Why Buddhism and Hinduism Are Well Known, but Taoism Is Not

by | Sep 14, 2010 | Taoism, Taoist Meditation | 30 comments

All branches of Buddhism and Hinduism came out of India, regardless of whether they ended up in Tibet, Southeast Asia or even Africa. Both religions carried the Indian perspectives on reincarnation and the idea that relationships between the individual and the collective soul or consciousness are linked completely and inextricably.

Taoism is uniquely Chinese.

India: Easy to Access for 2,500 Years

Westerners know so much more about the Indian perspectives of Buddhism and Hinduism in all their variations because they had the ability to go to India since the time of Alexander the Great, either over land, following the military routes of Alexander or by boat from Alexandria to Southern India. Trade between the West and India was established from those early times and was accelerated when the British occupied India many hundreds of years ago.

From that time some Europeans completely immersed themselves in what was for them a “new” spiritual culture. They learned written and spoken forms of the Indian languages, including Sanskrit and especially Hindi, and sought out spiritual and cultural leaders to teach them about these religions in their purest, clearest and most authentic—rather than distorted—forms.

When these travelers returned to their European homes, they could spread this knowledge in ways that made sense inside their own culture. They also brought over spiritual leaders who helped these religions flourish in fertile new soil.

This cross-fertilization occurred for many hundreds of years and continues strongly today.

China: Difficult to Reach, Hard Language and No British Empire

China was a different story. Before the 1800s, few people traveled regularly to China and were mainly Muslim traders, either traveling by boat or via the Silk Road between the Middle East and China. They went only for trade and profit and brought little back that would not bring them money. Translating texts of Buddhist and Hindu religious doctrines was not considered a high priority in Muslim countries.

This is why the travels of Marco Polo during the time of Kublai Khan in the thirteenth century had a great impact on Europe.

Even so, the Chinese exerted little or no effort to share their cultural or spiritual knowledge with outsiders, a quality that contrasted directly with Christian, Buddhist and Muslim missionaries worldwide, who would inform and convert anyone they could to their religion.

Contact with China by Europeans was almost nonexistent even after they acquired the ability to circumnavigate the Horn of Africa. Then, in 1842, British gunboats forced China to open its doors for trade. However, Chinese was one of the most difficult languages to learn. Few Westerners who traveled to China were either sufficiently linguistically capable or interested enough to penetrate the culture and become knowledgeable insiders to authentic Chinese spiritual practices, especially Taoism. Consequently, most Chinese works on Taoism have yet to be adequately translated, even today.

Taoism: Lost in Translation

Although some Taoist texts have been translated into European or English languages, most notably the Tao Te Ching and I Ching, there are many issues with those translations. Few of the translators knew the original language well enough to understand the context behind the words they were translating or, worse, were not personally knowledgeable about the subjects they were translating. Using a dictionary of grammar and vocabulary to translate anything always carries with it the possibility of lacking context. Without context, meaning is easily lost or distorted.

Nevertheless, anyone translating old texts or offering an analysis can write a book—even if they don’t completely understand what they are writing about. When this occurred, more problems were caused downstream by other writers, who also didn’t know the original language, and based their well-written (and possibly influential) works either partially or fully on the inaccurate context provided by the previous misleading translations. In this way, confusion and distortion continued to be passed downstream.

To add to the confusion, some translators, who were familiar with Hinduism or Buddhism (at least in literary form), were unfamiliar with Taoist philosophy and therefore presented Taoist ideas in a muddled, imprecise way. Without realizing it, they substituted and interlaced Buddhist and Hindu perspectives when describing Taoism. This occurred because those translators could not see the Taoist works separately from the powerful imprint of their previous backgrounds in these other spiritual traditions.

Other translators, because they misunderstood the intent and relevance behind the words of Taoist sacred texts, simply created eloquent prose that rolled off the tongue easily but distorted the intent behind them. If they had any experiential knowledge of the practices themselves, it was minimal at best. This is akin to having heard of Jesus, but not having the faintest clue about how to pray or viewing Jesus primarily just as another variation of the Hindu god Krishna.

