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Daoism and Buddhism's Differences

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Daoism and Buddhism are perhaps the two most popular traditions discussed here and historically there has been a lot of mutual influence between the two in the East Asian sphere. After the Song it seems many Daoists and Buddhists held to the unity of the three teaching and that they might lead to the same end, though certain figures contest that.


All that said, there must be differences between the two traditions on a philosophical or theological level or else they would just be the same. So for the sake of clarifying these differences, I propose a thread where people may put forth their insights into this matter as it is one that continues to interest me on a personal level.


To begin with some major ones:


--Daoism proposes an ontological Absolute, the Dao, which is the source and ground of all of reality. From what I understand many Buddhists, particularly Theravadins and Madhyamikas deny this to be the case in Buddhism


--Daoism is an emanationist cosmology. The Dao spontaneously emanates the One, the Two, the Three, and then the ten thousand things. Buddhism, aside from certain East Asian formulations such as those found in the Awakening of Faith, doesn't propose an emanationist cosmology as far as I understand it


--Daoism generally believes in a reality akin to the Atman of Hinduism, or in other words they believe in a transcendent, timeless, changeless principle in man whereas typically Buddhism denies any higher Self that transcends the skandhas. This is discussed in Eskilden's book on Quanzhen:


However, as Hachiya has astutely observed, Wang Zhe did not abide by the thoroughgoing negation and non-assertion of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy. Fond as he was of borrowing Buddhist language to preach detachment from this provisional, fleeting world of samsara, Wang Zhe ardently believed in the eternal, universal Real Nature/Radiant Spirit that is the ground and wellspring of consciousness (spirit [shen], Nature [xing]), and vitality (qi, Life [ming]) within all living beings. This to him was not “empty” (lacking inherent existence); it was fully Real (zhen).


--Continuing from the last thought, the Daoist notion of emptiness (Wu) is that of an empty Absolute that produces reality, whereas the Buddhist emptiness (sunyata, kong) is a quality of phenomena


--Daoism deals with qi, qimai, yin/yang, and the five elements. Buddhism generally didn't place much emphasis on the energetic structures of the body (chakras, prana, etc.) until later Buddhist tantra which arguably arose under the influence of Daoist alchemy and Saivism. Daoism historically typically saw greater value in the body than Buddhism since the body is also qi and thus connected to the Dao whereas for Buddhism the body is non-self, suffering, and the result of illusion. As a result Daoism also has a greater focus on bodily health than Buddhism generally, which isn't to say it is neglected in Buddhism but rather that it is has been a major focus of Daoism.


--Daoism professes that the universe is a condensed form of spiritual energy or qi which emanates from the Dao and thus there is a certain reality to the objective, phenomenal or physical universe. Buddhism generally subscribes the illusion doctrine or maya, stating the universe is ultimately empty and only exists conventionally via linguistic or conceptual designation


--Daoism is more associated with the Hermetic doctrine of "as above so below" or the micocosm/macrocosm split than Buddhism generally (aside from later Buddhist tantra.) The doctrine of ganying or sympathetic resonance is thus generally more associated with Daoism than Buddhism


--From my general observation it seems that aesthetics as means of self-cultivation, particularly with music such as the guqin or painting or calligraphy, is more favored by Daoism than Buddhism, especially early Buddhism which has precepts against listening to music entirely. Of course Chan Buddhism and tantric Buddhism have different takes on this, but on the whole it seems Buddhism doesn't place as much value on aesthetics as a spiritual tool as Daoism


Please feel free to correct any of these starting points and add some of your own so we can help to further clarify what the real differences between Daoism and Buddhism are.

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