Although all three religious movements (Confucianism, Daoism, and Zen Buddhism) are perceived as separate now, the influence of the former ones on the latter one is evident: rituals, concepts, and philosophical constructs from Confucianism and Daoism have become deeply integrated into Zen Buddhism.
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In his book Japanese Confucianism, Kiri Paramore discusses how medieval Confucianism influenced Zen Buddhism. In Song China, Zen Buddhism had to compete with the rising popular Confucianism, which both criticized Zen Buddhism and integrated some of its elements into its worldview. Zen Buddhism, at the same time, also borrowed some of the Neo-Confucianism’s elements. While Neo-Confucianism was a more socially integrated movement, Zen Buddhism was perceived by monks as a perfect synthesis of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, Paramore argues.
Although all Buddhist movements were influenced by Confucianism, Heinrich Dumoulin points out that the ties between Confucianism and Zen Buddhism were exceptionally tight. Zen Monks, who often traveled from Japan to China and back, brought Confucius’ ideas along, which resulted in a particular synergy between Confucianism and Zen Buddhism. In his book Zen Buddhism: Japan, Dumoulin argues that Confucian learning, ethics, and worldviews gained more attention and became part of the lifestyle in Japanese society. Zen Buddhism was strongly influenced by Confucianism, and its ideas were propagated by Zen Buddhists. In Zen monasteries, citizens could even study Confucian learning.
In his study of tea ceremonies and rituals, Okakura Kakuzo compares Zen Buddhism to Daoism. His examinations were presented in The illustrated book of tea. According to Kakuzo, both Daoism and Zen are focused on individualism and the ability to transcend. Moreover, to understand or reach the truth, it is essential to understand the opposites. Zen Buddhism borrowed this concept from Daoism. Daoism, as well as its successor Zen, opposed Confucianism with its individualistic trend. The ritual of tea, argues Kakuzo, was also taken by Zen from Daoism, and eventually transformed into the Japanese tea ceremony.
Steven M. Emmanuel discusses the Daoism influence on Zen in the book A Companion to Buddhist philosophy. He argues that the concept of “nothingness” was inherited from Daoism. The concept of “emptiness” and “nothingness” (Ch. wu, Jp. mu) is often mentioned and discussed in Zen philosophy. However, this word was used by early Buddhists in China, which was later replaced by another character that meant “sky” or “emptiness”. Zen continued to use the wu/mu terms, while other Buddhist schools and movements did not use the word in this sense anymore. Therefore, concepts significant for Zen were a transformation from concepts typical for Daoism.
Another similar concept that was derived from Daoism is the concept of free action or the “non-action”. Both philosophies see this act as a pure activity that is not focused on any willfulness. Thus, any action is only full when it is not interfered with other activities, thoughts, or actions, argues Roger J. Davies is his book Japanese culture: The religious and philosophical foundations. The Zen and Daoism philosophies are characterized through the “mu/wu” (“no, no, none”) definitions. It is an absence of action or thought, but it should not be perceived negatively.
Sarena Abdullah and Chung Ah Kow examine the Malaysian artists that were influenced by Daoism and Zen in their article Re-examining the objects of mystical reality. In the article, they discuss how these two philosophies regard objects as “events”, and time as a mental state that is only relative. Relativity is another concept that Zen inherited from Daoism. Together with the concept of ephemerality, Zen and Daoism explain that reality is conceived rather than seen.