their light splint hats on their heads,
They ply their hoes on the ground,
Clearing away the smartweed on dry land and wet,
The weeds being decayed,
The millet grows luxuriously.
The millet falls rustling before the reapers;
The gathered crop is piled up solidly,
High as a wall, united like the teeth of a comb;
And the hundred houses are open to receive it,
Those hundred houses being full,
The wives and children have a feeling of repose.
Now we kill the black-muzzled tawny bull,
With his crooked horns, To imitate and hand down,
To hand down the observances of our ancestors.”
There is a like natural freshness in this little poem, which is also very ancient:
“Crash! crash! respond the falling trees;
Chirp, chirp, respond the birds to their fellows.
They come from the shady dells
Flitting upon the lofty trees,
Answering each other in their songs,
And seeking their friends with their notes;
Behold these songsters!
Like friends they ask for replies.
Shall it be then that men
Desire not their living friends?
The gods listen to those
Who to their end are peaceful and united.”
Even more pathetic is the following song of sorrow:
“Even the solitary larch
Has leaves to form a green shade;
But I must wander alone and forlorn.
Do I say there are no human beings?
No! But none to me is kindred.
Ah, ye who pass by,
Will none of you consort with me?
A man bereft of his brothers;
Alas I will none assist me?”
With these texts in mind, let us now take a general survey of the ancient religion of China. All the elements are included in the citations we have given from the oldest Sacred Books. We find, as the head and front of this ancient religion, a genuine reverence for God, the moral and intelligent Governor of the Universe, who is approached in prayer, who watches over mankind, exalting the humble and casting down the mighty from their seats. God is the author of moral law, of the law of righteousness; and he who would be righteous must act “in harmony with the mind of God.” Very genuine virtues were recognized: honesty, humility, temperance, compassion, effective work for others; and there was a single standard for king and peasant alike. The realm of God is personified as Heaven; or perhaps it would be better to say that divine Providence is so personified; yet God it always thought of as one and indivisible, mighty, and just.
Reverent worship is next paid to the hosts of spirits, also held to be intelligent and moral beings, dwelling in the invisible world, guiding the movements of the heavenly bodies, and the ordered processes of natural forces on earth. These spirits are the ministers of God, and carry out God’s decrees throughout nature, and toward man.
Regular worship is also paid to the spirits of the dead, in sacrifices celebrated every quarter, or every year. Bulls and rams are offered as burnt offerings, and rice-wine and the liquor of millet are poured forth to them as libations. As far as these ancient books tell us, the condition of the spirits of the dead is uniformly happy. Where there has been sin, it has been punished by suffering on earth, and the spirits of ancestors are gathered in the realm of the divine, whence they watch over their descendants, and whence they come, summoned by music, to the festal sacrifices, to commune with their children and grandchildren, to counsel them, reproving or approving their works.
This is the entire spiritual content of the ancient Chinese religion, as shown in the most ancient Sacred Books of China. It is not less remarkable for what it contains than for what is omitted. It is a religion of light. There is no dark counterpart of the Deity, where are no gloomy Spirits of the Abyss. There is no hell of torment for erring mortals. Further, among the cardinal omissions we may reckon the fact that there is no cosmogony, no teaching of the Creation or Evolution of the worlds; there is no Deluge story; there is no system of Avatars, such as we find in nearly all religions; there is no doctrine of Reincarnation or rebirth Among the spirits, we find those who punish evil doing, but we find no spirits of malice and destruction.
We have seen that the Hundred Families came from the west some five thousand years ago, and settled on the Hoang-ho. It has been conjectured, with much show of reason, that they came from a region within the influence of the ancient Sumerians, whose land we may call Chaldea. Like them, they had a hieroglyphic system, closely resembling that of ancient Egypt, and it is the difference of writing material, more than anything else, which has differentiated the Chinese ideographs from the Chaldean cuneiform. The worship of God as the Spirit of Heaven, the worship of the hosts of spirits, and of the souls of ancestors all take us toward Chaldea; yet we miss entirely in the Chinese system the dark and sinister elements so conspicuous in the Chaldean system, especially as developed at Nippur, in the north of the Chaldean land. The numeral and astronomical systems of China also point toward Chaldea, and nearly all our Sinologues are ready to accept these indications. Yet it seems difficult to account for the omissions just pointed out. How is it that the Chinese have preserved the light of Chaldea without the shadow? Are we not almost forced to believe that the Chinese and Chaldean systems are divergent branches of a common source, in some region further to the north, perhaps in the neighborhood of Issyk Kul, and that from this center colonies went forth in three directions, to the Euphrates valley, to the headwaters of the Indus, to the Hoang-ho, carrying with them the worship of God as the Spirit of Heaven; of the hosts of spirits; of the souls of the departed, who were propitiated and nourished by regular sacrifices, in Chaldea, in India and in China alike?
