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Buddhism And Taoism

The belief in some higher presence, other than our own, has existed since man
can recollect. Religion was established from this belief, and it can survive and
flourish because of this belief. In Chinese history, Taoism and Buddhism are two
great phiosophical and religious traditions along with Confucianism. Taoism,
originated in China around the sixth century B.C.E. and Buddhism, came to China
from India around the second century of the common era, Together have shaped
Chinese life and thought for nearly twenty-five hundred years. One dominate
concept in Taoism and Buddhism is the belief in some form of reincarnation. The
idea that life does not end when one dies is an integral part of these religions
and the culture of the Chinese people. Reincarnation, life after death, beliefs
are not standardized. Each religion has a different way of applying this concept
to its belief. The goal in Taoism is to achieve tao, to find the way. Tao is the
ultimate reality, a presence that existed before the universe was formed and
which continues to guide the world and everything in it. Tao is sometimes
identified as the Mother, or the source of all things. That source is not a god
or a supreme being, as Taoism is not monotheistic. The focus is not to worship
one god, but instead on coming into harmony with tao (Watts, 1957). Tao is the
essence of everything that is right, and complications exist only because people
choose to complicate their own lives. Desire, ambition, fame, and selfishness
are seen as hindrances to a harmonious life. It is only when a person rids
himself of all desires can tao be achieved. By shunning every earthly
distraction, the Taoist is able to concentrate on life itself. The longer the
person’s life, the more saintly the person is presumed to have become.


Eventually the hope is to become immortal, to achieve tao, to have reached the
deeper life. This is the after life for a Taoist, to be in harmony with the
universe, to have achieved tao (Watts, 1957). To understand the relationship
between life, and the Taoism concept of life and death, the origin of the word
tao must be understood. The Chinese character for tao is a combination of two
characters that represent the words head and foot. The character for foot
represents the idea of a person’s direction or path. The character for head
represents the idea of conscious choice. The character for head also suggests a
beginning, and foot, an ending. Thus the character for tao also conveys the
continuing course of the universe, the circle of heaven and earth. Finally,
thecharacter for tao represents the Taoist idea that the eternal Tao is both
moving and unmoving. The head in the character means the beginning, the source
of all things, or Tao itself, which never moves or changes; the foot is the
movement on the path (Schipper, 1978). Taoism upholds the belief in the survival
of the spirit after death. “To have attained the human form must be always
a source of joy. And then to undergo countless transitions, with only the
infinite to look forward to, what comparable bliss is that! Therefore it is that
the truly wise rejoice in, that which can never be lost, but endures
always” (Watts, 1957, p90). Taoist believe birth is not a beginning, death
is not an end. There is an existence without limit. There is continuity without
a starting point. Applying reincarnation theory to Taoism is the belief that the
soul never dies, a person’s soul is eternal. “You see death in contrast to
life; and both are unreal – both are a changing and seeming. Your soul does not
glide out of a familiar sea into an unfamiliar ocean. That which is real in you,
your soul, can never pass away, and this fear is no part of her” (Watts,
1957, p59). In the writings of The Tao Te King, tao is described as having
existed before heaven and earth. Tao is formless, stands alone without change
and reaches everywhere without harm. The Taoist is told to use the light that is
inside to revert to the natural clearness of sight. By divesting oneself of all
external distractions and desires, only then can one achieve tao. In ancient
days a Taoist that had transcended birth and death, achieved tao, was said to
have cut the Thread of Life(Schipper, 1978). The soul, or spirit, is Taoism does
not die at death. The soul is not reborn, it migrates to another life. This
process, the Taoist version of reincarnation, is repeated until tao is achieved.


The following translation from The Tao Te King best summarizes the the theory
behind tao and how a Taoist can achieve Tao. The Great Way is very smooth, but
the people love the by-paths. . . The wearing of gay embroidered robes, the
carrying of sharp swords, fastidiousness in food and drink, superabundance of
property and wealth: – this I call flaunting robbery; most assuredly it is not
Tao. . . He who acts in accordance with Tao, becomes one with Tao. . . Being
akin to Heaven, he possesses Tao. Possessed of Tao, he endures forever. ..


