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The question says it all. I'm not much familiar with either. I've read the book of Tao a few times and have read a few Buddhist scriptures.

To me they seem so different and so alike at the same time, but I barely have any surface knowledge to draw any conclusions.

  • You will receive varying answers since opinions vary. Mine would be that it is extremely easy to see them as being the same doctrine in different guises. This only becomes apparent when we delve beneath the surface into what both have to say about Nature, Reality and Self. Anyone who studies themselves eventually arrives at the same place, whether they start in China or India. . – PeterJ Mar 10 at 13:03
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    See also Is there common ground between the Tao Te Ching and Buddhism? -- some of the answers to that question would be answers to this one. – ChrisW Mar 10 at 13:57
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There are many different kinds of Daoism and many different kinds of Buddhism. All with different views on important issues. Generally speaking Chinese Daoism and Indian Buddhism are different in their worldview, aims, and methods. However, Chinese Buddhism is massively influenced by Taoism and vice versa, over the entire history of Buddhism in China, so they can sometimes seem related.

The most salient different might be with respect to nature. Daoists aim to be in harmony with nature, through balancing out opposites, and through this to attain physical immortality. Indian Buddhists saw nature as the problem and escaping from rebirth in the world as the answer to this problem. On the other Buddhist these days are quite interested in environmental issues as an extension of Green politics and notions of compassion and are thus also quite interested in nature these days.

Daoists believe in a soul that survives death; Indian Buddhists believed that nothing like a soul can exist. Though arguably Buddhists capitulated to a soul when they invented "Buddha nature".

The methods of Daoism aim to bring about balance of the elements. The methods of Buddhism aim to help us see that our views about the elements are wrong and through seeing them correctly we can be free from being composed of them.

And so on.

However the massive influence of Daoism on Chinese Buddhism means that an understanding of Daoism is very relevant for understanding East Asian forms of Buddhism. The influence began at least with the earliest translations of Buddhist texts into Chinese. For example the character 道 was used to translate dharma and marga (way); and the character 神 is a term from Daoism that generally means “spirit”, “soul”, (sometimes translated as ‘divinity’). It is also used to translate Sanskrit ṛddhi “supernatural power”, anubhava “power, majesty”, or deva.

Later Daoism was profoundly influential on Zen Buddhism, and Zen has been one of the most influential forms of Buddhism in America (less so in Europe). According to one source Daoim introduced "elements like the concept of naturalness, distrust of scripture and text, and emphasis on embracing 'this life' and living in the 'every-moment'." Dumoulin, Heisig, & Knitter. Zen Buddhism: A History (2005).

Re spelling: "Daoism" uses the modern Pinyin system of transliteration for the Chinese character 道 i.e. dào; whereas the older and largely deprecated Wade-Giles system transcribes it tao. Apparently there is much discussion over which is "correct". I prefer Pinyin, but one can argue that Taoism is an existing Anglicisation that ought not to be affected by fashions in transcription.

The question has some crossover with others questions:

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There are enough schools/interpretations of both that any answer would have to be highly qualified. Furthermore, there's a crossover that confuses things further. For instance, Zen is widely seen as a mixture of Buddhism and Taoism, so you may find great similarities between that branch of Buddhism and Taoism.

An overview is that Buddhism seeks to transcend suffering while Taoism seeks unity with nature. However, consider this...

  • Buddhism transcends suffering by transcending the self.
  • Does Taoism's unity with nature require transcending the self?
  • Is Taoism's goal of unity with nature motivated by seeking happiness/eliminating suffering?

Depending on how you answer the above, you may find great similarities, but it may require a fair bit of inference.

  • +1 for "Buddhism seeks to transcend suffering while Taoism seeks unity with nature" – Ooker Aug 18 '18 at 17:30

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