Buddhism, according to the Pali canon, seems to be ultimately about saying no to life in consideration of ceaseless cravings or will constituting it, whereas Daoism seems to emphasize the 'path' or affirm life/universe/existence with its contradictory elements and that we should just 'be' within it.

So, these philosophies seem to be not the same as each other, as one says no to existence, the other yes. However, we know that philosophies that are life affirming are much more numerous, so we can say that Buddhism is more unique in its stance.

Nevertheless, I am wondering if there are similarities between them. I read the 10 Taoist precepts and they seem quite similar to Buddhism (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_precepts_(Taoism)).

What similarities between Taoism and Buddhism are generally recognized by philosophers of religion?

2 Answers 2



First point: Chinese Buddhism (Chan Buddhism, which extended into Korea as Seon and into Japan as Zen) is markedly influenced by Daoist philosophy. This is typical of Buddhism in general, which tends to absorb cultural elements as it moves into new regions, instead of replacing or suppressing them as other religions do. In fact, one of the major differences between Hinayana and Mahayana traditions is a shift in orientation: losing some of the traditional emphasis on reincarnation and the karmic cycle and gaining a more humanistic worldview traceable to traditional Chinese worldview.

Second point: it's a mistake to consider Buddhism as life-denying in any of its forms. Buddhism considers cravings, attachments, obsessions, fixations, etc. to be life-denying elements — a false view of the world that merely increases human misery - and holds out a life-affirming possibility of liberation from such misery. I mean, sure, if someone is completely infatuated with the idea of obtaining a new car (or a new girl/boyfriend, or a high-status job), it may seem obvious to them that achieving such would be life-affirming. But Buddhists notice the struggles, the trials, the failures, and the unwanted mental states that arise in the single-minded pursuit of such external goals. The realization that these external goals are effectively empty victories (or empty failures) is where Buddhists find the affirmation of life.

Third point: All moral philosophy bends towards the same pattern, in the same sense that all green plants bend towards the light: see the perennial philosophy. It's not easy to put this pattern into words, and there is a constant cycle in which the pattern is expressed, misunderstood, corrupted, and then expressed again in a new form. So even if Daoist principles had not been absorbed by Chan Buddhism, there would still (naturally) be common themes and common insights, separated mainly by language, convention, and symbology. It's unavoidable.

  • Mahayana originated in India, and Nagarjuna was Indian. It thrived in China & Tibet, it did not originate there. Pureland Buddhism is a Mahayana style, & focuses entirely on rebirth.
    – CriglCragl
    Jan 24, 2022 at 17:34
  • @CriglCragl: Fair enough. 😄 Jan 24, 2022 at 17:39

"philosophies that are life affirming are much more numerous"

Can you give any evidence for that? What criteria would you use to evaluate?

It was a long process for Buddhism to take root in China and Tibet, with waves of persecution after it arrived. It's common to talk about fusion or absorption of other traditions. A better term is synchretism, adaptation in dialogue with different cultures. It's important to understand Daoism existed in a wider culture of shamans, what is now called Wuism.

Daoism is profoundly intetested in alchemy, and the mechanisms of the natural world. Magnetic compass needles, and gunpowder, were developed by Daoists. Buddhist libraries helped keep records and propagate them, being closely linked to the invention of paper.

Buddhism is focused on the internal world, in a way that is quite different. "saying no to life" is an exceptionally poor summary. I like this answer to a question I posted about whether Buddhism is antinatalist: Is Buddhism antinatalist? Above all Buddhism is a practice to engage in, rather than a conventional philosophy. Without practice, it is only paper rice cakes, that cannot sustain anyone.

This talks about some similarities between Daoism and Ch'an in respect of considering truth unsayable: Philosophers or philosophical traditions that reject symbolic reasoning

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