Tian (天), a Chinese religious concept, often translated as “Heaven”
The modern Chinese character天 and early seal script both combine dà大 “great; large” and yī一 “one”, but some of the original characters in Shāng oracle bone script and Zhōu bronzeware script anthropomorphically portray a large head on a great person. The ancient oracle and bronze ideograms for dà 大 depict a stick figure person with arms stretched out denoting “great; large”. The oracle and bronze characters for tiān 天 emphasize the cranium of this “great (person)”, either with a square or round head, or head marked with one or two lines. Schuessler (2007:495) notes the bronze graphs for tiān, showing a person with a round head, resemble those for dīng丁 “4th Celestial stem“, and suggests “The anthropomorphic graph may or may not indicate that the original meaning was ‘deity’, rather than ‘sky’.” Two variant Chinese characters for tiān 天 “heaven” are 兲 (written with 王wáng “king” and 八bā “8”) and the Daoist coinage 靝(with 青qīng “blue” and 氣 “qì“, i.e., “blue sky”).
Tian was the name in modern languages include Mongolian: Тэнгэр (“sky”), Bulgarian: Тангра, Azerbaijani: Tanrı. The Chinese word for “sky” 天 (Mandarin: tiān, Classical Chinese: thīn] and Japanese Han Dynasty loanword ten) may also be related, possibly a loan from a prehistoric Central Asian language.
Tengri (Old Turkic: 𐱅𐰭𐰼𐰃; Bulgarian: Тангра; Modern Turkish: Tanrı; Proto-Turkic *teŋri / *taŋrɨ; Mongolian script: ᠲᠩᠷᠢ, Tngri; Modern Mongolian: Тэнгэр, Tenger), is one of the names for the primary chief deity since the early Turkic (Xiongnu, Hunnic, Bulgar) and Mongolic (Xianbei) peoples. Worship of Tengri is Tengrism. The core beings in Tengrism are Heavenly-Father (Tengri/Tenger Etseg) and Earth Mother (Eje/Gazar Eej). It involves shamanism, animism, totemism and ancestor worship. The Turkic form, Tengri, is attested in the 8th century Orkhon inscriptions as the Old Turkic form 𐱅𐰭𐰼𐰃 Teŋri. In modern Turkish, the derived word “Tanrı” is used as the generic word for “god”, or for the Abrahamic God, and is used today by Turkish people to refer to any god. The supreme deity of the traditional religion of the Chuvash is Tură.
Tengri was the national god of the Göktürks, described as the “god of the Turks” (Türük Tängrisi). The Göktürk khans based their power on a mandate from Tengri. These rulers were generally accepted as the sons of Tengri who represented him on Earth. They wore titles such as tengrikut, kutluġ or kutalmysh, based on the belief that they attained the kut, the mighty spirit granted to these rulers by Tengri. Tengri was the chief deity worshipped by the ruling class of the Central Asian steppe peoples in 6th to 9th centuries (Turkic peoples, Mongols and Hungarians). It lost its importance when the Uighuric kagans proclaimed Manichaeism the state religion in the 8th century. The worship of Tengri was brought into Eastern Europe by the Huns and early Bulgars. Tengri is considered to be the chief god who created all things. In addition to this celestial god, they also had minor divinities (Alps) that served the purposes of Tengri. As Gök Tanrı, he was the father of the sun (Koyash) and moon (Ay Tanrı) and also Umay, Erlik, and sometimes Ülgen. ref, ref
Confucius honored Heaven as the supreme source of goodness:
The Master said, “Great indeed was Yao as a sovereign! How majestic was he! It is only Heaven that is grand, and only Yao corresponded to it. How vast was his virtue! The people could find no name for it. How majestic was he in the works which he accomplished! How glorious in the elegant regulations which he instituted!” (VIII, xix, tr. Legge 1893:214)
Confucius felt himself personally dependent upon Heaven (VI, xxviii, tr. Legge 1893:193): “Wherein I have done improperly, may Heaven reject me! may Heaven reject me!”
Confucius believed that Heaven cannot be deceived:
The Master being very ill, Zi Lu wished the disciples to act as ministers to him. During a remission of his illness, he said, “Long has the conduct of You been deceitful! By pretending to have ministers when I have them not, whom should I impose upon? Should I impose upon Heaven? Moreover, than that I should die in the hands of ministers, is it not better that I should die in the hands of you, my disciples? And though I may not get a great burial, shall I die upon the road?” (IX, xi, tr. Legge 1893:220-221)
Confucius believed that Heaven gives people tasks to perform to teach them of virtues and morality:
The Master said, “At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.” (II, iv, tr. Legge 1893:146)
He believed that Heaven knew what he was doing and approved of him, even though none of the rulers on earth might want him as a guide:
The Master said, “Alas! there is no one that knows me.” Zi Gong said, “What do you mean by thus saying – that no one knows you?” The Master replied, “I do not murmur against Heaven. I do not grumble against men. My studies lie low, and my penetration rises high. But there is Heaven – that knows me!” (XIV, xxxv, tr. Legge 1893:288-9)
Perhaps the most remarkable saying, recorded twice, is one in which Confucius expresses complete trust in the overruling providence of Heaven:
The Master was put in fear in Kuang. He said, “After the death of King Wen, was not the cause of truth lodged here in me? If Heaven had wished to let this cause of truth perish, then I, a future mortal, should not have got such a relation to that cause. While Heaven does not let the cause of truth perish, what can the people of Kuang do to me?” (IX, v and VII, xxii, tr. Legge 1893:217-8) ref
The Chinese philosopher Feng Youlan differentiates five different meanings of tian in early Chinese writings:
(1) A material or physical T’ien or sky, that is, the T’ien often spoken of in apposition to earth, as in the common phrase which refers to the physical universe as ‘Heaven and Earth’ (T’ien Ti 天地).
