Buddhism And Taoism
Religion and philosophy are quite different from one another. Though they are closely
connected, they are not the same thing. The difference is slight, but very important. Generally in
philosophy, there is a rational investigation of truths and principles of being, knowledge, and/or
conduct. In religion, we see some of the same, but there is the belief of a controlling deity added into
the mix, and more often than not, the investigation part is taken out, leaving followers to simply
accept and never to question. Religion lays down a set of beliefs to be followed, while philosophy
seeks out a set of beliefs that make more sense. Often, a philosophy and religion tie together and
create a either a different religion or a different philosophy. Sometimes, a religion may start off as a
philosophy and grow into a religion after the philosopher passes. A good example of a religion
giving way to a philosophy that later gave way to a religion is Buddhism and Taoism.
Buddhism was thought to have come to China from India around 1CE, and is a religion
that has been going strong for a little over two millennia, since more around sixty-eight million
people in China still consider themselves a Buddhist. Buddhism is a religion based on the teachings
of Siddhartha Gautama (566-486 BCE), who became known as Buddha (or “the one who has
awakened”) later on. Siddhartha, born in Lumbini (or what is now Nepal), was an Indian prince
with a privileged life laid out before him. His father wanted him a to a great king, so he sheltered
his son from religious teachings and any knowledge of human suffering. Siddhartha was married in
an arranged marriage to his cousin, who gave him a son. Although all his needs were met and he
had everything he had ever wanted, he still felt dissatisfied and troubled. He left his palace four
times, coming across a crippled man, an old man, a corpse, and a monk.. This caused him to realize
finally the reality of death and suffering, and in some way, the circle of life. He left his palace and
his rich lifestyle behind him, and set out as a wandering monk to discover a way to end suffering.
He was able to achieve high levels of meditation, but wasn’t satisfied, and gave up being a monk.
In short, at age 35, Siddhartha reached Enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. He said
he had been awakened to the true nature of reality, which Buddhists call “Nirvana”, meaning
“absolute truth”. Buddha described this experience in the following text from the Dhatuvibhanga-
sutta of the Majjima-nikaya:
“The dustless and stainless Eye of Truth has arisen. He has seen Truth, has attained
Truth, has known Truth, has penetrated into Truth, has crossed over doubt, is without
wavering. Thus with right wisdom her sees it as it is…The Absolite Truth is Nibbana,
which is Reality.”
He offered this knowledge into the true nature of reality as well as a moral way of life,
teaching most importantly to seek moderation and avoid extreme self-indulgence and extreme self-
mortification. The teachings of Buddha were that nature of reality was interconnected and
impermanent. He said that we suffer in life because of our attachment and desire of materialistic
things and things that don’t last as long as we’d like them to. He taught that freedom from this
suffering may be achieved through training the mind and following the laws of karma (i.e. what
goes around comes around). The objective was to reach Nirvana, the condition of serenity of
the spirit, where all suffering has been overcome, and the spirit merges with eternal harmony.
Buddha’s teachings were known as the Four Noble Truths, and consisted of the problem, the cause
of the problem, a prognosis for recovery from the problem, and a solution to the problem. Firstly,
there was Dukkha, which stated that suffering is everywhere. The second truth, Samudaya, was the
idea that the cause of the suffering, and the reason for Dukkha, was the attachment or misplaced
desire rooted in ignorance. The third truth was Nirodha, which stated that there was an end to
suffering (Nirvana), and that it was possible for everyone to reach it. And lastly, there was an idea
of solution, Maggo, which taught that the path out of suffering, known as the Eight-Fold Path,
which meant that to reach Nirvana, one must have the right thought, speech, view, conduct,
attention, vocation, concentration, and effort.
“To speak no ill will, to do no harm, to practice self-restraint according to the
fundamental precepts, to be moderate in eating, to live in seclusion, to devote
oneself to higher consciousness, this is the Teaching of the Buddhas.”
(from the Dhammapada)
Taoism began in about the 6th century BCE, and was under the influence Lao-Tzu. Pieces of
knowledge about this man are few and far between. A biography of this man, written in about 100
BCE, suggests to us that he probably lived somewhere around 500 BC, considering that the
biography tells of a meeting between Lao-Tzu and Confucius. It is said that he worked in astrology
and divination at the court of the emperor. It was believed that he was the author of the Lao-Tzu
also called Tao-te Ching, which is the earliest and most important document we have in the history
of Taoism. However, today we have information that tells us differently. Some of the saying in this
book date from around the time suggested he was living, and some are dated to way after.
