The Comparison of Buddhism and Daoism
The Old Chinese philosophy, which was developing in the second part of the first millennium BC, was formed simultaneously with the Old Indian philosophy. From the very beginning the Old Chinese philosophy differed from the Old Indian and European traditions. The ancient Chinese spiritual search was the foundation of new philosophical and religious approaches. The main branches of it were Confucianism, Mohism, and Daoism. Buddhism reached China only in the first century AD. After some time it has become one of the most powerful philosophical and religious traditions in China. Why has it happened? This research will endeavor to provide an analysis of two the above-mentioned philosophical schools. It will explore their similarities and differences of their purposes and methods to attain these goals.
Daoism occurred in the 6th century BC. According to this teaching, the source of everything that exists is Dao. Dao is absolute, infinite and eternal. It does not have a creator; everything originates from it and returns to it. Even the Heaven lives according to this absolute principle. Dao defines everything in the world: the life of every creature, the development in the universe and every natural process. Therefore, a person as a microcosm has to live according to Dao. The life with Dao symbolizes the harmony. Such living is also eternal. That is why we do not stop to live after the death. The essence, the spirit of the person returns to Dao, it flows together with this eternal law. Thus, the overall objective for an individual in the context of Daoism is to live in harmony with Dao, to follow it. If every human being lives in compliance with this rule, the relationships between people will be harmonious. The true love, genuine good and simplicity will appear, and all the mankind in the universe will love life.
The purpose of Daoism is similar to the goal of Buddhism in a certain sense. Buddhism argues that the meaning of life is the release. People have to realize the finite reality, to free themselves from illusions and evil. Then they will leave the circle of birth and death. They will reach the harmony: “The true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. This is to put everything under control in its widest sense” (Suzuki, 1995, p. 33). The person, who has reached the enlightenment, is free from utilitarian desires. The obstacles in the reasoning of the follower vanish. A person can see the world as it is without any superstitions. Moreover, such a person has no anxiety or excitement. The thoughts, the mind, the lust, and the acts are under the control of this enlightened person. This person is considered to reach nirvana, according to the Buddhist tradition.
Nirvana means the state of mind, where a person is not dependent on the individual consciousness. Such freedom is salvation. Nirvana is an experience, how an individual is a cosmic reality, where there is no subject and object: “After some years we will die. If we just think that it is the end of our life, this will be the wrong understanding. But, on the other hand, if we think that we do not die, this is also wrong. We die, and we do not die. This is the right understanding” (Suzuki, 1995, p. 25). Thus, the purpose of Daoism and Buddhism is quite similar. However, in Daoism the world, where we live, is not suffering because it is the implementation of Dao. In Buddhism the world, where we live before the enlightenment, is the circle of sufferings, and we have to burst through it.
It is high time to present the methods of achievement of the above-mentioned purposes of two philosophical traditions. According to the tradition of Daoism, the way to reach the harmony with the whole world lies through the religious meditation and gymnastic. These actions are aimed at the overcoming the desires in order to know Dao. That is why a hermit is an ideal of Daoism, because Dao embodies his sense of life. Every person who wants to live a true life has to manifest plainness. Moreover, this individual should embrace simplicity and make few desires. In addition to that, one more condition of life in Dao is wu wei. That means the principle of inaction. As it is formulated in ‘Daodejing’, “I do nothing and the people transform themselves; I prefer stillness and the people correct and regulate themselves; I engage in no activity and the people prosper on their own; I am without desires and the people simplify their own lives” (Ivanhoe, Norden, 2001, p. 188). If all individuals follow Dao and refuse from their will to improve the natural course of development, the world will be harmonious. Thus, wu wei should be considered to be a universal life principle. In wu wei a person assimilates to great Dao. Wu wei characterizes the wise stage of personal development. Before it, a person should do a lot of virtuous deeds in order to become virtuous and wise.
Buddhism also offers a way to reach the main purpose of life. According to the tradition of Buddhism, the only method of becoming enlightened is the practice. As well as Daoism, Buddhism argues that it is impossible to teach a person to become wise and enlightened. It is unreal to show the direct way to a harmonious life. The teacher can only give a piece of advice, to hint at the first step on the road to the enlightenment and self-development. Thus, it is the task of the person to discover the unique way to the happiness and conciliation through the meditation. The chosen path leads the disciple to the deliverance of the natural vital energy. In order to become enlightened, to reach the state of satori, the mind should be free: “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything” (Suzuki, 1995, p. 21). Hence, the authentic enlightenment requires drastic transformations of the follower’s character. That means that the main thing to change is the human character, but not intellect. It becomes possible when the right practice is part of human life. Its aim is the development of human will.
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There is an interesting learning technique in Buddhism, which is called the koan. This technique is to make a disciple be up on the stump (the koan). It enables the follower of this tradition to refuse of the traditional patterns of thinking in order to solve the problem. During the process of reasoning, a person, who strives for the enlightenment, loses all the superstitions. Therefore, a person is free from the wrong beliefs and is capable of the understanding of things that were inaccessible before applying the technique. That means that an individual becomes wise, and the way to the enlightenment is not so long.
People need not think, which way, Buddhist or Daoist, is more plausible, because these two traditions offer unique ways of self-development. It is people, who choose, which variant is better personally for them. These ways have a lot of similarities, and at the same time they represent different cultural traditions. Both philosophical approaches stress significance of meditation practice and great efforts of mind and soul to get rid of superstitions and passion. That is why Daoism, as well as Buddhism, is an independent and original path of mental and intellectual development. People have to perceive them equal.
To sum up, Daoism appeared earlier than Buddhism. However, from the beginning of the first century AD, these traditions have been intertwined. Buddhism has influenced Daoism greatly, including its theory and forms of cult. Daoism has helped Buddhism to adapt in China. Because Daoism and Buddhism have much in common it became practicable.
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Ivanhoe P.J., Van Norden B.W. (2001). Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy (2nd ed.). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co.
Suzuki S. (1995). Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. New York & Tokio: Weatherhill.