In each case, these colonies of many thousand years ago came into contact with older populations, who already possessed strongly contrasted elements of religion. Thus in Chaldea the ancestor-worshippers were mingled with an Egyptian colony, worshippers of Osiris, whom they reverenced as a divine Incarnation. In India, the ancestor-worshippers found the more ancient Rajanya or Rajput race, akin to the Egyptians, and in possession of the Mystery Teaching which was the secret splendor of Egypt. In China, the ancestor-worshippers were mingled with older tribes, of older races, for whom the propitiation of demons was a large part of religion, as it was also with a part of the population of Chaldea and among the darker races of southern India. Thus grew up the late deformation of purer primitive faith.
When we come to the Chinese sages, of whom Lao-Tze is the most renowned, we find many of the elements which are missing in the older religion of China. Here are cosmogonies, accounts of the Creation of the world; and here also are more mystical elements, making a closer approach to what we have found in Egypt and India:
In the works of the great sage Yü-Tze, who was at the height of his fame rather more than three thousand years ago, we find certain of these mystical elements. When asked by his disciple king Wen-Wang what was the supreme shortcoming, the sage replied:
“To know one’s faults, and not to correct them. Acting thus, a man loses himself, and destroys his own life. This is the ruin of the principles of government and morals. The righteous man and the sinful man are shown by their words and deeds. Thus he who rejects error, knows the truth; he who hates evil, follows good. Thus wisdom (Tao) is in his speech. The teaching which has been handed down to our day, and which gives happiness to the world, is what is called Tao. Sincere benevolence is what brings the people what they need, without their seeking. To drive away the evils on this world is the work of goodness. Goodness and loyalty, peace and justice (Tao) are the principles of action of sovereigns; all beings are the instruments of these principles. He who ignores them, will not attain his end.”
From the same sage, who, preceded Lao-Tze by five centuries, we quote also a fragment of cosmogony:
“Heaven-and-Earth brought forth, and all beings were born. All beings thus born were governed by man. He can slay what he has not brought to life; but what Heaven-and-Earth have slain, he cannot bring to life. Man changes to grow better. Animals change only to become worse. A man whose acts are evil is justly called an animal.
“There was first Heaven, then Earth. When the Earth was formed, distinction immediately came into being. From distinction came right and duty. After right and duty came the teaching, and after the teaching, the body of principles. From the principles came the rules of action, and then the numbers were formed.
“The sun has its darkness and its brightness, the day and night, and this produces numbers. The moon waxes and wanes, and has its conjunctions and disjunctions, which mark the periods. These four facts by their fixity rule the numbers.”
Contemporary with this sage was another, Tze-Ya-Tze by name, also a preceptor of king Wen-Wang. When the monarch was at the point of death he called his heir, and asked the sage to declare the principles of Tao, the teaching of wisdom. The sage replied:
“Three things hinder Tao: to see the good to be done, and to neglect it; to hesitate when the occasion presents itself; and to know evil and follow it. On the other hand, four things make Tao prosper: perfect calm with gentleness; respect with diligence in duty; humility with force; firmness with endurance.”
The words of these two sages have this added interest, that they show us the use of the mysterious word Tao several centuries before it was chosen by the great Lao-Tze as the central thought of his great work the Tao-Teh-King: “the Book of Tao and Teh,” “of the Way and Virtue.”
Lao-Tze was born in the year 604 B.C., in the third year of king Ting of the Chau dynasty. He was curator of the royal library of Chau, but filled with grief over the decadence of the dynasty he determined to retire from the world and betake himself to the mountain region to the west of China. At the pass on the frontier, in Honan, he was recognized by the guardian of the pass, himself a lover of wisdom, who asked him to leave a record of his doctrine. This record is the Tao-Teh-King, divided into two parts, and containing five thousand characters. It contains eighty-one short chapters, sentences from some of which we shall give:
“The way that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Way. The word that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging Word.
“Having no name, It is the originator of Heaven and Earth; having a name, It is the Mother of all things.
“Under these two aspects It is really the same; but as development proceeds, It receives different names. Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is deepest, is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.” (I. 1, 2, 4.)
It is evident that the Tao of Lao-Tze is Brahma or Atma of the Upanishads, described as “the Living Self, the great Mother, full of divinity, who comes forth through life, standing hid in secret, born through creatures.” In Chinese, Tao has three meanings: in the physical sense, it is a Way; in the moral sense, it is Wisdom; in the spiritual sense, it is the Oversoul, the Eternal, the Logos. Let us quote further:
“Tao is like the emptiness of a vessel; and in our employment of It, we must be on our guard against all fulness. How deep and unfathomable It is, as if It were the honored Ancestor of all things!