The renowned Scottish Victorian scholar, James Legge, was the first professor of Chinese at Oxford University (1876–1897). In association with Max Müller, he prepared the monumental and academic Sacred Books of the East series, published in 50 volumes between 1879 and 1891. Legge was a Scottish Congregationalist representative of the London Missionary Society in Malacca and Hong Kong (1840–1873). It would be questionable to consider him to be an insider of Eastern much less Taoist spiritual traditions. He most likely looked at the tradition through the lens of his Christian faith.

In the 1960s, during the explosion of Western interest in Eastern religions, came popular interest in the I Ching. The fundamental translation used was that of Richard Wilhelm, which in part gained acceptance because of his association with Carl Jung. Jung was a close protégé of psychologist Sigmund Freud, known for his work with psychological archetypes. Freud strongly influenced the transpersonal psychology movement.

The Wilhelm translation was written in the early 20th century with the help of Taoist priests at Beijing’s White Cloud Temple (Bai Yun Guan). This is the most important Taoist temple in North China. I spent a fair amount of time practicing sitting meditation there during the 1980s. In my discussions with priests, Wilhelm was well-remembered. They said that Wilhelm tried his best, but had insufficient background to completely understand the text from the Taoist perspective.

Thomas Cleary is the noted University of California (Berkeley) translator of the Taoist I Ching and many other Taoist texts. His books are well-written. However, to the best of my knowledge, he was not a practicing Taoist but rather a Buddhist, which in my opinion is reflected in his translations.

The Explosion of Interest in Indian Spiritual Traditions in the 1960s

The 1960s saw an increasing fascination with Eastern religions and philosophy. The Beatles visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Numerous American, European and Australian hash-smoking hippies and comparative religion students and professors traveled to India and Nepal and became exposed to many gurus and forms of Hinduism and Buddhism. Many returned with their gurus who then taught in the West. Books were written promoting the teachings of these gurus.

More translations of classic scriptures appeared, continually improving in quality. This allowed the next round of India’s spiritual knowledge to spread in the West.

What about Interest in Taoism?

In 1949, Mao Zedong’s Communist Revolution established the People’s Republic of China, closing off mainland China to the outside world. Only two small areas of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, remained open to Westerners. Its spiritual knowledge—especially Taoism, which is uniquely Chinese—was essentially locked down tight.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that travel to mainland China became relatively easy for European business people. Even at this point, few had the tenacity to crack the Chinese language barrier sufficiently to seriously penetrate into Taoism. That is why the answer to the question, “What is Taoism?” still remains relatively hidden to the West. Cross-cultural transfer takes time, and the anxious, hurried mentality of modern life doesn’t bode well for the clear transmission of many traditions.

From a comparative perspective, although knowledge about Chinese Buddhism traveled to India, Taoism didn’t, so the Europeans lacked access to its teachings even from India’s back door. Although Taoism could be found in Southeast Asia, the Chinese language barrier stopped most outsiders from understanding it. Even when English became more common between Indians and Europeans, the Chinese language remained almost completely impenetrable. That is why, until today, most texts and living spiritual teachers available in English-speaking nations are more focused on Indian Buddhism and its metamorphosis in China than on Taoism.

Today, the situation is essentially unchanged. Access is dramatically greater in the West to India’s spiritual knowledge rather than China’s Taoism. It is more common for the leading spiritual lights of Hinduism and Buddhism to speak or write in English, or at least to have good translators who are willing to come to the West to teach. When China invaded Tibet and occupied it in 1949, Tibetan spiritual leaders fled and emigrated to India and other countries. It became essential for them to continue to grow and spread their spiritual knowledge, as well as to raise money for their monasteries in the new countries that took them in.

In contrast, it is rare for the leading lights of China’s Taoism to either be willing to come to the West, to have studied English or to have satisfactory translators for their works.

30 Comments

  1. Peter

    Hi,really enjoyed article,was wondering if you would mind recommending some books, translations, etc ,that would be suitable for someone like me who’s new to taoism and taoist arts,thanks.

    Reply
    • colin hughes

      …Ronnie L. Lttlejohn’s ‘Daoism: An Introduction’ is an exellent introductory text to the scholarship and history of Daoism using analogy with a tangled vine to explore many facets of daoism ancient and modern.

      Reply
      • Peter

        Thanks Colin, will look it up.

