Conflict between Buddhism and Confucianism

In the handouts for Lesson 6 (p 10), it states than in 340 CE, Yu Bing issued edicts on behalf of the emperor.
These were to assert the supremacy of Confucianism and the inappropriateness of Buddhism.

Of interest to me is the statement that "there can be only one (principle of government); if one makes it two, disorder will be the result."

This particular rejection of Buddhism rings a bit hollow for a number of reason, not the least of which is the fact that Taoism also provided its own political guidance and principles in addition to those of Confucianism.

See Chapter 57 of the Laozi for one example:

Use the expected to govern the country,
Use surprise to wage war,
Use non action to win the world.


The more prohibitions and rules
The poorer people become.
The sharper the people's weapons
The more they riot.
The more skilled their techniques,
The more grotesque their works.
The more elaborate the laws,
The more they commit crimes.

Therefore the Sage says:
Wo wu wei
I do nothing
And people transform themselves.
I enjoy serenity
And people govern themselves.
I cultivate emptiness
And people become prosperous.
I have no desires
And people simplify themselves.

See also Chapter 58:

If government is muted and muffled
People are cool and refreshed.
If government intrudes and investigates
People are worn down and hopeless.

- Translation by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo

We do see in Book XIII of the Analects of Confucious (Waley) one of several points of agreement with the Laozi, that, "If the ruler himself is upright, all will go well even though he does not give orders."

Yet in Book II, we see a statement that seems to both agree and conflict with elements of the above:

"The Master said, Govern the people by regulations and chastisements, and they will flee from you, and lose all self respect.
Govern them by moral force, keep order among them by ritual, and they will keep their self-respect and come to you of their own accord."
Here we see the avoidance of prohibitions and rules referenced in the Laozi; the mention of ritual in the Analects (a central theme) is completely absent from the Laozi.

Furthermore, in Book XIV of the Analects, we have the statement that, "So long as the ruler loves ritual, the people will be easy to handle."

Again we have a mention of ritual found nowhere in the Laozi.

Notwithstanding the fact that we now know that both the Laozi and the Analects are not the product of a single author (so neither of these is truly representative of "one principle" but an amalgamation of sometimes conflicting principles) , the simple fact that both were simultaneously in use throughout various eras and Dynasties would seem to throw cold water on the notion that using two principles - or at least referring to them in formulating the principles of government - would lead to disorder.

Differences between Confucianism and Buddhism

Though there are many similarities between the two, the key difference between them is that Confucianism is an ethical and philosophical system, whereas Buddhism is a followed religion.

Buddha and Confucius were both Asian philosophers from the 6th century B.C, who sought ways to end the people’s sufferings all around the world. Although, both asked similar questions, they had different solutions to the problem. Confucius believed the answer was found in orderly society, while Buddha believed it could be found through personal effort. Both the men led to the foundation of Confucianism and Buddhism in the history and culture of China.

Confucianism is a primary ethical and social philosophy that is built on the foundation of religion to establish social virtues in the society. The core of this philosophy is humanity, morality and ethics. The main focus, here, is on the basic relationship between man and his society. It encourages social harmony and mutual respect between the people. It mainly concerns with the good value that is obtained by establishing social values.

On the other hand, Buddhism is a religion or ‘a way of life’ that is based on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. This term comes from the word ‘Budhi’ which means to ‘to awaken’. This ideology was born under the influence of Siddharta Gautama, also known as the Buddha or the ‘enlightened one’, wherein people seek to reach the state of ‘nirvana’ by simply following the path of Enlightenment.

Now, as both the ideas were established in the same century, Confucianism and Buddhism are considered to be parallel to each other. They both are widely analogous in their teachings and ideas, wherein they both promoted their indifference to god, as both of them did not revolve around the idea of God. Both of them considered education as part of life, which is important for the perfect understanding and enlightenment of a person. Another similarity is both the philosophies value, respect and considers the elderly to be the wisest.

Though, at times, Confucianism and Buddhism are similar in certain aspects, they are far apart in their beliefs, ideas, base, and so on, such as the former is more secular and latter is spiritual in nature. They also diverge in their fundamental beliefs in which Buddhists completely focus their energies in attaining ‘nirvana’ or step outside the wheel of life, while the Confucians devote their time in improving their relationship with society and its norms.

However, both of them bring harmony and goodwill to the people, and become a part of the Chinese culture until today.