“We should blunt our sharp points, and unravel the complications of things; we should attemper our brightness, and bring ourselves into agreement with the obscurity of others. How pure and still the Way (Tao) is, as if It would ever so continue.
“I do not know whose son It is. It might appear to have been before God.” (IV. 1, 2, 3.)
With this we may compare the words of the Upanishad:
“When the five perceptions and mind are steadied; and when the soul struggles not, this, they say, is the highest Way. . . . All that the universe is, moves in life, emanated from It.”
Once more Lao Tse:
“Heaven is long-enduring, and Earth continues long. The reason why Heaven and Earth are able to endure and continue thus long, is because they do not live of, or for, themselves.
“Therefore the Sage puts his own person last, and yet it is found in the foremost place; he treats his person as if it were foreign to him, and yet that person is preserved. Is it not because he has no personal and private ends, that therefore such ends are realized?” (VII. 1, 2.)
Here again, we may compare the Upanishad teaching:
“Considering the life of the powers as apart, and their rising and setting a they grow up apart, the Sage grieves not. . . . When all desires that dwell in the heart are let go, the mortal becomes immortal.”
We may also compare the words of another Teacher:
“The last shall be first, and the first, last.”
The Tao-Teh-King further declares:
“The highest excellence is like water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving, the low place which all men dislike. Hence its way is nearer to that of Tao.” (VIII. 1.)
This vividly recalls the words of St. Francis of Assisi:
“Praised be my Lord for our sister water, who is very serviceable unto us, and humble and precious and clean.”
Once more from the Tao-Teh-King:
“When the intelligent and animal souls are held together in one embrace, they can be kept from separating. When one gives undivided attention to the life, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliancy, he can become as a babe. When he has cleansed away the most mysterious sights, he can become without a flaw. . . .
“Tao produces all things and nourishes them; It produces them and does not claim them a Its own: It does all, and yet does not boast of it; It presides over all things, and yet does not dominate them. This is what is called the Mysterious Quality of Tao,” (X. 1.)
The first part of this passage teaches that the animal soul must be held firmly in subjection to the divine soul; that thus the life-force will be concentrated, and perfect control reached; that the mind-images in the psychic body must be purified; that thus the disciple will become as a little child, pure and without flaw. The purity from egotism thus reached is illustrated by the Soul, which, having made all things, boasts not. Lao Tse continues:
“We look at It, and we do not see It, and we name it ‘the Equable.’ We listen to It, and we do not hear It, and we name It ‘the Inaudible.’ We try to grasp It, and we do not get hold of It, and we name It ‘the Subtle.’ With these three qualities, It cannot be made the subject of description; hence we blend them, and obtain ‘the One.'” (XIV. 1.)
Compare with this the Upanishad teaching.
“The form of That does not stand visible, nor does anyone behold It with the eye. By the heart, the soul, the mind, It is grasped; and those who know It, become immortal.”
This is, no doubt, the real meaning of the oft quoted saying that Tao promotes longevity, generally misunderstood in a bodily sense.
“The subtle Masters (of Tao) in olden times, with a subtle and exquisite penetration, comprehended its mysteries, and were deep also, so as to elude men’s knowledge.” (XV. 1.)
“The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight; the empty, full; the worn-out, new; he whose desires are few, gets them; he whose desires are many, goes astray.
“Therefore the Sage holds in his embrace humility, and manifests it to all the world. He is free from self-display, and therefore he shines; from self-assertion, and therefore he is distinguished; from self-boasting, and therefore his merit is acknowledged; from self-complacency, and therefore he acquires superiority. It is because he is thus free from striving that therefore no one in the world is able to strive with him.” (XXII. 1, 2.)
Perhaps these sentences show better than any others that Lao-Tze is in truth one of the Illumined, and that his teaching is the immemorial wisdom of old, the wisdom that the Seers know.
“There was something undefined and complete, coming into existence before Heaven and Earth. How still It was and formless, standing alone, and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere and inexhaustible. It may be regarded as the Mother of all things.
“I do not know its name, and I give It the designation of Tao. Making an effort to give It a name, I call It the Great.
“Being Great, It passes on. Passing on, It becomes remote. Having become remote, It returns. Therefore Tao is great; Heaven also is great, Earth is great; and the royal Sage is great. In the universe there are four things that are great, and the royal Sage is one of them.
