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.
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 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 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...