Taoism Vs. Buddhism Essay, Research Paper
Taoism and Buddhism are the two great philosophical and religious traditionsthat originated in China. Taoism began the sixth century BCE. Buddhism came toChina from India around the second century of the Common Era. These tworeligions have shaped Chinese life and thought for nearly twenty-five hundredyears. One dominant concept in Taoism and Buddhism is the belief in some formof reincarnation. The idea that life does not end when one dies, is an integralpart of these religions and the culture of the Chinese people. Reincarnations,life after death, and beliefs are not standardized. Each religion has adifferent way of applying this concept to its beliefs. This paper will discussthe reincarnation concepts as they apply to Taoism and Buddhism, and thenprovide a comparison of both.
The goal in Taoism is to achieve Tao, to find “the Way”. Tao is theultimate reality, a presence that existed before the universe was formed andwhich continues to guide the world and everything in it. Tao is sometimesidentified as “the Mother”, or the source of all things. The sourceis not a god or a supreme being, as Taoism is not monotheistic. The focus isnot to worship one god, but instead to come into harmony with Tao. Tao is theessence of everything that is right, and complications exist only becausepeople choose to complicate their own lives. Desire, ambition, fame, andselfishness are seen as hindrances to a harmonious life. One can only achieveTao if he rids himself of all desires. By shunning every earthly distraction,the Taoist is able to concentrate on the self. The longer the person\’s life,the more saintly the person is presumed to become. Eventually the hope is tobecome immortal, to achieve Tao, to reach the deeper life. This is the afterlife for a Taoist, to be in harmony with the universe, and to have achievedTao. The origin of the word Tao can explain the relationship between life, andthe Taoism concept of life and death. The Chinese character for Tao is acombination of two characters that represent the words as head and foot. Thecharacter for foot represents the idea of a person\’s direction or path. Thecharacter for head represents the idea of conscious choice. The character forhead also suggests a beginning, and foot, an ending. Thus the character for Taoalso conveys the continuing course of the universe, the circle of heaven andearth. Finally, the character for Tao represents the Taoist idea that theeternal Tao is both moving and unmoving. The head in the character means thebeginning, the source of all things, or Tao itself, which never moves orchanges; the foot is the movement on the path. Taoism upholds the belief in thesurvival of the spirit after death. Taoist believes birth is not a beginning,and death is not an end. There is an existence without limit. There iscontinuity without a starting point. Applying reincarnation theory to Taoism isthe belief that the soul never dies, a person\’s soul is eternal. In thewritings of the Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching, Tao is described as having existed beforeheaven and earth. Tao is formless, it stands alone without change and reacheseverywhere without harm. The Taoist is told to use the light that is inside torevert to the natural clearness of sight. By divesting oneself of all externaldistractions and desires, only then can one achieve Tao. In ancient days aTaoist that had transcended birth and death, achieved Tao, was said to have cutthe Thread of Life. In Taoism, the soul or spirit does not die at death. Thesoul is not reborn, it simply migrates to another life. This process, theTaoist version of reincarnation, is repeated until Tao is achieved. Thefollowing translation from the Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching summarizes the theorybehind Tao and how a Taoist can achieve Tao. The Great Tao flows everywhere. Itmay go left or right. All things depend on it for life, and it does not turnaway from them. It accomplishes its task, but dies not claim credit for it. Itclothes and feeds all things but does not claim to be master over them. Alwayswithout desires, it may be called the small. All things come to it and it doesnot master them; it may be called the Great. Therefore (the sage) never striveshimself for the great, and thereby the great is achieved. –(Te-Tao Ching,Chapter 34)
The followers of the Buddha believe that life goes on and on in manyreincarnations or rebirths. The eternal hope for all followers of Buddha isthat through reincarnation one comes back into successively better lives -until one achieves the goal of being free from pain and suffering and nothaving to come back again. This wheel of rebirth, known as Samsara, goes onforever until one achieves Nirvana. The Buddhist definition of Nirvana is”the highest state of spiritual bliss, as absolute immortality throughabsorption of the soul into itself, but preserving individuality.” Birthis not the beginning and death is not the end. This cycle of life has nobeginning and can go on forever without an end. The ultimate goal for everyBuddhist, Nirvana, is to accomplish total enlightenment and liberation. Byachieving this goal, one can be liberated from the never ending round of birth,death, and rebirth. Transmigration, the Buddhist cycle of birth, death, andrebirth, does not involve the reincarnation of a spirit, but only the rebirthof a consciousness containing the seeds of good and evil deeds. Buddhism\’sworld of transmigration encompasses three stages. The first stage concerns withdesire, which goes against the teachings of Buddha. It is the lowest form andinvolves a rebirth into hell. The second stage is one in which animalsdominate. But after many reincarnations in this stage the spirit becomes moreand more human, until one attains a deeper spiritual understanding. At thispoint the Buddhist gradually begins to abandon materialism and seek acontemplative life. In the third stage, the Buddhist is able to put his ego tothe 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, theBuddhist reaches the state of Nirvana. The transition from one stage toanother, or the progression within a stage is based on the actions of theBuddhist. All actions are simply the display of thought, the will of man. Thisis caused by the person s character, and character is manufactured from karma.Karma means action or doing. Any kind of intentional action, such as mental,verbal or physical action, is regarded as karma. All good and bad actionsconstitute karma. A person\’s karma determines what he deserves and what goalscan be achieved. What the Buddhist does in his past life determines his presentstanding in life and that determines his next life. Buddha developed a doctrineknown as the Four Noble