Those familiar with the religious history of China will know the expression ‘the three religions’ or ‘the three teachings’. It refers to Buddhism, Taoism and the Way taught by Confucius. Going back to ancient or medieval times, we can say that those with education in China would study all three.
The three teachings were competitive, each vying for pre-eminence; but the rivalry was good-natured, not belligerent. The Taoists were satirized for their alleged interest in occult powers and longevity, the Confucians for their seeming focus on externals, while Buddhism, unless inspired by illumined masters, was at risk of degenerating into worldliness and superstition or else was regarded as being chiefly monastic and with little relevance to people who worked in the world. But none of these frictions inflamed the emotions or led to ‘wars of religion’. On the contrary, each of the three ways was steeped in wisdom, and discerning minds knew how to savour the riches of each tradition.
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