Therefore, it is now believed that Lao-Tzu represents a type of scholar and wise man, and not just
one man. Lao-Tzu, however, is still believed to be the founder of Taoism.
Another man responsible for the development of Taoism was Chuang-Tzu, a Chinese
philosopher, author and teacher. He interpreted Taoism slightly differently than Lao-Tzu, teaching
a more “go with the flow” type attitude, and also that freeing onself or personal goals and traditions
standing in our way is the way to true enlightenment and discovery of the Tao.
Tao is spoken of a little like Western religions speak of God in that it is an unknowable
unifying element of all that exists. Taoism gives the idea that “all is one”, no matter the outside
appearance or a number of differences. Because of this, things are only good and evil or black and
white when people lose sight of their oneness and think that what they believe is true, and what
anyone else believes is not. For example, a person looks into a room and sees one corner of it. He is
convinced that he is seeing the entire room and doesn’t realize that he’s only seeing a small portion
of it. Also, with this idea, life and death merge into one, as do the four seasons. They become the
two sides to a story, two aspects of one reality, rather than opposing forces. The goal for a Taoist is
to develop a relationship with the Tao through avoiding the pursuit of power, knowledge, and
wealth. This enables the Taoist to focus on life itself. The longer the Taoist lives while following
these guidelines, the better the relationship with the Tao, and the more saintly the person will be,
and one could have the hope of possibly becoming immortal.
While there is the philosophical part of Taoism spoken of above, this philosophy later gave
way to the Taoist religion. It started as a combination of philosophy and psychology, and evolved
eventually into a religious faith around 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion. How this
came to be is a little hazy and there are many different theories on the subject, but we do know that
the Taoist religion (not philosophy) was founded by a man named Chang Tao-lin. It is said that he
spent the majority of his life in the Dragon-tiger mountain in Kang-si, meditated often, and that he
lived and taught to the extremely old age of 123. One hundred years went by and there became of
sort of papacy within the religion, at one point with two men, Ke-hung and Tao Hung-thing, both in
charge of this seat in the Dragon-tiger mountains. It was through the influence of K’ou Ch’ien-chieh
of Chili that Taoism was established as a state religion.
Religious Taoism is different from philosophical Taoism. It takes into mind a sort of karma-
esque rule, that good moral conduct is rewarded with good health and long life, and that bad moral
conduct is punished with disease, death, and suffering in the afterlife. There are gods who rule the
universe in which they are a part, which is one reason it is thought of as a religion and no longer a
Buddhism, Taoist philosophy, and Taoist religion all tie in together in a few ways. They all
support the idea that freeing oneself of human desires and distractions will lead to enlightenment
and a better afterlife. The purpose in both Taoism and Buddhism is to reach the ultimate goal, to
transcend life on earth as a physical being, and to achieve harmony with nature and the universe.
The ultimate goal for both of these is to achieve immortality. The Taoist call this goal Tao, while
the Buddhist seeks Nirvana. The followers of both religions believe there to be a greater existence
beyond physical life that can be achieved through following a certain path of right behaviors. The
path to Tao and Nirvana are both similar and different. Both religions believe in a sort of inner
guidance to the ultimate goal. Both believe that human desires must be left behind in order for that
inner guidance to allow a person to achieve their eternal bliss. While the inner guidance concept is
similar, the paths taken are slightly different, a product of different thoughts and experiences from
two different men. In both Taoism and Buddhism, desire, ambition, fame, selfishness, and material
items are seen as complications. Both view life, death, and rebirth as a continuous cycle, with no
beginning and no end, and both view the soul to be eternal, not being reborn, but rather migrating to
another life or simply becoming eternal.
It is easy to see how these two religions/philosophies are tied together. From Buddhism came
Taoist philosophy, and then years later, Taoist religion. Both have grown and changed slightly over
the years, but Taoism still has deep roots in Buddhism.
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“Through the religion of Taoism we experience our oneness with the Universe”.