Taoism

Taoism is one of the two great philosophical and religious
traditions that originated in China. The other religion native
to China is Confucianism. Both Taoism and Confucianism
began at about the same time, around the sixth century
B.C.E. China’s third great religion, Buddhism, came to
China from India around the second century of the
common era. Together, these three faiths have shaped
Chinese life and thought for nearly twenty-five hundred
years (Hartz 3). 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 beliefs. This paper will describe the reincarnation
concepts as they apply to Taoism and Buddhism, and then
provide a comparison of the two. Taoism 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 (Hartz, 8). 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 1
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
(Head1, 65). 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, 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 (Harts 9). 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” (Leek 190). Taoist believe birth is not
a beginning, death is not an end. There is an existence
without limit. There is 2 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” (Head2 199). 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 (Kapleau 13). 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 (Head3 109). 3
Buddhism 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” (Head1 57). 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
(Head3 73). 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 4 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 (Leek 171). 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 (Kapleau 20). 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. 5 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 (Comptons). 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. Comparison 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 teaching 6 regarding
the inner light is just as prominent in the Taoist schools as it
is among the practices of Buddhism” (Politella 36). 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” (Leek
188). 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” (Head3 109). 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 (Leek 171). 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 7 Buddhist must
progress through a hierarchy to achieve Nirvana (Leek
171). 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. Only through proper living, by following the
correct path guided by the inner light, can one achieve the
ultimate goal of Tao or Nirvana.

Religion