        Reply
  2. bett l.martinez

    Bruce, Is there a scholarly tradition among Taoists to interpret, reinterpret and question their early writings? My understanding of Chinese languages, of which there are several, not to mention regional dialects so varied as to make it difficult for people from different areas to comprehend each other.

    Add to that the ancient, pictographic form of the language, and you have a need for careful study and contemplation, discussion and interpretation. Each pictograph or word may have several meanings within itself, and the difficulty is only compounded by singular translation.

    Quite a few years ago, one of my students asked her friend, who had one of the first DVD burners, to make copies for my Dayan class of Master Yang Meijun and her students on an old CDVD format. Much to my surprise, the friend, a WWII vet read off the cover “oh, Spiritual Achievement”…and I responded, “oh, no, these characters say Qigong,which translates to something like Universal Energy and Work or Practice”…

    This gentleman was insistent, and to back himself up, pulled down a Chinese English dictionary dated 1939, explaining that, while he’d been the official Japanese English translator for the Armed Forces, sometimes he’d be called in to interpret Chinese – mostly Mandarin. Sure enough, there WAS no word Qigong, or Qi Gong, or any of the English variations we use now. When he showed me the words for Gong meaning “work” or “practice” the character was different.

    He showed me words for practices known at that time – such as daoyin. He concluded that, due to the Maoist takeover, any reference to these practices had passed out of usage by force and intimidation, and suggested that the Qigong name had been reinvented in the late 70’s/early 80’s when the methods were allowed back in to the culture. He continued to maintain however, that the characters used referred to “Spiritual Achievement” and felt that the term was “secularized” by the government who wanted to remove that notion and cast this as strictly a health practice.

    Do you have any thoughts about this? I must say it tallies with my own experience as a practitioner with some years behind me, and would expect that you would be very knowledgeable from the length, breadth and depth of your own studies and practice.

    Would appreciate your comments –
    bett martinez

    Reply
    • colin hughes

      …….your friend is correct, from what I’ve heard (itunes-u lecture from Oxford University Anthropology lecturere Chee Han Lim) the word Qigong was ‘issued’ by the Chinese Communist Party 3rd March 1949

      Reply
  3. colin hughes

    Many thanks for such an informative narrative. I’d be very interested to know whether some of the more recent scholarly and popular translations have merit and could be recommended. E.g., Roger Ames’ and David Hall’s ‘Dao de Jing’ certainly makes a strong case for recognising the need for translation to take scholarly account of the original cultural and philosophical contexts, and the subsequent historical perturbations. In contrast Alfred Huang’s ‘The Complete I Ching’ is drafted with little reference to academic scholarship, and Huang’s apparent Taoist lineage suggests a different kind of authentic ‘authority’.

    Reply
    • richard shapiro

      colin
      had to weigh in here.

      Im pretty convinced that an academic or “historical” analysis is a fairly poor way for westerners to glean more information out of these books.
      Bruce has said as much many times.
      “the word that can be spoken…”
      I have come to see them as maps, and yes, you gotta read the map, but first, you gotta get to the territory that they are talking about.
      that means that taking up serious meditation and “going native” Once you get some sense of the terrain, then the map does a whole lot of good. get the map upside down, it’s useless.
      I came to this taoist work from a background in sports psychology, where it was shown to me that we in the west don’t even know how to productively get started understanding this stuff. because it’s all about what it’s like to get out from your head, and experience your body, etc.
      as long as you focus on thinking about anything, you are putting yourself in the very place where you can’t percieve what they are talking about.

      all the good spiritual traditions I have come across have stories about people “making good time, but going the wrong way”. I would suggest that is exactly what people are doing by trying to dissect taoism.

      you can only dissect it if it’s dead, and then it’s no good to us.

      or to put it another way

      the regent for the king found the reclusive sage meditating on a riverbank.
      he politely asked the sage to come and assist the king in his court, to share his wisdom.
      the sage said “it is told that there is a 1000 year old turtle, kept in a jade box, in the palace of the king. Now, if you asked the turtle, ‘would you prefer to be alive in the mud, or dead in a jade box’, what do you think he would say?”
      “alive in the mud, of course” said the regent.

