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Asian Beliefs Essay, Research Paper

Taoism It is always present in you. You can use it anyway you want. — Lao-tzu Taoism is one of the two great philosophical and religious traditionsthat originated in China. The other philosophy native to China isConfucianism. Both Taoism and Confucianism began at about the sametime, around the sixth century B.C. China’s third great religion,Buddhism, came to China from India around the second century of thecommon era. Together, these three faiths have shaped Chinese life andthought for nearly twenty-five hundred years. One dominate concept inTaoism and Buddhism is the belief in some form of reincarnation. Theidea that life does not end when one dies is an integral part of thesereligions and the culture of the Chinese people. Although not acceptedby our beliefs, its understanding helps build strength in our ownreligion. Reincarnation, life after death, beliefs are not standardizedbetween the religions. Each religion has a different way of applyingthis concept to its beliefs. Ignorance of these beliefs is a sign ofweakness in the mind. To truly understand ones own religion, one mustalso understand those concepts of the other religions of the world.Hopefully this will be an enlightenment on the reincarnation concepts asthey apply to Taoism and Buddhism. The goal in Taoism is to achieve tao, to find the way. Tao is theultimate reality, a presence that existed before the universe was formedand which continues to guide the world and everything in it. Tao issometimes identified as the Mother, or the source of all things. Thatsource is not a god or a supreme being as with Christians, for Taoism isnot monotheistic. The focus is not to worship one god, but instead oncoming into harmony with tao. Tao is the essence of everything that isright, and complications exist only because people choose to complicatetheir own lives. Desire, ambition, fame, and selfishness are seen ashindrances to a harmonious life. It is only when one rids himself ofall desires can tao be achieved. By shunning every earthly distraction,the Taoist is able to concentrate on life itself. The longer the one’slife, the closer to tao one is presumed to have become. Eventually thehope is to become immortal, to achieve tao, to have reached the deeperlife. This is the afterlife for a Taoist — to be in harmony with theuniverse. To understand the relationship between life and the Taoism conceptof life and death, the origin of the word tao must be understood. TheChinese character for tao is a combination of two characters thatrepresent the words head and foot. The character for foot represents aperson’s direction or path. The character for head represents aconscious choice. The character for head also suggests a beginning, andfoot, an ending. Thus the character for tao also conveys the continuingcourse of the universe, the circle of heaven and earth. Finally, thecharacter for tao represents the Taoist notion that the eternal Tao isboth moving and unmoving. The head in the character means thebeginning, the source of all things, or Tao itself, which never moves orchanges; the foot is the movement on the path. Taoism upholds the belief in the survival of the spirit afterdeath. To have attained the human form must be always a source of joyfor the Taoist. It is truly a reason to rejoice because despitewhatever is lost, life always endures. Taoists believe birth is not abeginning and death is not an end. There is an existence withoutlimit. There is continuity without a starting point. Applyingreincarnation theory to Taoism is the belief that the soul never dies, aperson’s soul is eternal. It is possible to see death in contrast tolife; both are unreal and changing. One’s soul does not leave the worldinto the unknown, for it can never go away. Therefore there is no fearto come with death. In the writings of The Tao Te Ching, tao is described as havingexisted before heaven and earth. Tao is formless; it stands alonewithout change and reaches everywhere without harm. The Taoist is toldto use the light that is inside to revert to the natural clearness ofsight. By divesting oneself of all external distractions and desires,one can achieve tao. In ancient days, a Taoist that had transcendedbirth and death and achieved tao was said to have cut the Thread ofLife. The soul, or spirit, is Taoism does not die at death. The soulis not reborn, it migrates to another life. This process, the Taoistversion of reincarnation, is repeated until tao is achieved. The followers of the Buddha believe life goes on through arepitition of reincarnations or rebirths. The eternal hope for allfollowers of Buddha is that through reincarnation one comes back intosuccessively better lives until one achieves the goal of being free frompain and suffering and not having to come back again. This wheel ofrebirth, known as samsara, goes on forever or until one achievesNirvana. The Buddhist definition of Nirvana can be summerized as thehighest state of spiritual bliss, absolute immortality throughabsorption of the soul into itself, while preserving individuality. Birth is not the beginning and death is not the end. This cycle oflife has no beginning and can go on forever without an end. Theultimate goal for every Buddhist, Nirvana, represents totalenlightenment and liberation. Only through achieving this goal is oneliberated from the never ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Transmigration, the Buddhist cycle of birth, death, and rebirth,involves not the reincarnation of a spirit but the rebirth of aconsciousness containing the seeds of good and evil deeds. Buddhism’sworld of transmigration encompasses three stages. The first stage in

