In what ways are Buddhism and Taoism compatible? In what ways do they tend to clash?

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If I were to call myself a Zen Buddhist and a Taoist, what philosophical problems can one expect to encounter?

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Unitarian Universalist

they’re on the same wavelength; details are different but they have more in common than they do apart


technically you could be both but it depends on a person personally not the religions if they clash . i find im in the same boat with you on that subject .no problems at all unless someone from a different religion says your evil and wants you dead


the answer to your question lies in the tale, or picture, of the vinegar tasters..The Confucionist has a sour expression, relating to the lack of harmony between him and the vinegar…The Buddhist has a bitter expression, relating to the acceptance of suffering..The Taoist is smiling, he accepts the vinegar for what it is..vinegar! maybe the other two were hoping for wine! The difference between wine and vinegar is as subtle as the difference between the 3 philosophies..The french for vinegar is “vinaigre” which simply means “sour wine”…vin…aigre. hope this helps a bit, it’s a complicated subject.

Rose du fantôme

taoism is war-ish in some aspects where buddhism is not. it’s just a matter of preference.


From the standpoint of the Tao there is no clash. The Tao encompasses all.
The Tao has no Buddhism as such within it. Buddhism is, in its organized
form, a system of teaching and learning. The Tao has nothing to teach or
learn. The Tao has no philosophy. Nothing is excluded from the Tao. A man
can live an entire lifetime and know nothing of the Tao. Another can also live
an entire lifetime and know everything of the Tao. Neither is higher or lower
as the result. There are Taoist masters who can and do teach practices
that will enhance the quality of life. They do not teach the Tao. The Tao
can not be taught.


I think perhaps you might find the book below interesting. Written by a Zen Master it nevertheless refers to Tao frequently. Or perhaps some late Alan Watts as he turned to Taoism? Which is the point. Zen as we call it is actually Ch’an, the child of Mahāyāna Buddhism and Taoism.
The emphasis on experience over learning, the concept of seeing things ‘as they are’, use of meditation to appreciate ‘the now’ are aspects that both paths share.
Once I called myself a Zen Buddhist (of the ‘mindfulness meditation’ school). Then I returned to my spiritual roots in Taoism. I still use some of what I learned as a Buddhist. It’s just (or perhaps that should be ‘just’?) that my idea of enlightenment has become .. shall we say; more mundane.
Yes, there are differences in terminology. Zen sometimes stresses the lineage of the teaching whereas (philosophical) Taoism is mostly ‘do it yourself’. Zen meditation is often reflective (though not mindfulness meditation) whereas Taoism stresses experiencing life. And so on. As to whether you will encounter any philosophical problems, well, that’s something you’ll just have to find out I reckon. For myself, I’m thinking simpler and simpler and philosophy, fun though it is, is only words.
Bodhidharma is said to have said “To find a Buddha, you have to see your nature” but you could equally well say, “To find the Tao, you have to see your nature” If that makes sense?

Pietro S

Generally speaking they are compatible, but still there is a number of issues that you might want to look at.
First of all historically Taoism and Buddhism rose independently. Then Buddhism arrived to China. Eventually through a complex interaction Neo-Taoism emerged joining together elements from Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. This is what most people refer to when they speak of Taoism in China. This is not necessarily what most people in the west (or here) refer to as Taoism.
Then Neo-Taoism merged again with Buddhism and gave rise to Ch’an Buddhism. Which going to Japan lost its physical side of the practices, and concentrated on the meditative side and became Zen.
So Zen and Taoism are related, and you could say that Zen is the great granddaughter of Taoism. So the question is, are you joining two different branches, or are you going deeper trying to find the authentic roots of some of the practices you might be learning as part of your zen training. For example you might find Zen masters that might recover some Taoist practices. Or just practices from the Ch’an school. An example of a Taoist practice is “dropping the mind in the lower tan tien”. A practice that we learned as part of our Taoist training, and we later found being described by a Zen Buddhist master (who if I remember well recovered it).
From a philosophical point of view, emptiness was present in ancient Taoism (pre-buddhist influence). You can find examples in [1]. And is of course very important in Buddhism. Both Taoism and Zen are strong in the war side (on the one side think of Sun Tzu, on the other think of the Bushido, and the book of 5 rings).
Respect the values, both buddhist and Taoist are focused on emptiness, compassion, and balance.
A difference is that in Taoism you first develop Balance and then Compassion, while Buddhists first develop Compassion and then Balance.
Taoism is more focused on spontaneity, Buddhism on enlightenment.
Buddhism says: everything changes. Taoism adds: but change does not change… and writes the way things change: the I Ching.
Then there is the reference to desire. Buddhism (generally) advocates renunciation of desires. Taoism advocates “also” as another solution to live something fully to be able leave it after. And here the vinegar tasters mentioned in the other answer is really precise
You can find differences in sex: Taoism has in general very little problem with sex. You find both celibate taoists and orgiastic taoists, and anything in between. And they are all considered to be acceptable practices. Buddhism is less open toward a disordered sexual conduct. What Taoist considered disordered sexual conduct is so extreme that buddhists would not even mention it.
But the main real difference is in the hair style: Buddhists shave (showing renunciation to desire), and Taoists tie their hair in a topknot above bai hui. Now that’s the real difference!
How are you going to mediate between them? 😉


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