It is always present in you. You can use it anyway you want. ~Lao-tzu
Taoism and Buddhism are the two great philosophical and religious traditions that originated in China. Taoism began the sixth century BCE. Buddhism came to China from India around the second century of the Common Era. These two religions have shaped Chinese life and thought for nearly twenty-five hundred years. One dominant 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. Reincarnations, life after death, and beliefs are not standardized. Each religion has a different way of applying this concept to its beliefs. This paper will discuss the reincarnation concepts as they apply to Taoism and Buddhism, and then provide a comparison of both.
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. The source is not a god or a supreme being, as Taoism is not monotheistic. The focus is not to worship one god, but instead to come into harmony with Tao. 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. One can only achieve Tao 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 to become immortal, to achieve Tao, to reach the deeper life. This is the after life for a Taoist, to be in harmony with the universe, and to have achieved Tao. The origin of the word Tao can explain the relationship between life, and the Taoism concept of life and death. The Chinese character for Tao is a combination of two characters that represent the words as 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. Taoism upholds the belief in the survival 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 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. In the writings of the Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching, Tao is described as having existed before heaven and earth. Tao is formless, it 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. In Taoism, the soul or spirit does not die at death. The soul is not reborn, it simply migrates to another life. This process, the Taoist version of reincarnation, is repeated until Tao is achieved. The following translation from the Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching summarizes the theory behind Tao and how a Taoist can achieve Tao. The Great Tao flows everywhere. It may go left or right. All things depend on it for life,...
Robert G. Henricks, "Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching – Translated. With an introduction and commentary", The Bodley Head, London, 1989. Dolly Facter,
"The Doctrine of Buddha", Philosophical Library Inc., NY, 1965.
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