In this Partially Examined Life podcast the presenters stated that when Buddhism moved into Chinese it naturally was influenced by the pre-existing Taoist philosophy which is uncontroversial. However they then when on to make this stronger claim that

it was the influence of Taoism that was responsible for the development of Mahayana.

That is quite a claim and obviously the real position is more complex. However is there any truth in that statement? Was Taoism instrumental in the development of Mahayana Buddhism?

  • 1
    Only initially, in the earliest Chinese Buddhist texts where they used the Taoist jargon to translate Buddhist jargon. Mahayana started in India, moved to Afganistan and from there went to China-- the main link being the monk Kumārajīva ref en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road_transmission_of_Buddhism Aug 9, 2014 at 2:04
  • Here is an article you might find useful which touches the theme of the question.
    – Unrul3r
    Aug 12, 2014 at 17:51
  • Taoism was influential on the development of the Chan school in China, but quite frankly it didn't have much influence on the other schools such as Pure Land or Tiantai for example.
    – Bakmoon
    Sep 2, 2014 at 17:00
  • I've never heard of this idea and feel it is nonsense. People like Nagarjuna do not form their views under influence but investigate the facts. Why can we not just assume that Mahayana is what the Buddha taught? This is what Mahayanists do. There will be cross-pollination of course, but the teachings were mutually consistent in the first place. ;
    – user14119
    Mar 10, 2019 at 12:52

2 Answers 2


It is hard to assess half a sentence without a wider context, but I would interpret this as "it was the influence of Taoism that was responsible for the development [but not creation] of [some branches of] Mahayana[, more specifically, some of the Chinese ones]". And in this form the statement is true.

You seem to interpret it as "it was the influence of Taoism that was responsible for the development of Mahayana [in India, even before it reached the Chinese soil]". Which is a false statement.


Since Zen is the most known form of Buddhism in the West [citation needed], it is possibly that for many people Mahayana was formed in China, not India. So that quote can be an accidental false.

Consider this: I am a Vietnamese. In my primitive understanding before seriously reading Buddhism texts, Mahayana is a Chinese branch of Buddhism. It is your question that makes me surprised with what I've known. I had always thought Nagarjuna is a Chinese master. His Chinese name is just so popular to me.

  • Nagarjuna was born in South India. ..
    – user14119
    Mar 10, 2019 at 12:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .