BUDDHISM And TAOISM: Essay, Research Paper
BUDDHISM and TAOISM: A COMPARISON OF BELIEFS, THEORIES, and PRACTICES 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 philosophical and religious traditions along with Confucianism. Taoism, originated in China around the sixth century BCE 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). According to those who believe in the 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. The desire for immortality sharply contrasts Buddhist values; the Buddhist appreciates impermanence above all else. The after life for a Taoist is 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. This is similar in Buddhism, where wheels and circle symbols are prevalent, representing continuity, and the cyclic nature of the world. Finally, the character 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. This is something most Buddhist practitioners either disagree with entirely, or simply refuse to discuss at all. “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). Buddhists believe both life and death is an illusion, and that believing in this illusion, or ?Maya?, causes suffering; if we can detach ourselves from Maya, then we won?t cling to life, nor have any fear of death. In the writings of The Tao Te Ching, 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 Ching 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, yet do not, as a rule, believe in a personal form of ?soul? that exists forever. 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, in the sense of an ever-present awareness” (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 most 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). This is especially true in Theravada Buddhism, where personal liberation is of the utmost importance. In Mahayana Buddhism, one takes vows to be constantly reincarnated until all are enlightened. Yet in Pure Land Buddhism, those who devote themselves to ?Amitbha Buddha?, and devote themselves to serving others and committing good deeds, will be reborn into the heavenly realm, known as the Western Paradise. In the Pure Land sect, there are some correlation?s to the Christian beliefs in Hell and Heaven, of being rewarded or punished according to how one has lived their life, and a belief in a personal soul that is unchanging. They do believe people can end up in the Hell realm, but can be saved by enlightened souls who descend into the lower realms out of compassion. Unlike Christians, though, they believe that neither Heaven or Hell is a permanent state. According to Buddhist doctrine, 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 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 a higher state of consciousness, and that although everyone possesses this consciousness, it takes discipline, and commitment to a spiritual practice. 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, which is a paradox many westerns have a hard time grasping. 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). This implies that there is still an underlying awareness that is reborn, that is separate from individual personality traits, yet is still ?us?, otherwise we would not experience the fruits of our karma. For if it was someone else?s awareness, then why would we care? Karma would then be irrelevant beyond this life. 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.This idea is probably from Hinduism originally, where animal life is considered lower than the human realm. Actually, many Buddhists today, especially those who are Americans, disagree with this theory. Most will tell you that it makes no sense for it to be a punishment to be an animal, for how does an animal know it?s ?lower?? They just exist, and couldn?t have any comprehension of what it means to be human. 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 some kind of life after death far outweigh the differences. Both religions believe the individual must focus on the self to achieve the ultimate goal. To become aware of oneself, and to completely know everything about oneself, and to realize what is in our own head is often nothing more than delusions of the ego. One must focus on the proper way of life to reach immortality. The cycle of life continues indefinitely until the Thread of Life is broken. For the Taoists, the ego is not such a focus of suffering as it is in Buddhism. They beleive it has it?s place in human life, as long as it?s not in control of our life, and does not create chaos and disharmony for ourselves and others. Buddhists often talk about abolishing the ego-self entirely, and that it is our ego that is the root of all our problems. Actually, according to most the Buddha?s teaching, it is as wrong to hold the opinion ?I have no self? as to hold the idea of ?I have self?, because both are illusions arising out of the false idea ?I?. Buddha taught that we should not remain fixated on any belief or concept; he even quoted before he died, ? If you see me at any time in the future, kill me?. This simply meant not to blindly believe anything he had taught; he wanted his desciples to think for themselves. This view makes sense in light of the fact that he believed that there is nothing permanent, everlasting, unchanging and eternal in all of existence. With this concept, how could one set of teachings be true forever, and work for all people? Both Taoism and Buddhism 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. They teach us to trust ourselves, to find our own inner guidance, and to know there is much more to the universe than just our own little observable reality. Above all, they teach us to think for ourselves, and find out what works for us, because no one is the same.This is probably why Buddhism, especially, is often considered a philosophy rather than a religion preset. This is a rarity in most Western religions, where blind faith and obedience is of utmost importance for personal salvation. There are so many religions, and a lot of them are the basis of people?s culture and belief. Through learning about diversity we can become more tolerant and open-minded. There is something to be learned from all belief systems if we are not afraid to explore differences.
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