A Comparison of the Confucian and Daoist Views on Death
Keywords:儒家, 道家, 死亡, 比較
LANGUAGE NOTE | Document text in Chinese; abstract also in English.
This essay is a comparative and in-depth analysis of the Classical Confucian (Confucius, Mencius) and Classical Daoist (Lao Zi, Zhuang Zi) views on death. Four aspects of these two philosophies of death (attitude toward death, philosophical articulation of the essence of death, valuation of death, and transcending death) are analyzed and critically contrasted.
First, regarding the general attitude toward death, Confucianism is more rational whereas Daoism is more mystical. Confucianism deems that the problem of human life is more important than the problem of human death, and hence speaks little of death. Daoism, however, is strongly against the human tendency to avoid the topic of death. Since human life and human death alternates like the four seasons, death should by no means be detested. On the contrary, death should be greeted with enthusiasm.
Concerning the nature of death, Confucianism deems that death is a manifestation of the decree of Heaven, which is beyond our control. Death is fate, and is not subject to our autonomy. Daoism understands life and death in terms of the presence and the dispersion of qi (vital force), which is also beyond human control. Besides, both philosopies concur that death is the time of rest；it is a release from the labor of this world.
Regarding the value of death, Confucianism strongly thinks that death, like life itself, should be used to serve the cause of ren and yi (i.e., morality). Hence death can be potentially full of moral significance, and we should try our best to give as much moral meaning to it as possible. We therefore should be prepared to give up our life for the sake of a moral cause. Daoism strongly disagrees with Confucianism in this regard, and takes a naturalistic stance toward death. Since death is an intrinsic part of life, it should neither be delayed nor hastened. Life should be lived to its temporal fullness and should not be sacrificed for any human cause. To die for morality is as bad as to die for financial gain.
Lastly, both Confucianism and Daoism try to transcend the negation and annihilation imposed by death. Confucianism thinks that as long as we live altruistically we will not be bothered by death and not be affected by the anxiety over death. Besides, though one's biological life will perish, one can attain immortality through one's lasting influence to subsequent generations. Daoism, on the other hand, emphasizes the importance of being one with the Dao through meditation and other spiritual disciplines. The end result will be a total mindlessness of death.
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Copyright (c) 1999 International Journal of Chinese & Comparative Philosophy of Medicine
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