While Buddhism originated in the Indian subcontinent, Taoism originated in China. Though some of the tenets of these religions are similar, we will focus on the difference between Taoism and Buddhism.
The term ‘religion’ refers to an institutionalized system of beliefs, rites, practices, or an ethical code. The code could be derived from the teachings of saints or spiritual leaders. It may stem from the belief in divinity or a supernatural power governing the universe. For centuries, people have been drawn to metaphysics. The human mind has always been intrigued by the unseen or the unknown. Some of the most popular religions came into existence due to the fascination for the unknown. Buddhism which is one of the most popular religions is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama.
Siddhartha was born in a royal family. Disheartened by the suffering in the world, he left the palace at the age of 29. He renounced the worldly possessions in the quest for spiritual enlightenment. He attained enlightenment at the age of 35. He became Gautama Buddha or the Enlightened One. According to Buddhist belief, desires are the cause of pain and suffering. Enlightenment can only be achieved when one is free from desires. Buddha suggested an Eightfold Path that would help people end their suffering. This is the key to attaining enlightenment or Nirvana.
Taoism is a philosophical system that emerged in China. This philosophy is mainly based on the teachings of Lao Tzu. The Chinese word Tao means ‘the Way’, but it basically refers to the indescribable essence of the universe. It has been influenced by the Chinese folk religion and other existing religions and philosophical thought. The main tenet of this religion is to live in accordance with the natural order of the universe.
Taoism Vs. Buddhism
Buddhism was founded by Gautama Buddha in the sixth century B.C., the existence of Lao Tzu (Laozi), the founder of Taoism is disputed. Taoism originated in China and it is also believed to have emerged in the sixth century B.C. Buddhism originated in the Indian subcontinent. Buddhism is an off-shoot of the preexisting religion of Hinduism. However, Buddha rejected many concepts of Hinduism. Buddhism is considered to be the fourth largest religion of the world.
Taoism is categorized into philosophical and religious Taoism. Tao Te Ching is the most popular religious work. It is believed to have been written by Laozi. Daozang is another important religious text. The teachings of a philosopher called Zhuangzi also form an integral part of religion. Taoism evolved from a philosophy to a religion during the Han Dynasty. This religion mainly flourishes in Taiwan, China and certain regions of Southeast Asia.
Means to the Ultimate Goal
As mentioned earlier, the aim of the Taoists is to find the path or ‘the Way’ that helps one achieve harmony with the perfect natural order of the universe. According to this philosophy, good and evil must be balanced to attain cosmic harmony. Besides Tao, there are other principles that are an integral part of this religious tradition. These include Te, Yin and Yang, Ch’i and Wu-wei. Te refers to the virtue that one attains when one has an understanding of Tao. The balance of Yin and Yang, which are opposing forces, is also an integral aspect. Wu-wei refers to actionless action or spontaneous/effortless action that promotes harmony. Taoism puts emphasis on simplicity, naturalness and spontaneity. Compassion, moderation and humility are referred to as the three treasures.
According to Buddhism, desire is the cause of suffering. Nirvana can be attained by giving up the worldly desires. Every individual goes through cycles of birth, death and rebirth. The knowledge of the true nature of reality can help one overcome the suffering that arises from attachment to desires. This can be achieved by following the Noble Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path refers to having right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
The doctrines in Buddhism state that the ultimate goal is to become free from pain and suffering. One can attain a state of liberation and become free from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. According to Taoism, life and death are complementary aspects and death is not to be feared. Death is considered to be a transformation. The soul is eternal. It may migrate to another life and continue to do so until the eternal soul achieves harmony with the Tao. The emphasis is on valuing life and attaining Tao. Taoists focus on life. The stress is on achieving longevity or spiritual immortality. This can be done by turning the circulating life energy (Ch’i or qi) into the primeval Ch’i. Thus, a person who lives longer is assumed to be saintlike.
While Buddha gave the Eightfold Path to achieve Nirvana, there is no set path in Taoism. Though the individual is guided by the Taoist beliefs, each individual may follow a different path to achieve harmony with Tao. Both religions emphasize on leading a righteous life. While Buddhists pay attention on spiritual aspects, Taoists stress on performing exercises and rituals to improve physical health.
Both Buddhism and Taoism are believed to have emerged around the same time. Though they may have certain differences, these religions have deeply influenced each other. Since one’s understanding of philosophy or religion is greatly influenced by the changing times, different sects have emerged within these religions. In fact, certain elements of Buddhism have been incorporated in Taoism.