(2) A ruling or presiding T’ien, that is, one such as is meant in the phrase, ‘Imperial Heaven Supreme Emperor’ (Huang T’ien Shang Ti), in which anthropomorphic T’ien and Ti are signified.
(3) A fatalistic T’ien, equivalent to the concept of Fate (ming 命), a term applied to all those events in human life over which man himself has no control. This is the T’ien Mencius refers to when he says: “As to the accomplishment of a great deed, that is with T’ien” ([Mencius], Ib, 14).
(4) A naturalistic T’ien, that is, one equivalent to the English word Nature. This is the sort of T’ien described in the ‘Discussion on T’ien’ in the [Hsün Tzǔ] (ch. 17).
(5) An ethical T’ien, that is, one having a moral principle and which is the highest primordial principle of the universe. This is the sort of T’ien which the [Chung Yung] (Doctrine of the Mean) refers to in its opening sentence when it says: “What T’ien confers (on man) is called his nature.” (1952:31)
The Oxford English Dictionary enters the English loanword t’ien (also tayn, tyen, tien, and tiān) “Chinese thought: Heaven; the Deity.” The earliest recorded usages for these spelling variants are: 1613 Tayn, 1710 Tien, 1747 Tyen, and 1878 T’ien. For the etymology of tiān, Schuessler (2007:495) links it with the Mongolian word tengri “sky, heaven, heavenly deity” or the Tibeto-Burman words taleŋ (Adi) and tǎ-lyaŋ (Lepcha), both meaning “sky”. Schuessler (2007:211) also suggests a likely connection between Chinese tiān 天, diān 巔 “summit, mountaintop”, and diān 顛 “summit, top of the head, forehead”, which have cognates such as Naga tiŋ “sky”.
Confucianism went through a number of phases of being repressed or unpopular, as in the earlier part of the Han dynasty, or being tolerated, even accepted, with the later Han years being an example of this. It is not until the 12th century AD, though, that it has become such an accepted part of the state that the Analects themselves are integrated into civil service tests. This success came via Neo-Confucianism, an attempt to reform the philosophy, which had been influenced by Taoism and Buddhism and was seen as moving toward mysticism and superstition.
Neo-Confucianism was an attempt to create a more rationalist and secular form of Confucianism by rejecting superstitious and mystical elements of Taoism and Buddhism that had influenced Confucianism during and after the Han Dynasty. Although the Neo-Confucianists were critical of Taoism and Buddhism, the two did have an influence on the philosophy, and the Neo-Confucianists borrowed terms and concepts from both. However, unlike the Buddhists and Taoists, who saw metaphysics as a catalyst for spiritual development, religious enlightenment, and immortality, the Neo-Confucianists used metaphysics as a guide for developing a rationalist ethical philosophy. Neo-Confucianism has its origins in the Tang Dynasty; the Confucianist scholars Han Yu and Li Ao are seen as forebears of the Neo-Confucianists of the Song Dynasty. The Song Dynasty philosopher Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073) is seen as the first true “pioneer” of Neo-Confucianism, using Daoist metaphysics as a framework for his ethical philosophy. Neo-Confucianism developed both as a renaissance of traditional Confucian ideas, and as a reaction to the ideas of Buddhism and religious Daoism. Although the Neo-Confucianists denounced Buddhist metaphysics, Neo-Confucianism did borrow Daoist and Buddhist terminology and concepts. ref, ref, ref
In Buddhism is one of many different types of non-human beings who share the godlike characteristics of being more powerful, longer-lived, and, in general, much happier than humans, although the same level of veneration is not paid to them as to buddhas. The concept of devas was adopted in Japan partly because of the similarity to the Shinto‘s concept of kami. Other words used in Buddhist texts to refer to similar supernatural beings are devatā (“divinity”) and devaputta (“son of god”). While the former is a synonym for deva (“deity”), the latter refers specifically to one of these beings who is young and has newly arisen in its heavenly world. ref
Taoism: The number of vertical heaven layers in Taoism is different, the most common saying is the 36 Tian developed from Durenjing (度人經). ref
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