concerned with desire, which goes against the teachings of Buddha and isthe lowest form and involves a rebirth into any number of hells. Thesecond stage is one in which animals dominate. But after manyreincarnations in this stage the spirit becomes more and more human,until one attains a deep spiritual understanding. At this point in thesecond stage the Buddhist gradually begins to abandon materialism andseek a contemplative life. The Buddhist in the third stage isultimately able to put his ego to the side and become a pure spirit,having no perception of the material world. This stage requires one tomove from perception to non-perception. And so, through many stages ofspiritual evolution and numerous reincarnations, the Buddhist reachesthe state of Nirvana. The transition from one stage to another, or the progression withina stage is based on the actions of the Buddhist. All actions are simplythe display of thought, the will of man. This will is caused bycharacter, and character is manufactured from karma. Karma means actionor doing. Any kind of intentional action whether mental, verbal orphysical is regarded as karma. All good and bad actions constitutekarma. As is the karma, so is the will of the man. A person’s karmadetermines what he deserves and what goals can be achieved. TheBuddhists past life actions determine present standing in life andcurrent actions determine the next life — all is determined by theBuddhist’s karma. Buddha developed a doctrine known as the Four Noble Truths based onhis experience and inspiration about the nature of life. These truthsare the basis for all schools of Buddhism. The fourth truth describesthe way to overcome personal desire through the Eightfold Path. Buddhacalled this path the Middle Way, because it lies between a life ofluxury and a life of poverty. Not everyone can reach the goal ofNirvana, but every Buddhist is at least on the path towardenlightenment. To achieve Nirvana the Buddhist must follow the steps ofthe Noble Eightfold Path. The path consists of knowledge of the truth;the intention to resist evil; saying nothing to hurt others; respectinglife, morality, and property; holding a job that does not injure others;striving to free ones mind of evil; controlling one’s feelings andthoughts; and practicing proper forms of concentration. Compliance to the path does not guarantee reaching Nirvana, but itis the only path that leads to Nirvana. Only through following thispath established by Buddha does a Buddhist have a chance to reachenlightenment — to free oneself from the continuous rounds of birth,death and rebirth, to have reached the ultimate goal — to be absorbedinto a state of Nirvana. The goal in both Taoism and Buddhism is to reach the ultimate goal,to transcend life on earth as a physical being, to achieve harmony withnature and the universe. The ultimate goal for both religions is toachieve immortality. The Taoist called this ultimate goal Tao, whilethe Buddhist seek Nirvana. Whatever the name, the followers of thesereligions believe there is an existence beyond life which can beachieved provided the right path or behavior is followed. The path to Tao and Nirvana are similar, yet different. Bothbelieve there is an inner light which guides a person in the rightdirection to the ultimate goal. Personal desires must be forsaken toenable the inner light to guide a person to achieve eternal bliss. Theteachings that discuss the inner light of a person are as well renownedin the Tao philosophy as that of the Buddhist. The inner light that issought is similar, but the actual path is the primary difference betweenTaoism and Buddhism. The path toward enlightenment for the Buddhist wasdefined by Buddha in his Eightfold Path. Only through following thispath does the Buddhist reach Nirvana. The path to Tao is individual, itcomes from within. No one can define a path for the Taoist, it mustcome from within. Tao means the way, but this way is never taught.Desire, ambition, fame, and selfishness are seen as complications to theend. That idea is consistent with Buddhist teachings; it is thepersonal life of each individual that gives Taoism its special form. Taoism and Buddhism perceive life, death and rebirth as acontinuous cycle. This cycle has no beginning and no end. The soul iseternal, yet the soul is not the object of reincarnation. Taoistbelieve the soul is not reborn. Instead it migrates to another life.Buddhist also believe the soul is not reborn, but instead consciousnessis the object of rebirth. One major difference between Taoism and Buddhism is the concept ofkarma to the Buddhist. This idea that all actions are the display ofthought, the will of man, is known as karma. Karma determines theBuddhist actions and position in life. A person’s karma limits thegoals which can be achieved. Karma determines where in the cycle ofbirth, death and rebirth the consciousness returns. This return can bein the form of an animal or human, and the Buddhist must progressthrough a hierarchy to achieve Nirvana. The Taoist has no conceptsimilar to karma, and no mention of the soul migrating to an animalform. The determining factor to one’s life is contained in theindividual behavior for the Taoist. By forsaking personal desires inlife, by concentrating of the self, a longer life is prolonged.Eventually, by following the inner light, immortality can be achieved. The similarities between Taoism and Buddhism in the belief of lifeafter death far outweigh the differences. Both religions believe theindividual must focus on the self to achieve the ultimate goal. Tofocus on oneself, all desires and personal ambitions must be forsaken.One must focus on the self and the proper way of life to reachimmortality. The cycle of life continues indefinitely until the Threadof Life is broken. Only through proper living, by following the correctpath guided by the inner light, can one achieve the ultimate goal of Taoor Nirvana.

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