      “I too, prefer the mud” said the sage, and returned to his meditation…

      Reply
      • colin hughes

        ….I agree books are just books, that said, few people have ready access to a lineage master ‘on tap’, and if you can’t read ancient Chinese then the only way to access the key texts is via translations (indeed, Bruce recommends reading the Y Jing three times through)

        Reply
  4. Ven Shih Tao-Fa

    I agree that Taoism isn’t as accessible than Hinduism and Buddhism, but what is often overlooked is how Ch’an Buddhism (the precursor to Son in Korea and Zen in Japan) absorbed so much of Taoism into its own practices and philosophies. Various scholars and teachers have accounted for this transliteration of Ch’an to Taoism and back, and the meditative practices deeply borrow from one another. Matter of fact, the complete reality school of Taoism looked to the Tang Dynasty (the so-called “Golden Age” of Chinese Buddhism) as the most appropriate model since they regarded Taoist practice up until that point had been corrupted.

    Amituofo!
    Ven. Shih Tao-Fa
    Resident Priest,
    Mountain Wind Zen Meditation Center

    Reply
  5. james fraser

    Would be curious to get an opinion on what translators are doing good work currently, and any info about ancient texts which have been discovered and published- recent or known to be underway. Rgds….jwf2

    Reply
  6. richard shapiro

    excellent post!
    my favorite tao te ching translation is by Gai Fu Feng. I found it in college, been reading it ever since.

    Im currently teaching a bagua class @ a large yoga studio, and I see this lack of even a basic understanding of taoism all the time.
    I will be encouraging students to read this.
    thanks!

    Reply
  7. Bob Hughes

    Thanks Bruce (true Taoist Master),
    Thanks Bruce,

    It is true that I don’t know much about taoism, but not to worry.

    But how much do I really know about Christianity?
    Or Buddhism?
    Or Islam?
    Or Hinduism?

    I don’t get the “Diamond sutra.”
    Reading the Koran leaves me clueless.
    Reincarnation? What’s that?

    Nevertheless, I find great joy in practicing taiji.
    And it seems that I don’t have to understand Taoism to do it.

    I just came back from backpacking in Glacier National Park.
    (I did the Yang Long Form at Lake Otokomi in the rain and wind.)
    At the Visitor Center I discovered that I also know little about the culture of the American Indian. Although when I pressed the speaker button I heard that they revered the Grizzly Bear. (Some have called you, Kumar, a bear.) Griz could look down the stem of a peace pipe and see into the heart of the smoker.

    Seeing into the heart is what mattered.

    What is the “heart” of the “Diamond sutra?”
    Form is form and emptiness is emptiness?

    Japanese monk Dogen went to China and encountered his true teacher, Ju-ching, in 1225. Ju-ching wrote:

    The whole body of a wind-bell is like a mouth
    hanging in empty space.
    Regardless of which direction the wind blows from-
    East, West, South or North

    Do the four winds really bring the change of the spirit?

    Now, what is the heart of Zen?

    Ha, ha.
    Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?
    Well, you can teach a dog to “sit,”
    but can you teach a dog to do taiji?”
    Ha, ha.

    Is this the heart of Taoism?

    Maybe the palm-point is the pipe-stem?
    The palm-point (Lao Gong) is the fire point on the Pericardium meridian, which protects the heart. At Lao Gong is all the love needed for the weary heart to regain its lost trust and to fill us with joy again.
    The I-Ching’s ideograph of “Dui” (Lake over Lake) uses the image of a person dancing to express the mood of joy—double joy—TAIJI.

    In Taiji “Stork Spreads Wings” imitates a crane spreading its wings in joy—while focusing a soft attention on one’s warm palms—again we see the Lao Gong palm-point.

    Is “White Crane Spreads Wings” near the heart of taiji?
    (Myth would put the crane fighting the snake at the beginning of Taoist immortal Zhang San Feng’s creation of taiji.)

    Very poetic, eh?

    However, Dogen was harshly critical of Taoism.
    He thought that its heart was heretical.
    Was Dogen also un-informed about Taoism?

    Essentially, he rejected Wuji.
    Since he embraced “dependent origination” and cause and effect (reincarnation?) he did not buy the concept of spontaneous generation without the workings of causation—
    how could yin and yang possibly spring out of nothingness?

    Would an understanding of Dogen’s Zen improve our taiji?

    Christians make a similar criticism—God created everything; thus, the created did not spring out of nothingness.

