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. Taoism
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