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Taoism is one of the two great philosophical and religious traditions that originated in


The other religion native to China is Confucianism. Both Taoism and Confucianism

began at

about the same time, around the sixth century B.C.E. China's third great religion,


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

(Hartz 3).

One dominate concept in Taoism and Buddhism is the belief in some form of


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.


religion has a different way of applying this concept to its beliefs. This paper will

describe the

reincarnation concepts as they apply to Taoism and Buddhism, and then provide a

comparison of

the two.


The goal in Taoism is to achieve tao, to find the way. Tao is the ultimate reality, a


that existed before the universe was formed and which continues to guide the world


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 (Hartz, 8).

Tao is the essence of everything that is right, and complications exist only because


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.


the hope is to become immortal, to achieve tao, to have reached the deeper life. This

is the after

life for a Taoist, to be in harmony with the universe, to have achieved tao (Head1,


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.

Finally, the

character for tao represents the Taoist idea that the eternal Tao is both moving and


The head in the character means the beginning, the source of all things, or Tao itself,


never moves or changes; the foot is the movement on the path (Harts 9).

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. 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" (Leek 190). Taoist


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


unfamiliar ocean. That which is real in you, your soul, can never pass away, and this

fear is no

part of her" (Head2 199).

In the writings of The Tao Te King, 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

(Kapleau 13).

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


The following translation from The Tao Te King best summarizes the 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


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

(Head3 109).


The followers of the Buddha believe life goes on and on in many reincarnations or


The eternal hope for all followers of Buddha is that through reincarnation one comes

back into

successively better lives - until ...

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Keywords: taoism beliefs, taoism symbol, taoism meaning, taoism founder, taoism vs buddhism, taoismo, taoism definition, taoism vs daoism

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