27. Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism – Overview

27.1. The goals of the three thought systems

Daoism is a teaching of well-being at the level of the individual. The ultimate goal is immortality. It is perceived as showing some indifference towards society and ethics. Some pre-Daoist and “Daoist” ideas are so pervasive in East Asia that it is difficult to notice their presence. This includes in the case of films.

Buddhism is a religion of personal salvation (defined as release from constant suffering). It has an ethical system because of its compassionate point of view and the need to purify the body and mind for proper spiritual training. Some ideas of Buddhism are pervasive in East Asian, although more concentrated in Korea and Japan, especially Japan. Buddhism is present in the atmospherics of some films but makes in presence felt in terms of its actually teaching much less often.

Confucianism is an ethical system focused on the social world. It embraces Chinese cosmology as its cosmology but shows little interest in spiritual matters. Most ethical components of Confucianism remain strong in all East Asian countries but perhaps strongest in Korea. However, specifically within films, the presence is often less obvious or simply less, depending.

27.2. “Love” in the three thought systems

None of the above systems treat love as close to divinity in the way that Christianity does.

Daoism has shown some interest in the exchange of energies during sex, and has a position on the compatibility of the individuals but does not particularly promote love in and of itself.

Buddhism treats all attachments as unhealthy but does support compassionate love that seeks to release others from their suffering. It has traditionally been monastic and anti-family but that has not been the case for many sects now for hundreds of years.

Confucianism places a very high value on “ren” (仁) which can be thought of as humanness, or human warmth, or human understanding of another’s heart and this, in some ways, can be called love. It sees the most natural form of love, however, is xiao (孝 parent nurturing, shielding and sacrificing for child, child responding with obedience and appreciation). Doing one’s duty (yi 義) to another is often a way of communicating one’s love for another but it is not required that one do one’s duty with a feeling of love. Confucianism strongly supports the traditional family structure and so, deductively, supports marriage but it does not treat it as a sacred institution in the way that Christianity does.


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Interpreting Love Narratives in East Asian Literature and Film Copyright © 2019 by John R Wallace is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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