    But is this really the heart of Christianity?

    On the cross Jesus let go of his life by crying with a loud voice,
    “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”

    Is this closer to the heart of Christianity?

    So, I’m not too worried about not having had little access to the doctrines of Taoism.
    The real doctrine is within our hearts.

    All I need to do is imitate the Grizzly Bear and look down the stem of the peace pipe while joyfully doing “White Crane Spreads its Wings.”

    Reply
  8. Chris Ferns

    Excellent piece of insight, can you shed some light on this subject (Taoism), since I have read Taoism deals with Shaminism, mumbo-jumbo and so on.

    Reply
  9. colin hughes

    ……..there are an increasing number of books available introducing Taoism from a number of different perspectives (check out Amazon!). Bruce’s ‘Chi Revolution’ is a very accessible start (along with his meditation books), Others written from different perspectives include James Miller’s ‘Daoism’ (beginners Guides series, a scholarly though accessible book), Pamela Ball’s ‘The Essence of Tao’ and Eva Wong’s Shambhala Guide to Taoism. I think the popular ‘Idiot’s Guides’ includes Taoism as well. Find a good abook bookshop and brouse!

    Reply
  10. wendy zatella

    My only comment is nice article! I live in Michigan and study with a teacher who does not like to be named dropped he has Taught me Tao practice to quite depths:

    Taoist Centering Meditation
    Lineage teachings of Lao Tsu
    Taoist Dynamic Movement exercises

    He likes Bruce’s teachings found in Liu Hung Chiehs Meditation technique taught to him, he said its a huge part in making Taoist Meditation to work on a high level. The heart of Taoist Meditation is the meditative techniques developed on Mount Tian Tai utilized by both Buddhist & Taoist. Non Religious Taoist practice is usually recommended here in the west. Lots of people like Hua Ching Ni’s books…peace

    Wendy

    Reply
  11. Howard Davis

    Thanks Bruce, it is interesting to read of the reasons how and why so much Eastern wisdom has been obscured and literally lost in translation to the West over the last 2-3 thousand years.
    I read the article initially last week at the same time that the Pope was visiting the UK – I live in London. In the days preceding his visit the Pope had been on the receiving end of a blunt attack in the media from a number of non-Catholics, scientists and atheists with regard to the Vatican’s stance on a number of issues and tit for tat, in a speech he gave in Scotland the Pope denounced atheism as the begetter of Nazism.
    In relation to your article it made me wonder how different our world would be if the wisdom of the Tao had spread from China in an accessible way over the past couple of thousand years and whether from it the West would have moved on long ago from the polarized views of secular science and fundamental religion. I strongly wish that it may do so through the efforts of people like yourself in the coming years.

    Reply
  12. Zaafira

    Interestingly enough, after studying with one of Bruce’s top students, I couldn’t wrap my head around Hinduism or Buddism when I took an Eastern Philosophy course and if it wasn’t for the the Taosim section, my grade might not have been so good. It was many years ago but I remember my paper on Taoism was apparently so good from the teacher’s perspective that he asked my permission to use it as part of his teaching materials in his class. Much of what I wrote came from drawing upon much of what I felt I learned when studying Tai ji Chuan & Qi gong for only 3 yearsat that time. I know I picked up the philosophy in my internal arts classes to some extent. I guess I didn’t know how well and I hope it to be very well coming from someone who has decades of practice with Bruce. Of course then again I cannot know from what perspective my philosphy teacher interpreted my work, but he seemed passionate about what he was teaching, which is something I don’t always sense in every teacher I have had as I find it’s much more difficult to learn from those who have no passion in what they are teaching.

    Reply
  13. Mari Shackell

    I am interested in studying Taoist texts in Chinese but find it a difficulty that most of the classic texts which are available online seem to be in traditional characters, whereas most student courses teach simplified characters. This makes what is already a challenging task a lot more tricky still!

