In the West, most people don’t know much about Asian and Eastern philosophy. This article will explain and contrast Asian philosophy in Buddhism and Taoism, two of the most influential Asian schools of thought.
Taoism and Buddhism
Also called Daoism, Taoism is a centuries-old Chinese way of thinking. From religious movements in the Han dynasty period to philosophical thought today, it has combined both religion and philosophy to its followers. In fact, the distinction or placing of Taoism into either category is a Western invention. To its followers, it is simply a way of life.
Around the time of Confucius, Lao Tzu established the system of beliefs that would become known as Taoism. At a time the ruling dynasty was in chaos, so the way of the Tao caught on. The “Tao” is a set pattern for everything, put in place by heaven or nature. The central idea of Taoism is to go with the flow, i.e., purposeful inactivity or “wu-wei”.
Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha was a monk, sage, and teacher. He taught his ways, which are called the dharma, to people in Nepal and India. Though it has grown into many different schools of thought, Buddhism has a very basic belief at its core. It’s an immensely practical religion, emphasizing self-awareness and personal experience based on the examination that happens during meditation.
The grand ideas of Buddhism can be summed up in the four noble truths, which aim to eliminate all suffering. According to Buddha, suffering occurs in the mind and the cause of it is people’s reaction to circumstances and life in general. Buddha teaches that there is nothing permanent, and you as a separate self does not exist. The goal of happiness can easily be achieved when people stop wanting and are content with what they already have.
Commonalities between Taoism and Buddhism
Both Taoism and Buddhism support the idea of reincarnation, and they are both influential in the country with the world’s largest population, China. In both philosophies, the ultimate goal is surpassing the state of physical being and achieving immortality.
However, while Taoism’s aim is harmonious alignment with the force that runs the universe, Buddhism’s highest aim is to become enlightened. This state is also called Nirvana.
Comparison with Western Philosophy
The idea of time is different in Western and Asian philosophy. In the latter, time is cyclical, especially in Taoism. It’s a never-ending loop, therefore, as the early Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi says, it’s like a round of four seasons, in which even death is not permanent. In Western thought, time is linear and moves forward.
There are similarities between Eastern and Western thought though. They both have an idea of innate morality, which means they can teach us what is right and wrong. Two of the major philosophers from opposite ends of the world, Plato and Wang Yangming, assert that we know what good and bad is and we only need encouragement to pursue goodness and be fulfilled in life.