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Essay/Term paper: Taoism

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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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 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. 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 an 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
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
repitition 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 summerized 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 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
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
believe the soul is not reborn. Instead it migrates to another life.
Buddhist also believe 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 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 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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