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Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism in China

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Word Count: 2039 is one of the two great philosophical and religioustraditions that originated in China. The other religion nativeto China is Confucianism. Both Taoism and Confucianismbegan at about the same time, around the sixth centuryB.C.E. China’s third great religion, Buddhism, came toChina from India around the second century of thecommon era. Together, these three faiths have shapedChinese life and thought for nearly twenty-five hundredyears (Hartz 3). One dominate concept in Taoism andBuddhism is the belief in some form of reincarnation.

Theidea that life does not end when one dies is an integral partof these religions and the culture of the Chinese people.

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Reincarnation, life after death, beliefs are not standardized.

Each religion has a different way of applying this concept toits beliefs. This paper will describe the reincarnationconcepts as they apply to Taoism and Buddhism, and thenprovide a comparison of the two. Taoism The goal inTaoism is to achieve tao, to find the way. Tao is theultimate reality, a presence that existed before the universewas formed and which continues to guide the world andeverything in it.

Tao is sometimes identified as the Mother,or the source of all things. That source is not a god or asupreme being, as Taoism is not monotheistic. The focus isnot to worship one god, but instead on coming intoharmony with tao (Hartz, 8). Tao is the essence ofeverything that is right, and complications exist onlybecause people choose to complicate their own lives.

Desire, ambition, fame, and selfishness are seen as 1hindrances to a harmonious life. It is only when a personrids himself of all desires can tao be achieved. By shunningevery earthly distraction, the Taoist is able to concentrateon life itself. The longer the person’s life, the more saintlythe person is presumed to have become. Eventually thehope is to become immortal, to achieve tao, to havereached the deeper life. This is the after life for a Taoist, tobe 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 theword tao must be understood. The Chinese character fortao is a combination of two characters that represent thewords head and foot. The character for foot represents theidea of a person’s direction or path. The character for headrepresents the idea of conscious choice. The character forhead also suggests a beginning, and foot, an ending. Thusthe character for tao also conveys the continuing course ofthe universe, the circle of heaven and earth. Finally, thecharacter for tao represents the Taoist idea that the eternalTao is both moving and unmoving. The head in thecharacter means the beginning, the source of all things, orTao itself, which never moves or changes; the foot is themovement on the path (Harts 9). Taoism upholds the beliefin the survival of the spirit after death. “To have attained thehuman form must be always a source of joy. And then toundergo countless transitions, with only the infinite to lookforward to, what comparable bliss is that! Therefore it isthat the truly wise rejoice in, that which can never be lost,but endures always” (Leek 190). Taoist believe birth is nota beginning, death is not an end. There is an existencewithout limit. There is 2 continuity without a starting point.

Applying reincarnation theory to Taoism is the belief thatthe soul never dies, a person’s soul is eternal. “You seedeath in contrast to life; and both are unreal – both are achanging and seeming. Your soul does not glide out of afamiliar sea into an unfamiliar ocean. That which is real inyou, your soul, can never pass away, and this fear is nopart of her” (Head2 199). In the writings of The Tao TeKing, tao is described as having existed before heaven andearth. Tao is formless, stands alone without change andreaches everywhere without harm. The Taoist is told to usethe light that is inside to revert to the natural clearness ofsight. By divesting oneself of all external distractions anddesires, only then can one achieve tao. In ancient days aTaoist that had transcended birth and death, achieved tao,was said to have cut the Thread of Life (Kapleau 13). Thesoul, or spirit, is Taoism does not die at death. The soul isnot reborn, it migrates to another life. This process, theTaoist version of reincarnation, is repeated until tao isachieved. The following translation from The Tao Te Kingbest summarizes the the theory behind tao and how aTaoist can achieve Tao. The Great Way is very smooth,but the people love the by-paths. . . The wearing of gayembroidered robes, the carrying of sharp swords,fastidiousness in food and drink, superabundance ofproperty and wealth: – this I call flaunting robbery; mostassuredly it is not Tao. . . He who acts in accordance withTao, becomes one with Tao. . . Being akin to Heaven, hepossesses Tao. Possessed of Tao, he endures forever. . .

Being great (Tao) passes on; passing on, it becomesremote; having become remote, it returns (Head3 109). 3Buddhism The followers of the Buddha believe life goes onand on in many reincarnations or rebirths. The eternal hopefor all followers of Buddha is that through reincarnation onecomes back into successively better lives – until oneachieves the goal of being free from pain and suffering andnot having to come back again. This wheel of rebirth,known as samsara, goes on forever or until one achievesNirvana. The Buddhist definition of Nirvana is “the higheststate of spiritual bliss, as absolute immortality throughabsorption of the soul into itself, but preservingindividuality” (Head1 57). Birth is not the beginning anddeath is not the end. This cycle of life has no beginning andcan go on forever without an end. The ultimate goal forevery Buddhist, Nirvana, represents total enlightenment andliberation. Only through achieving this goal is one liberatedfrom the never ending round of birth, death, and rebirth(Head3 73). Transmigration, the Buddhist cycle of birth,death, and rebirth, involves not the reincarnation of a spiritbut the rebirth of a consciousness containing the seeds ofgood and evil deeds. Buddhism’s world of transmigrationencompasses three stages. The first stage in concerned withdesire, which goes against the teachings of Buddha, is thelowest form and involves a rebirth into any number of hells.