“Man takes his law from the Earth; the Earth takes its law from Heaven; Heaven takes its law from Tao. The law of Tao is being what It is.” (XXV. 1, 2, 3, 4.)
This is the teaching of Emanation, thus set forth in the Upanishad:
“The Lord of Beings desired beings. He brooded with fervor; and, brooding with fervor, he forms a pair. These are the Substance and the Life. ‘These two will make beings manifold for me,’ said he.”
This is almost verbally the same as the sentence of Lao-Tze:
“Tao produced One; One produced Two; Two produced Three; Three produced all things.” (XLII. 1.)
“To those who are good, I am good; and to those who are not good, I am also good. To those who are sincere, I am sincere; and to those who are not sincere, I am also sincere.” (XLIX. 2.)
The closest parallel to this is found, perhaps, in the words:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.”
“Tao which originated all under the sky is to be considered the Mother of them all.
“When the Mother is found, we know what her children should be. When one knows that he is his Mother’s child, and proceeds to guard the qualities of the Mother that belong to him, to the end of his life he will be free from all peril.” (LII. 1.)
This beautiful passage is most closely paralleled by that quoted already from the Upanishads, concerning “the great Mother, full of divinity, who comes forth through life:” and we find the same image in another Upanishad:
“All this is in Life’s sway, all that is set firm in the triple heaven. Guard us as a Mother her sons, and as fortune, give us wisdom!”
The closest approach to this personification of divine Wisdom as the Mother to be found in the New Testament is, perhaps, the sentence of St. Paul to the Corinthians, where he speaks of the Christos as “Theou dunamin kai Theou Sophian,” Sophia being taken as the feminine power of the Logos, the Sanskrit Vach. The primordial Mother in Sanskrit is called Aditi, from whom Ten Sons are born, the Host, we might call them, of Planetary Spirits.
“He who knows It, does not speak. He who is ready to speak, does not know It.” (LXI. 1.)
This is exactly the same as the Upanishad sentence:
“Of whom It is not thought, of him It is understood; who thinks It, knows It not. It is unknown to the knowing; It is known to the unknowing.”
For this is the wisdom hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed to “babes”; the intuitional wisdom, which eludes the mind.
“The Master of Tao anticipates things that are difficult, while they are easy, and does things that would become great, while they are small. All difficult things in the world are sure to arise from a previous state in which they were easy, and all great things from one in which they were small. Therefore the Sage, while he never does what is great, is able on that account to accomplish the greatest things.” (LXIII. 2.)
“The Sage desires what other men do not desire, and does not prize things difficult to get; he learns what other men do not learn, and turns back to what the multitude of men have passed by. Thus he helps the natural development of all things, and does not dare to act from his own desires.” (LXIV. 4.)
We may parallel this ideal from the Upanishads:
“The Self-being pierced the openings of the senses outward; hence one looks outward, not within himself. A wise man looked toward the Self with reverted sight, seeking immortality.”
We may close our study of Lao-Tze with these words:
“The Sage does not accumulate. The more he expends for others, the more does he possess of his own; the more he gives to others, the more he has for himself.
“With all the sharpness of the Way of Heaven, It injures not; with all the doing in the Way of the Sage, he does not strive.” (LXXXI. 1, 3.)
The quotations suffice to show that Lao-Tze is a genuine Seer and Sage, worthy to be counted among the Wise Men of the world. His teaching is at all points in harmony with the teaching of the Upanishads, the Mystery Doctrine, and it is in such a work as the Tao-Teh-King that we have the clearest evidence of the presence of the Mystery Teaching in China. It is true that in that Far-Eastern land the Mystery Teaching is rather a method, a Way, than a philosophy with ordered doctrines. Yet this is wholly in harmony with the spirit of that race and land, and is what we should look to find. It is worth remembering that Krishna speaks of himself as “the Way;” and that the method of that other Teacher who also said: “I am the Way,” was called “the Way” before it was called the Gospel.
A word in conclusion. The ancient Chinese religion which we have described and quoted, was gathered from many sources, and set in order by the great Confucius, who was born some fifty years later than Lao-Tze, and who knew that great Teacher. Confucius said of himself that he was a transmitter and not a maker, “one who believed in and loved the ancients;” and it was said of him that “he handed down the doctrines of Yao and Shun, as if they had been his ancestors.” We have already seen what were the doctrines of Yao and Shun; amongst them was the reverence for ancestors here alluded to.
It is usual, in studies of the religions of China, to include an account of Buddhism, which reached that country in the sixtieth year of our era. I have thought it better to illustrate only what China herself contributes to the world’s religions, omitting what other lands contributed to the religions of China.