Buddhism14 Essay

This essay has a total of 2815 words and 10 pages.


The belief in some higher presence, other than our own, has existed since man can
recollect. Religion was established from this belief, and it can survive and flourish
because of this belief. In Chinese history, Taoism and Buddhism are two great
philosophical and religious traditions along with Confucianism. Taoism, originated in
China around the sixth century BCE and Buddhism, came to China from India around the
second century of the Common Era, Together 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. Reincarnation, life after
death, beliefs are not standardized. Each religion has a different way of applying this
concept to its belief. 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
Taoism is not monotheistic. The focus is not to worship one god, but instead on coming
into harmony with Tao (Watts, 1957).

According to those who believe in the 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 a person 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 person's
life, the more saintly the person is presumed to have become. Eventually the hope is to
become immortal, to achieve Tao, to have reached the deeper life. The desire for
immortality sharply contrasts Buddhist values; the Buddhist appreciates impermanence above
all else. The after life for a Taoist is to be in harmony with the universe, to have
achieved Tao (Watts, 1957). 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 the idea of a person's direction or path. The
character for head represents the idea of 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. This is similar in
Buddhism, where wheels and circle symbols are prevalent, representing continuity, and the
cyclic nature of the world. Finally, the character for Tao represents the Taoist idea 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 (Schipper, 1978). Taoism upholds the belief in the survival of
the spirit after death. This is something most Buddhist practitioners either disagree with
entirely, or simply refuse to discuss at all. "To have attained the human form must be
always a source of joy. And then to undergo countless transitions, with only the infinite
to look forward to, what comparable bliss is that! Therefore it is that the truly wise
rejoice in, that which can never be lost, but endures always" (Watts, 1957, p90). Taoist
believes birth is not a beginning 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. "You see death
in contrast to life; and both are unreal - both are a changing and seeming. Your soul does
not glide out of a familiar sea into an unfamiliar ocean. That which is real in you, your
soul, can never pass away, and this fear is no part of her" (Watts, 1957, p59).

Buddhists believe both life and death is an illusion, and that believing in this illusion,
or “Maya”, causes suffering; if we can detach ourselves from Maya, then we won’t cling to
life, nor have any fear of death. In the writings of The Tao Te Ching, Tao is described as
having existed before heaven and earth. Tao is formless, 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, only then can one achieve Tao. In ancient days a Taoist that had
transcended birth and death, achieved Tao, was said to have cut the “Thread of Life”
(Schipper, 1978). 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 following translation from The Tao Te Ching best
summarizes the theory behind Tao and how a Taoist can achieve Tao. The Great Way is very
smooth, but the people love the by-paths . . . The wearing of gay embroidered robes, the
carrying of sharp swords, fastidiousness in food and drink, superabundance of property and
wealth: - this I call flaunting robbery; most assuredly it is not Tao . . . He who acts in
accordance with Tao, becomes one with Tao . . . Being akin to Heaven, he possesses Tao.
Possessed of Tao, he endures forever . . . Being great (Tao) passes on; passing on, it
becomes remote; having become remote, it returns (Watts, 1957).

The followers of the Buddha believe life goes on and on in many reincarnations or
rebirths, yet do not, as a rule, believe in a personal form of “soul” that exists forever.
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 is "the
highest state of spiritual bliss, as absolute immortality through absorption of the soul
into itself, but preserving individuality, in the sense of an ever-present awareness"
(Humphreys, 1991, p15). 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 most
Buddhist, Nirvana, represents total enlightenment and liberation. Only through achieving
this goal is one liberated from the never ending round of birth, death, and rebirth
(David-Noel, 1971). This is especially true in Theravada Buddhism, where personal
liberation is of the utmost importance. In Mahayana Buddhism, one takes vows to be
constantly reincarnated until all are enlightened. Yet in Pure Land Buddhism, those who
devote themselves to “Amitbha Buddha”, and devote themselves to serving others and
committing good deeds, will be reborn into the heavenly realm, known as the Western
Paradise. In the Pure Land sect, there are some correlations to the Christian beliefs in
Hell and Heaven, of being rewarded or punished according to how one has lived their life,
and a belief in a personal soul that is unchanging. They do believe people can end up in
the Hell realm, but can be saved by enlightened souls who descend into the lower realms
out of compassion. Unlike Christians, though, they believe that neither Heaven nor Hell is
a permanent state.

According to Buddhist doctrine, 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 his path the Middle
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