In the native Chinese Confucian traditions Heaven (Tian) is an important concept, where the ancestors reside and from which emperors drew their mandate to rule in their dynastic propaganda, for example.
Heaven is a key concept in Chinese mythology, philosophies and religions, and is on one end of the spectrum a synonym of Shangdi ("Supreme Deity") and on the other naturalistic end, a synonym for nature and the sky. The Chinese term for Heaven, Tian (天), derives from the name of the supreme deity of the Zhou Dynasty. After their conquest of the Shang Dynasty in 1122 BC, the Zhou people considered their supreme deity Tian to be identical with the Shang supreme deity Shangdi. The Zhou people attributed Heaven with anthropomorphic attributes, evidenced in the etymology of the Chinese character for Heaven or sky, which originally depicted a person with a large cranium. Heaven is said to see, hear and watch over all men. Heaven is affected by man's doings, and having personality, is happy and angry with them. Heaven blesses those who please it and sends calamities upon those who offend it. Heaven was also believed to transcend all other spirits and gods, with Confucius asserting, "He who offends against Heaven has none to whom he can pray."
Other philosophers born around the time of Confucius such as Mozi took an even more theistic view of Heaven, believing that Heaven is the divine ruler, just as the Son of Heaven (the King of Zhou) is the earthly ruler. Mozi believed that spirits and minor gods exist, but their function is merely to carry out the will of Heaven, watching for evil-doers and punishing them. Thus they function as angels of Heaven and do not detract from its monotheistic government of the world. With such a high monotheism, it is not surprising that Mohism championed a concept called "universal love" (jian'ai, 兼愛), which taught that Heaven loves all people equally and that each person should similarly love all human beings without distinguishing between his own relatives and those of others. In Mozi's Will of Heaven (天志), he writes:
"I know Heaven loves men dearly not without reason. Heaven ordered the sun, the moon, and the stars to enlighten and guide them. Heaven ordained the four seasons, Spring, Autumn, Winter, and Summer, to regulate them. Heaven sent down snow, frost, rain, and dew to grow the five grains and flax and silk that so the people could use and enjoy them. Heaven established the hills and rivers, ravines and valleys, and arranged many things to minister to man's good or bring him evil. He appointed the dukes and lords to reward the virtuous and punish the wicked, and to gather metal and wood, birds and beasts, and to engage in cultivating the five grains and flax and silk to provide for the people's food and clothing. This has been so from antiquity to the present."
Original Chinese: 「且吾所以知天之愛民之厚者有矣，曰以磨為日月星辰，以昭道之；制為四時春秋冬夏，以紀綱之；雷降雪霜雨露，以長遂五穀麻絲，使民得而財利之；列為山川谿谷，播賦百事，以臨司民之善否；為王公侯伯，使之賞賢而罰暴；賊金木鳥獸，從事乎五穀麻絲，以為民衣食之財。自古及今，未嘗不有此也。」Mozi, Will of Heaven, Chapter 27, Paragraph 6, ca. 5th Century BC
Mozi criticized the Confucians of his own time for not following the teachings of Confucius. By the time of the later Han Dynasty, however, under the influence of Xunzi, the Chinese concept of Heaven and Confucianism itself had become mostly naturalistic, though some Confucians argued that Heaven was where ancestors reside. Worship of Heaven in China continued with the erection of shrines, the last and greatest being the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, and the offering of prayers. The ruler of China in every Chinese dynasty would perform annual sacrificial rituals to Heaven, usually by slaughtering two healthy bulls as sacrifice.
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