The second stage is one in which animals dominate. Butafter many reincarnations in this stage the spirit becomesmore and more human, until one attains a deep spiritualunderstanding. At this point in the second stage theBuddhist gradually begins to 4 abandon materialism andseek a contemplative life. The Buddhist in the third stage isultimately able to put his ego to the side and become purespirit, having no perception of the material world. Thisstage requires one to move from perception tonon-perception. And so, through many stages of spiritualevolution and numerous reincarnations, the Buddhistreaches the state of Nirvana (Leek 171). The transitionfrom one stage to another, or the progression within a stageis based on the actions of the Buddhist. All actions aresimply the display of thought, the will of man. This will iscaused by character, and character is manufactured fromkarma. Karma means action or doing. Any kind ofintentional action whether mental, verbal or physical isregarded as karma. All good and bad actions constitutekarma. As is the karma, so is the will of the man. Aperson’s karma determines what he deserves and whatgoals can be achieved. The Buddhists past life actionsdetermine present standing in life and current actionsdetermine the next life, all is determined by the Buddhist’skarma (Kapleau 20). Buddha developed a doctrine knownas the Four Noble Truths based on his experience andinspiration about the nature of life. These truths are thebasis for all schools of Buddhism. The fourth truthdescribes the way to overcome personal desire through theEightfold Path. Buddha called his 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 everyBuddhist is at least on the path toward enlightenment. Toachieve Nirvana the Buddhist must follow the steps of theEightfold Path. 5 1. Right Knowledge is knowledge of whatlife is all about; knowledge of the Four Noble Truths isbasic to any further growth as a Buddhist. 2. RightAspiration means a clear devotion to being on the Pathtoward Enlightenment. 3. Right Speech involves both clarityof what is said and speaking kindly and without malice. 4.

Right Behavior involves reflecting on one’s behavior and thereasons for it. It also involves five basic laws of behaviorfor Buddhists: not to kill, steal, lie, drink intoxicants, orcommit sexual offenses. 5. Right Livelihood involveschoosing an occupation that keeps an individual on thePath; that is, a path that promotes life and well-being,rather than the accumulation of a lot of money. 6. RightEffort means training the will and curbing selfish passionsand wants. It also means placing oneself along the Pathtoward Enlightenment. 7. Right Mindfulness impliescontinuing self-examination and awareness. 8. RightConcentration is the final goal to be absorbed into a stateof Nirvana (Comptons). Compliance to the path does notguarantee reaching Nirvana, but it is the only path that leadsto Nirvana. Only through following this path established byBuddha does a Buddhist have a chance to reachenlightenment, to free oneself from the continuous rounds ofbirth, death and rebirth, to have reached the ultimate goal -to be absorbed into a state of Nirvana. Comparison Thegoal in both Taoism and Buddhism is to reach the ultimategoal, to transcend life on earth as a physical being, toachieve harmony with nature and the universe. The ultimategoal for both religions is to achieve immortality. The Taoistcalled this ultimate goal Tao, while the Buddhist seekNirvana. Whatever the name, the followers of thesereligions believe there is an existence beyond life which canbe achieved provided the right path or behavior isfollowed. The path to Tao and Nirvana are similar, yetdifferent. Both believe there is an inner light which guides aperson in the right direction to the ultimate goal. Personaldesires must be forsaken to enable the inner light to guide aperson to achieve eternal bliss. “The teaching 6 regardingthe inner light is just as prominent in the Taoist schools as itis among the practices of Buddhism” (Politella 36). Theinner light concept is similar, but the actual path is thedifference between Taoism and Buddhism. The pathtoward enlightenment for the Buddhist was defined byBuddha in his Eightfold Path. Only through following thispath does the Buddhist reach Nirvana. The path to Tao isindividual, it comes from within. No one can define a pathfor the Taoist, it must come from the inner light. “Taomeans way, but in the original and succeeding manuscriptsno direct path is explored or expounded. Desire, ambition,fame, and selfishness are seen as complications. That ideais consistent with Buddhist teachings; it is the personal lifeof each individual that gives Taoism its special form” (Leek188). Taoism and Buddhism perceive life, death and rebirthas a continuous cycle. This cycle has no beginning and noend. The soul is eternal, yet the soul is not the object ofreincarnation. Taoist believe the soul is not reborn, it”migrates to another life” (Head3 109). Buddhist alsobelieve the soul is not reborn, but instead a “consciousnesscontaining the seeds of good and evil deeds” is the objectof rebirth (Leek 171). One major difference betweenTaoism and Buddhism is the concept of karma to theBuddhist. This idea that all actions are the display ofthought, the will of man, is known as karma. Karmadetermines the Buddhist actions and position in life. Aperson’s karma limits the goals which can be achieved.

Karma determines where in the cycle of birth, death andrebirth the consciousness returns. This return can be in theform of an animal or human, and the 7 Buddhist mustprogress through a hierarchy to achieve Nirvana (Leek171). The Taoist has no concept similar to karma, and nomention of the soul migrating to an animal form. Thedetermining factor to one’s life is contained in the individualbehavior for the Taoist. By forsaking personal desires inlife, by concentrating of the self, a longer life is prolonged.

Eventually, by following the inner light, immortality can beachieved. The similarities between Taoism and Buddhism inthe belief of life after death far outweigh the differences.

Both religions believe the individual must focus on the selfto achieve the ultimate goal. To focus on oneself, all desiresand personal ambitions must be forsaken. One must focuson the self and the proper way of life to reach immortality.

The cycle of life continues indefinitely until the Thread ofLife is broken. Only through proper living, by following thecorrect path guided by the inner light, can one achieve theultimate goal of Tao or Nirvana.

Cite this Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism in China

Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism in China. (2018, Dec 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/confucianism-taoism-and-buddhism-in-china/

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