    Reply
    • Matt

      What is Taoism? What is Tai Chi Chuan? A human body moves in such a way, and it is called tai chi. Then another practitioner, from a different style, will move differently, and it is still called tai chi. What is common to the two is a human body moving in a certain way, according to a set of principles, and then giving that art a name. When a hand strikes out with a fist, is that karate, boxing, tae kwon do, muay thai, or just a good old-fashioned straight punch?
      In the same way, when one person speaks about Taoism, what else could he/she be referring to other than personal experience with a body of people, ideas, practices, etc.? Who knows what Taoism really means to somebody else?
      If God created the universe, then, for me, Tao is the source of God, the origin of the origin. Maybe you have another name for this.
      If the purpose of all of these ideologies and forms is to lead us to our own essence, in that essence, all the religions of the world melt into the same cauldron.

      Reply
    • Paul

      I first became interested in Taoism about 18 years ago when a friend gave me a copy of the Tao Te Ching by Jane English, something clicked and told me that this could be the course to follow for me.
      When I try to explain to people the general philosophy of the Tao I find that I am met with strange glances, the reason for this I feel is that people in the west have always lived either in fear of a god or the fear that some external entity may have control of their existence ergo atheism.

      An eye opening book for all to read is “the Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff, it has an ability to cross the east west divide and bring an curious grin to the most solemn of faces.

      Fantastic article and very interesting comments, I have enjoyed the read so far.

      When reading the Tao Te Ching you will come to understand that this is only a guide, ” The Tao that is written is not the eternal Tao”, the translation does not need to be accurate and even the understanding should be treated as flexible as every stream will find it’s own path in returning to the source.

      I recently started a Tai Chi class learning the Yang short fort form created by Chen Man Ching and I am really enjoying it, however there is a complete lack of reference towards Taoism which I find very unfortunate as I believe it should be the core of the subject and the foundation.

      Reply
    • Bob Hughes

      Maybe it’s a good thing that Taoism is not as well known as Hinduism.

      Most “Christians” think that Tai Chi is “unChristian,” like yoga is “unChristian.”

      Recently:

      Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler says the stretching and meditative discipline derived from Eastern religions is not a Christian pathway to God.

      Mohler said he objects to “the idea that the body is a vehicle for reaching consciousness with the divine.”

      “That’s just not Christianity,”

      I commented on their website that I deplore this “either-or” mentality.
      Never-the-less this mentality has plagued America and the United States since its inception (it’s even internecine: Puritans vs Anne Hutchinson; Baptists vs Anglicans; Catholics vs. Presbyterians; Seven Day Adventists vs. Catholics; Evangelists vs. Mormons; Nazism vs Jews; Americans vs. Muslims; the list goes on and on).

      I believe that the Tai Chi cup can be filled with emptiness or Tantric or Yoga or Christianity or any other thing.

      Bob Hughes

      Reply
      • colin hughes

        ………..from what I;ve seen in at least some of the highest ranking Tai Chi and Qigong masters in China are devout Christians (I can’t remember his name but one of the Masters featured in Tai Chi TV documentaries is a strict Catholic – so it appears the Pope doesn’t have a problem with Tai Chi), and other high ranking teachers in SE Asia are Muslim and Buddhist

        Reply
    • bett l.martinez

      thanks Richard Shapiro, had just about forgotten that story. Long ago, it became for me the basis of not taking politics too seriously.

      On the other hand, there’s a teaching in my Tao-wish tradition, that speaks of Fixing the World – Tikkun Olam (you may have heard that Richard, somewhere somehow when you trained in the ancient Dao-wish practice known as Bar Mitzvah). The turtle doesn’t know from Tikkun Olam, but the human may feel obligated to partner with – won’t say the Name – heaven and earth forbid! – perhaps Source is allowable – to partner with Source to improve ourselves and humanity.

      If we don’t do it for something above our small self, then what’s the point of it?
      Eh, Bruce???

      Reply
  14. Scott B. Truax

    I have recently read Mr. Frantzis’ book Tai Chi Health For Life and read the translation of the TaoTe Ching by Stepehn Mitchell. I also am part of a Meetup Group in Palm Coast Fl. that discusses the Tao. I suspected that there isn’t a very clear , or concise translation of the Tao Te Ching since just about every translation has its own content for each of the verses.
    I imagine its pretty much like any other inspired work, what you get from it varies daily and is influenced by the Tao on a case by case basis.
    My point here is given the depth to which Mr. Frantzis has “Walked the Walk” of the Tao in his life perhaps there is a translation of the Tao Te Ching he thinks is most close to the intent of Lao Tzu. I certainly would most deeply respect and treasure his opinion and endorsement.