Being great (Tao) passes on; passing on, it becomes remote; having become
remote, it returns (Watts, 1957). The followers of the Buddha believe life goes
on and on in many reincarnations or rebirths. The eternal hope for all followers
of Buddha is that through reincarnation one comes back into successively better
lives – until one achieves the goal of being free from pain and suffering and
not having to come back again. This wheel of rebirth, known as samsara, goes on
forever or until one achieves Nirvana. The Buddhist definition of Nirvana is
“the highest state of spiritual bliss, as absolute immortality through
absorption of the soul into itself, but preserving individuality”
(Humphreys,1991, p15). Birth is not the beginning and death is not the end. This
cycle of life has no beginning and can go on forever without an end. The
ultimate goal for every Buddhist, Nirvana, represents total enlightenment and
liberation. Only through achieving this goal is one liberated from the never
ending round of birth, death, and rebirth (David-Noel, 1971). Transmigration,
the Buddhist cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, involves not the reincarnation
of a spirit but the rebirth of a consciousness containing the seeds of good and
evil deeds. Buddhism’s world of transmigration encompasses three stages. The
first stage in concerned with desire, which goes against the teachings of
Buddha, is the lowest form and involves a rebirth into any number of hells. The
second stage is one in which animals dominate. But after many reincarnations in
this stage the spirit becomes more and more human, until one attains a deep
spiritual understanding. At this point in the second stage the Buddhist
gradually begins to abandon materialism and seek a contemplative life. The
Buddhist in the third stage is ultimately able to put his ego to the side and
become pure spirit, having no perception of the material world. This stage
requires one to move from perception to non-perception. And so, through many
stages of spiritual evolution and numerous reincarnations, the Buddhist reaches
the state of Nirvana. The transition from one stage to another, or the
progression within a stage is based on the actions of the Buddhist. All actions
are simply the display of thought, the will of man. This will is caused by
character, and character is manufactured from karma. Karma means action or
doing. Any kind of intentional action whether mental, verbal or physical is
regarded as karma. All good and bad actions constitute karma. As is the karma,
so is the will of the man. A person’s karma determines what he deserves and what
goals can be achieved. The Buddhists past life actions determine present
standing in life and current actions determine the next life, all is determined
by the Buddhist’s karma. Buddha developed a doctrine known as the Four Noble
Truths based on his experience and inspiration about the nature of life. These
truths are the basis for all schools of Buddhism. The fourth truth describes the
way to overcome personal desire through the Eightfold Path. Buddha called his
path the Middle Way, because it lies between a life of luxury and a life of
poverty. Not everyone can reach the goal of Nirvana, but every Buddhist is at
least on the path toward enlightenment. To achieve Nirvana the Buddhist must
follow the steps of the Eightfold Path. 1. Right Knowledge is knowledge of what
life is all about; knowledge of the Four Noble Truths is basic to any further
growth as a Buddhist. 2. Right Aspiration means a clear devotion to being on the
Path toward Enlightenment. 3. Right Speech involves both clarity of what is said
and speaking kindly and without malice. 4. Right Behavior involves reflecting on
one’s behavior and the reasons for it. It also involves five basic laws of
behavior for Buddhists: not to kill, steal, lie, drink intoxicants, or commit
sexual offenses. 5. Right Livelihood involves choosing an occupation that keeps
an individual on the Path; that is, a path that promotes life and well-being,
rather than the accumulation of a lot of money. 6. Right Effort means training
the will and curbing selfish passions and wants. It also means placing oneself
along the Path toward Enlightenment. 7. Right Mindfulness implies continuing
self-examination and awareness. 8. Right Concentration is the final goal to be
absorbed into a state of Nirvana (Sangharak*censored*a, 1990, p11). Compliance
to the path does not guarantee reaching Nirvana, but it is the only path that
leads to Nirvana. Only through following this path established by Buddha does a
Buddhist have a chance to reach enlightenment, to free oneself from the
continuous rounds of birth, death and rebirth, to have reached the ultimate goal
– to be absorbed into a state of Nirvana. The goal in both Taoism and Buddhism
is to reach the ultimate goal, to transcend life on earth as a physical being,
to achieve harmony with nature and the universe. The ultimate goal for both
religions is to achieve immortality. The Taoist called this ultimate goal Tao,
while the Buddhist seek Nirvana. Whatever the name, the followers of these
religions believe there is an existence beyond life which can be achieved
provided the right path or behavior is followed. The path to Tao and Nirvana are
similar, yet different. Both believe there is an inner light which guides a
person in the right direction to the ultimate goal. Personal desires must be
forsaken to enable the inner light to guide a person to achieve eternal bliss.