Truths based on his experience and inspiration aboutthe nature of life. These truths are the basis for all schools of Buddhism. Thefourth truth describes the way to overcome personal desire through theEightfold Path. Buddha called his path the Middle Way, because it lies betweena life of luxury and a life of poverty. Not everyone can reach the goal ofNirvana, but every Buddhist is at least on the path toward enlightenment. Toachieve Nirvana the Buddhist must follow the steps of the Eightfold Path. Step1: “Right Understanding” is knowledge of what life is all about;knowledge of the Four Noble Truths is basic to any further growth as aBuddhist. It includes the true understanding of ourselves, of our real motives,of our hopes and fears, envies and hatreds. Step 2: “Right Thought”is those thoughts that are free from lust, form ill-will, and from cruelty. It meansa clear devotion to being on the Path toward Enlightenment. Step 3: “RightSpeech” involves both clarity of what is said and speaking kindly andwithout malice. It avoids harsh language and foolish talk. It is the speechwhich is true, kind, efficacious and to the point. Step 4: “RightAction” involves reflecting on one\’s behavior and the reasons for it. Italso involves five basic laws of actions for Buddhists: not to kill, steal,lie, drink intoxicants, or commit sexual offenses. “Kill not, forpity -sake, and lest ye stay The meanest thing upon its upward way. Give freelyand receive, but take from none By greed, or force, or fraud, what is his own.Bear not false witness, slander not, nor lie; Truth is the speech of inwardpurity. Shun drugs and drink which work the wit abuse; Clear minds, cleanbodies need no Soma Juice. Touch not thy neighbor s wife, neither commit Sinsof the flesh, unlawful and unfit.” (Light of Asia) Step 5: “RightLivelihood” involves choosing an occupation that keeps an individual on thePath; that is, a path that promotes life and well being, rather than theaccumulation of a lot of money. It would exclude the professions of soldier,fisherman, hunter, or any profession that kills, harms or promotes the hurtingof any living being. Step 6: “Right Effort” is the effort to avoidwrong conditioning factors. It means training the will and curbing selfishpassions and wants. It also means placing oneself along the Path towardEnlightenment. Step 7: “Right Mindfulness” implies continuing self-examinationand awareness. “Irrigators lead the waters; Fletchers fashion the shafts;Carpenters bend the wood; The wise control themselves.” “When a wiseman, established well in virtue, Develops consciousness (mindfulness) andunderstanding, Then ardent and sagacious He succeeds in disentangling thistangle.” Step 8: “Right Concentration” is the final goal to beabsorbed into a state of Nirvana. It is the kind of mental concentration whichis presented in every wholesome state of consciousness, and hence isaccompanied by at least Right Thought, Right Effort and Right Mindfulness.Compliance to the path does not guarantee reaching Nirvana, but it is the onlypath that leads to Nirvana. Only by following this path, a Buddhist could havea chance to reach enlightenment, to free oneself from the continuous rounds ofbirth, death and rebirth, to have reached the ultimate goal — to be absorbedinto a state of Nirvana.
The purpose in both Taoism and Buddhism is to reach the ultimate goal, totranscend life on earth as a physical being, and to achieve harmony with natureand the universe. The ultimate goal for both religions is to achieveimmortality. The Taoist called this ultimate goal Tao, while the Buddhist seeksNirvana. The followers of both religions believe there is an existence beyondlife that can be achieved following the right path or behavior. The path to Taoand Nirvana are similar, yet different. Both believe that there is an InnerLight, which guides a person in the right direction to the ultimate goal.Personal desires must be forsaken in order for the Inner Light to guide aperson to achieve eternal bliss. The teaching regarding the Inner Light is justas prominent in the Taoist schools as it is among the practices of Buddhism.The Inner Light concept is similar, but the actual path is different betweenTaoism and Buddhism. The path toward enlightenment for the Buddhist was definedby Buddha in his Eightfold Path. The Buddhist can only reach Nirvana byfollowing this path. On the other hand, the path to Tao is individual, it comesfrom within. No one can define a path for the Taoist, it must come from theInner Light. Tao means Way, but in the original and succeeding manuscripts nodirect path is explored or expounded. Desire, ambition, fame, and selfishnessare seen as complications. That idea is consistent with Buddhist teachings; itis the personal life of each individual that gives Taoism its special form.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 isnot the object of reincarnation. Taoist believes the soul is not reborn, it”migrates to another life.” Buddhist also believes the soul is notreborn, but instead a “consciousness containing the seeds of good and evildeeds” is the object of rebirth. One major difference between Taoism andBuddhism is the concept of karma. Karma refers to the idea that actions are thedisplay of thought, the will of man. Karma determines the Buddhist actions andposition in life. A person\’s karma limits the goals that he can achieve. Karmadetermines where in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth the consciousnessreturns. This return can be in the form of an animal or human, and the Buddhistmust progress through a hierarchy to achieve Nirvana. The Taoist has no conceptsimilar to karma, and Taoism does not mention the soul migrating to an animalform. The determining factor to one\’s life is contained in the individualbehavior for the Taoist. By forsaking personal desires in life, and by focusingon the self, one can live longer. Eventually, by following the Inner Light,immortality can be achieved. The similarities between Taoism and Buddhism inthe belief of life after death far outweigh the differences. Both religionsbelieve the individual must focus on the self to achieve the ultimate goal. Tofocus on oneself, all desires and personal ambitions must be forsaken. One mustfocus on the self and the proper way of life to reach immortality. The cycle oflife continues indefinitely until the Thread of Life is broken. Only throughproper living, and by following the correct path guided by the Inner Light, canone achieve the ultimate goal of Tao or Nirvana.
Robert G. Henricks, “Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching Translated. With anintroduction and commentary”, The Bodley Head, London, 1989. Dolly Facter,
“The Doctrine of Buddha”, Philosophical Library Inc., NY, 1965.