Essay, Research Paper: Taoism


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It is always present in you. You can use it anyway you want. -- Lao-tzu Taoism
is one of the two great philosophical and religious traditions that originated
in China. The other philosophy native to China is Confucianism. Both Taoism and
Confucianism began at about the same time, around the sixth century B.C. 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. 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. Although not accepted by our beliefs, its
understanding helps build strength in our own religion. Reincarnation, life
after death, beliefs are not standardized between the religions. Each religion
has a different way of applying this concept to its beliefs. Ignorance of these
beliefs is a sign of weakness in the mind. To truly understand ones own
religion, one must also understand those concepts of the other religions of the
world. Hopefully this will be enlightenment on the reincarnation concepts as
they apply to Taoism and Buddhism. 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 with Christians, for Taoism is not
monotheistic. The focus is not to worship one god, but instead on coming 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. It is only when one 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 one's life, the closer to Tao one is presumed to have
become. Eventually the hope is to become immortal, to achieve Tao, to have
reached the deeper life. This is the afterlife for a Taoist -- to be in harmony
with the universe. 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 a person's direction or
path. The character for head represents a 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 notion 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. To have attained the human form must be
always a source of joy for the Taoist. It is truly a reason to rejoice because
despite whatever is lost, life always endures. Taoists believe 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. It is possible
to see death in contrast to life; both are unreal and changing. One's soul does
not leave the world into the unknown, for it can never go away. Therefore there
is no fear to come with death. In the writings of The Tao Te 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, one can achieve Tao.
In ancient days, a Taoist that had transcended birth and death and achieved Tao
was said to have cut the Thread of Life. 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
followers of the Buddha believe life goes on through a repetition of
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 can be summarized as
the highest state of spiritual bliss, absolute immortality through absorption of
the soul into itself, while preserving individuality. 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 cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
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 and 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 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 a 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. 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. 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 this 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 Noble Eightfold Path. The path consists of
knowledge of the truth; the intention to resist evil; saying nothing to hurt
others; respecting life, morality, and property; holding a job that does not
injure others; striving to free ones mind of evil; controlling one's feelings
and thoughts; and practicing proper forms of concentration. 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. 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 seeks 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 teachings that discuss the inner light of a person are as well renowned in
the Tao philosophy as that of the Buddhist. The inner light that is sought is
similar, but the actual path is the primary 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 within. Tao means the way, but this way
is never taught. Desire, ambition, fame, and selfishness are seen as
complications to the end. That idea is consistent with Buddhist teachings; it is
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 is not the object
of reincarnation. Taoist believes the soul is not reborn. Instead it migrates to
another life. Buddhist also believes the soul is not reborn, but instead
consciousness is the object of rebirth. 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 that
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 Buddhist must progress through a hierarchy to achieve Nirvana. 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.
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