The inner light concept is similar, but the actual path is the difference
between Taoism and Buddhism. The path toward enlightenment for the Buddhist was
defined by Buddha in his Eightfold Path. Only through following this path does
the Buddhist reach Nirvana. The path to Tao is individual, it comes from within.


No one can define a path for the Taoist, it must come from the inner light.

“Tao means way, but in the original and succeeding manuscripts no direct
path is explored or expounded. Desire, ambition, fame, and selfishness are seen
as complications. That idea is consistent with Buddhist teachings; it is the
personal life of each individual that gives Taoism its special form”
(Watts, 1957). Taoism and Buddhism perceive life, death and rebirth as a
continuous cycle. This cycle has no beginning and no end. The soul is eternal,
yet the soul is not the object of reincarnation. Taoist believe the soul is not
reborn, it “migrates to another life” (schipper 1978, p90). Buddhist
also believe the soul is not reborn, but instead a “consciousness
containing the seeds of good and evil deeds” is the object of rebirth
(Harvey, 1990, p171). One major difference between Taoism and Buddhism is the
concept of karma to the Buddhist. This idea that all actions are the display of
thought, the will of man, is known as karma. Karma determines the Buddhist
actions and position in life. A person’s karma limits the goals which can be
achieved. Karma determines where in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth the
consciousness returns. This return can be in the form of an animal or human, and
the Buddhist must progress through a hierarchy to achieve Nirvana. The Taoist
has no concept similar to karma, and no mention of the soul migrating to an
animal form. The determining factor to one’s life is contained in the individual
behavior for the Taoist. By forsaking personal desires in life, by concentrating
of the self, a longer life is prolonged. Eventually, by following the inner
light, immortality can be achieved. The similarities between Taoism and Buddhism
in the belief of life after death far outweigh the differences. Both religions
believe the individual must focus on the self to achieve the ultimate goal. To
focus on oneself, all desires and personal ambitions must be forsaken. One must
focus on the self and the proper way of life to reach immortality. The cycle of
life continues indefinitely until the Thread of Life is broken. These two
religion teach us only through proper living, by following the correct path
guided by the inner light, one can achieve the ultimate goal of Tao or Nirvana.


There exist so many different religions, and a lot of them are the basis of
people’s culture and belief. They seem to provide various tpyes of beliefs and
principle. People worship numerous “gods” for different occasions. In
ultimatum, the religion can be anything a person makes of it.


Bibliography
1. David-Noel, Alexandra. “Buddhism, Its Doctrine and Its Method.” March
1971. 2. Harvey, Peter. “Introduction to Buddhism.” May 1990. 3. Humphreys,
Christmas. “Buddhism.” January 1991. 4. Sangharakshita, Maha Sthavira. “A
Survey of Buddhism.” December 1987. 5. Schipper, Kristofer. “The Taoist
Body, History of Religions.” October 1978. 6. Watts, Alan Wilson. “The
Philosophy of the Tao.” May 1957.