    Reply
  15. Tai Chi Bear

    Interesting read. I have not reflected about these things previously, yet often been struck at how many people simply did not understand references to daoism, and oftentimes would refer to buddhist thought as self-evidently true AND a refutation of taoism tenets.
    While I cannot claim to have any depth of understanding I have however been chocked by the enormous depth and many layers of taoism as I have been confronted with them during my tai chi studies.
    Bjorn2BAlive

    Reply
  16. Eugene Gaudreau

    Three fifths of the world’s population lives in Asia. In spite of the Silk Road and many caravans to and from this part of the world by European merchants and warriors, such as Alexander, there is still much to learn about Eastern culture. It is a known fact that Buddhist monks eventually made their way to Greece with his returning armies.
    Buddhism is to Hinduism what Christianity is to Judaism. However, China, the monolithic giant in the area remained relatively closed despite the long stay of Marco Polo in the courts of the great Khans in Beijing. Taoism is of such antiquity that the first written textual reference is attributed to King Wen circa 1150 BC. However, the caveat is that both he and his son, the Duke of Chou, were instructed by Taoist sages who were passing on knowledge recognized in their traditions for at least two thousand years, placing this body of knowledge around 3,500 BC. This is quite likely in that the Vedas and Upanishads of India claim to have been incepted between 5,000-7,500 years BC. It is not an unfair assumption that these two giant cultures developed contemporaneously in that part of the world separated by the Himalayas. Taoism was of antiquity before Lao Tse and Confucius (Kung Fu Tze). Taoism was such a dominant cultural entity that is was only marginally modified by the influence of Buddhism whereas in Korea and Japan, Buddhism was accepted/assimilated far more readily and, in fact, took on dominant significance in these younger cultures. Still, having said that, the reality is Taoism did suffer the corruption of being grafted to the Buddhist influence. Therefore, as Mr. Frantzis has most accurately pointed out, a true picture of authentic and uncorrupted Taoism, in its purest form is nearly impossible to acquire. In addition, the original written script, or Han-zi, is composed of over four thousand glyphs. (Think of our alphabet with four thousand letters). Over time, this written script was reduced to four hundred glyphs. One can readily understand how the ancient translations would suffer when the translators are missing thirty-six hundred glyphs). Yet, the wisdom remains within this tremendous resource. Will it ever be extracted in its purest and truest form? One can only hope. Certainly, there is ample motivation to do so given the degradation of values in today’s current climate.
    I thank Bruce for his observations and contributions to this important subject.

    Reply
  17. James

    I would like to see any recomendations Bruce has for most accurate translations of Taoist canon….thks

    Reply
  18. Rev. Genryu

    ‘Buddhism is to Hinduism what Christianity is to Judaism.’ I’m afraid not. That is exactly the sort of assumption that leads to some of the problems that the author of this article has outlined so well. There was a Brahmanic culture at the time of the Buddha but Hinduism as such didn’t come in to existence until many centuries later. So it is in fact the other way around. It is though a very common misconception.

    Reply
    • Hindu

      Your comments are just an unfortunate reflection of initial missionary attempts to belittle Hindu thought and prove that Hindus was essentially created from Western thoughts. While we have been influenced heavily by the Persians, Greeks etc, the roots our faith are an amalgamation of ancient Vedic Religion and indigenous traditions that are far older than Buddhism, which is just one offshoot of Indian Religious tradition. There is another Indian religion – Jainisn that is even older than Buddhism that arises from the same Indian philosophical tradition as Buddhism.

      Those people that say that today’s Hindus are not the same as the ancient Vedic people just don’t know what they are talking about. The mantras, shlokas (prayers) that we use today for any event (birth, marriage, celebrations, death,) are the same as what was used by our ancestors 3500 years ago (with some changes and additions). We still invoke the blessings of the same Vedic deities (Agni, Varuna, Indra, Soma, Vishnu, Rudra, Lakshmi etc.). The position of these deities in our pantheon may have changed but we still worship essentially the same Deities.

      Reply
  19. Vik

    While Taoist teachings are certainly not shallow, I do not consider them nearly as deep, overall as Hinduism, especially Vedanta, and Buddhism.

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