On this site there's a topic Is there common ground between the Tao Te Ching and Buddhism? where one of the answers says:

A commentator of the Taoist philosopher Guo Xiang's work and a Taoist himself, I forget his name now (I can look it up) once wrote that - I paraphrase from memory - Buddhism and Taoism are diametrically opposed, because one seeks detachment from all existence, while the other seeks attachment to all existence. One seeks liberation by detaching from all phenomena, while the other seeks liberation by becoming one with all phenomena. The two paths seem to be the same, but really they are opposite.

And in an answer to the topic Are there many differences between Taoism and Buddhism?:

Buddhism seeks to transcend suffering while Taoism seeks unity with nature

So they don't necessary mutually exclusive each other, and of course one can combine it in zen.

But how do practitioners do that exactly?

How do they seek detachment and attachment at the same time?

FYI: Detachment (philosophy)

3 Answers 3


To understand this seeming-contradiction you would need to understand the doctrine of 'Two Truths' or 'Worlds. This states that there are always two contradictory and complementary ways of describing Reality. Lao Tsu makes this clear when he states 'True words seem paradoxical'. For Buddhists Nagarjuna explains this remark.

If we do not know the Two Truths doctrine in some form then we will see a morass of contradictions in Zen and more generally the Perennial philosophy and miss the unity of its message. Not for nothing is Nagarjuna considered important.

I would recommend Khenpo Tsultrum Gyamtso The Sun of Wisdom: Teachings on Noble Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way


To say that Zen = Buddhism + Taoism is an utter simplification. To say that Buddhism seeks "detachment from all existence" is not at all accurate and to say that Taoism seeks "attachment to all existence" is a caricature.

And yet I will answer this question on its own terms, to help you clear your doubts:

If you detach from all existence, completely 100%, at the end there won't be "you". If you unite with all existence, completely 100%, at the end there won't be "you". In both cases the result is the same.

That said, you should study the Goal of Buddhism (Nirvana or Enlightenment) and the Goal of Taoism (living in harmony with the Tao) to understand what both of them really mean, so you can go beyond simplistic definitions and understand what this is actually about.

  • I agree that I should study more, but in the meantime can you elaborate more on the first paragraph? Thanks.
    – Ooker
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 16:26
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    Well, even though Buddhism speaks about "cessation of craving and clinging" what that refers to (at least in Mahayana understanding) is cultivation of peace co-emergent with wisdom of understanding "how things are". So it's not detachment in the sense of separation. It's detachment in the sense of dispassion or the peace of wisdom. Taoism's understanding of harmony with Tao is such that each thing in the world has its role, place and function - including the Taoist sage himself. So it's not as much dissolving in the absolute as being in harmony with it while playing your individual role.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 17:36
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    Just wanted to add this to Andrei's answer: this is also partly a problem created in translation. When Buddhism came to China, a lot of the (usually rather long) Pali/Sanskrit terminology had to be transformed into Chinese characters. For example, Dharma became 法 fa - a character meaning (human or natural) law in Confucian and Taoist texts. This obviously led to misunderstandings. For a detailed analysis, see this thesis.
    – Codosaur
    Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 9:31
  • Is there a personal story that the author explains how their problem has been solved by the detachment/dispassion?
    – Ooker
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 18:37
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    @Ooker - I suspect that anyone who has made some progress with their practice of detachment and dispassion will attest to its power to solve problems. More to the point is helps stop problems arising. Problems become more abstract things causing less stress and become easier to face and solve. This would be especially true for problems with relationships. Things always improve when we stand back and detach the ego.
    – user14119
    Commented Sep 19, 2018 at 11:30

I can't speak for Zen, only a little about Taoism.

I'm surprised to read "a Taoist himself" describe Taoism as "seeking attachment".

Instead I think that Taoism seeks some non-duality; and especially a harmony or a proper balance (e.g. between Yin and Yang ... not exactly a "middle way" necessarily -- i.e. sometimes what's appropriate is a lot of yin with just a little yang, or vice versa).

I think that (IMO from a Buddhist or a "personal" perspective) perhaps there is some attachment e.g. to the body -- but it isn't described as such, instead there's a quest for longevity (or immortality), or youth (pliant like a young reed rather than breakable like an old stick), is maybe one of the goals or ideals of Taoism -- with death and disease being described as an imbalance within the body (or between the body and the world) -- this is the subject of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

I'm not aware of (not privy to) the more mental or doctrinal aspects of Taoist training (partly a language barrier, i.e. me not understanding the Chinese language). A practical or physical aspect of it that I met was some kind of autonomicity -- for example, when practicing the art of hand-writing it's maybe better not to stop and think about that too much ... instead just kind of do it, carefully but automatically, maybe relying on training, maybe "reacting appropriately" without thinking about it too much or getting lost in details.

So see also for example:

Acting on your non-conceptual (pre-conceptual) knowledge/wisdom/intuition is one of the most important Zen practices

I think that kind of getting out of the way and doing things naturally is Taoist.

Though I think there's also (apart from, you know, not thinking) a lot of scientific or pseudo-scientific knowledge, about medicine and so on.

I think a corollary, too, of doing things naturally, is maybe not stressing about stuff under pressure.

There is such a thing/practice as Taoist meditation too ... so maybe it has that is common with Zen too (i.e. the existence of sitting meditation as a practice). I think the form of Taoist meditation I was taught (i.e. visualising something in the body) is unlike the form of Zen meditation but, who knows, maybe there are several different forms (and I was being taught a very elementary or beginner's form).

Also perhaps you're ignoring the possibility of evolution. When I read that, "Chan = Buddhism + Taoism", I thought that was in the context of describing a historical/evolutionary event -- which happened over the course of centuries and more than 1000 years ago, in China.

So I wonder if maybe it's like, saying, "English = Germanic + Norman", and asking, "How do English-speakers combine Norse with Latin?" It's a legitimate question but not a practical one.

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    Getting out of the way is equally a Buddhist ideal. It means taking the ego out of the equation and rendering actions karmically-free non-actions. I'm of the school that sees no philosophical difference between Taoism and Buddhism. It would undermine the plausibility of both were there major differences.
    – user14119
    Commented Sep 20, 2018 at 10:14

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