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East and Southeast AsiaThe Daoist Yin-yang, Three Teachings Are One, Modern China, Korea, Japan

When speaking of religion in East and Southeast Asia, a series of unique problems arises. What the West views as religion in Asia might well pass as philosophy and vice versa. The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy views religion as oscillating between two extremes:

total reference to supernaturalism (religion is the belief in and worship of a divine transcendent reality that creates and controls all things without deviation from its will); total reference to humanistic ideals (religion is any attempt to construct ideals and values toward which one can enthusiastically strive and with which one can regulate one's conduct). (Angeles, p. 262)

Hence, the philosophy of religion studies a variety of topics from existence of "god" and moral thought to the relationships between church and state, science and religion, and philosophy and religion. Geddes MacGregor explains that the expression "philosophy of religion" arises from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

So religion, which Hegel tended to see as a sort of "baby philosophy" using picture-imagery rather than intellectual understanding, called for philosophical inspection along with everything else and was indeed peculiarly deserving of such philosophical scrutiny since it was to be regarded as a sort of kindergarten philosophy. (pp. 483–484)

Julia Ching also struggles with the fuzzy borders of philosophy and religion. She writes:

In discussing the continuum between the heavenly (or cosmic-natural) and the human orders, we are also discussing a theme common to both religion and philosophy.… This happens because the lines of demarcation between religion and philosophy are not so clear in the Chinese tradition—the situation resembles that in Europe before the eighteenth century, that is before a parting of the ways between philosophy and its erstwhile mentor, theology. (p. 8)

Ching tries to resolve this dilemma by use of both a history of religions and history of ideas approach.

Ninian Smart takes religion to a civilizational level with "philosophical" and "doctrinal" dimensions. The ultimate meanings of life are examples of the philosophical dimensions, while daily rituals are part of the doctrinal dimensions (p. 17). Likewise, Willard G. Oxtoby asks the following questions: "Are there not philosophies that share with religion the contemplation of ultimate reality? Do not both enterprises seek to map out the good that people should seek in their conduct?" (p. 454). Oxtoby sees philosophy as an individual intellectual endeavor alongside religion as a collective ritualized force. The Western world invented the word religion to correspond to Christianity through the Latin word religio (religion), which carried with it the idea of "piety," "faith," and "action" (p. 449). He concludes that religion is

a sense of power beyond the human, apprehended rationally as well as emotionally, appreciated corporately as well as individually, celebrated ritually and symbolically as well as discursively, transmitted as a tradition in conventionalized forms and formulations that offer people an interpretation of experience, a view of life and death, a guide to conduct and an orientation to meaning and purpose in the world. (p. 454)

Rather than a hierarchy between philosophy and religion, the East sees co-constitutive relationships. The Chinese concept of yin-yang stood in for a complex crossing of experiences that encompassed rituals of everyday life, ethical behavior, heavens and hells, birth and death ceremonies, ancestors, cosmologies, and ideas about nature, health, and society. Collectively, yin-yang served the function of both religion and philosophy. Hence, there could be a religion of philosophy or a philosophy of religion.

The way that yin and yang are connected is unique to East Asia. Unlike a Hegelian-inspired conflictual world of culminations and overcomings of antipodes, the East embraces mutually conditioning linked opposites that are harmonious in both matter and spirit. The polarities of yin and yang are fundamental to the relationships within and between Eastern religions/philosophies such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Although Confucianism and Daoism are indigenous to China, they reach throughout Korea into Japan and south into Vietnam. Likewise, Indian Buddhism traversed the Silk Roads in the first century to pass throughout China and Thailand into the Far East.

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